February 21, 2008
THE gown was almost wanton — fluid but curvy with a neckline that plummeted dangerously. “It makes me feel sexy and beautiful,” said Natasha DaSilva, who slipped it on for a fitting last week.
Cut away at the rear to reveal a tattoo at the small of her back, the dress suggested a languorous night in the honeymoon suite.
Except that Ms. DaSilva, who will be married on Long Island in September, plans to wear it at the altar.
“Why not?” she asked. “I want to look back in 20 years and feel like I looked hot on my wedding day.”
Ms. DaSilva, 26, thinks of herself as adventurous, but not so brash that she is about to cross a line. Dressing for a wedding as if it were an after-party is accepted among her family and friends. “For my generation, looking like a virgin when you marry is completely unappealing, boring even,” she said. “Who cares about that part anymore?”
Ms. DaSilva is typical of a growing number of brides flouting convention by flaunting their curves. More vamp than virgin, many are selecting gowns that bare a generous expanse of cleavage, midsection, lower back or thigh, temptress styles that may be better suited to a gala or boudoir than to a church or ballroom.
“Brides today absolutely want to look sexy and glamorous,” said Mara Urshel, an owner and the president of Kleinfeld, the venerable Manhattan bridal salon. In recent months, the store has seen a spike in demand for plunging necklines and negligee looks, one that has only intensified since the spring bridal collections began arriving in stores. For brides shopping now for gowns to wear at summer or early fall weddings, “there is a lot of freedom of choice, and these girls exercise every bit of it,” Ms. Urshel said.
Determined to look torrid on their wedding day, they are picking dresses modeled, say, on the one worn by Christina Aguilera, who was married in 2005 in a gown with a plummeting neckline and ruffled fishtail hem. Or maybe the hope is to emulate Sarah Jessica Parker, who, in the forthcoming film version of “Sex and the City,” spills out of the front of her wedding dress.
“Young women increasingly look to the red carpet for style ideas,” said Millie Martini Bratten, the editor in chief of Brides magazine. “They are very aware of how they look,” she added. “They diet, they work out. And when they marry, they want to be the celebrity of their own event.”
To accommodate them, the once rigidly corseted bridal industry has loosened its stays. At the spring bridal shows in New York last October, tastemakers like Vera Wang, Oscar de la Renta, Reem Acra, Angel Sanchez and Carolina Herrera unveiled a preponderance of strapless styles, trumpet shapes and even a few above-the-knee looks. More-daring designers offered filmy peignoir dresses, two-piece looks and skirts slit all the way to the hip.
Some of these va-voom confections seem tailor-made for the bride who envisions the march down the aisle as a long-dreamed-of photo op, and the reception as an after-party on the scale of Oscars night.
“Women now are looking at their weddings more like a movie premiere,” said Jose Dias, a designer for Sarah Danielle, a New York bridal house.
These steamy fantasies extend to their choice of location. “It used to be that unless you married at home, you were married in a church,” Ms. Bratten said. But today fewer weddings take place in a house of worship, and fewer still in the bride’s hometown.
According to a 2006 survey by Condé Nast Bridal Media, 16 percent of couples choose a destination wedding — a fourfold increase from a decade ago. The same survey found that only 46 percent of brides are married in a church or synagogue, down from 55 percent the year before. With weddings transported to other locales comes a loosening of conventions.
Whether they marry in a walled garden, on a tennis court, on a yacht or at the beach, “brides are more focused on the after-party, and on personalizing it,” Ms. Bratten said.
Beginning with the gown. Today the prevailing fantasy is no longer, “ ‘I want to be a princess in my ball gown,’ ” Mr. Dias said. “A lot of women have done that already for their prom.”
Mr. Dias, who is based in Los Angeles, accommodates clients’ desires for dresses that echo runway trends with halter-tops and off-the-shoulder gowns that are more emphatically provocative than the strapless looks that have become commonplace. His dresses are cut to appeal to the bride who is “confident in her sexuality,” he said.
Similar considerations prompted the designer Monique Lhuillier, a favorite in Hollywood, to fashion a dress with an Empire bodice, wide lace straps and a wispy chiffon skirt — features more often found in a nightgown. A hit of Ms. Lhuillier’s spring bridal collection, the dress is available at Kleinfeld.
Yielding to clients’ demands, Pnina Tornai, an Israeli-born designer, specializes in patently vixenish gowns. Only a couple of years ago Ms. Tornai’s dresses — often cut from semi-sheer panels of lace — met with a chilly reception in New York. “When I first came to show my collection at Kleinfeld, I was thrown out the door,” she said. Undaunted, she modified her dresses and several months later returned. Today her gowns are among the store’s best sellers.
For brides who want to maintain the traditional modesty during the wedding ceremony but cut loose at the reception, there is the increasingly popular option of topping the dress with a shawl, stole or bolero.
When Jana Pasquel, a New York society figure and jewelry designer, said her vows in a convent in Mexico City last November, she wore bouffant dress by Vera Wang; effusively romantic, it was traditional except for the neckline, which revealed more than Ms. Pasquel cared to show.
Her father, who is Mexican, “is a traditional Catholic,” said Ms. Pasquel, 31. “He would not have liked me to walk down the aisle like that, so I had the designer make a cover-up, a kind of a bolero, very full and infanta-looking. It came all the way up to my neck.”
At a second marriage ceremony later that week on a beach in Acapulco, Ms. Pasquel thought only of pleasing herself. Inspired by a trip to India, she wore a tiny midriff-baring bodice and an abundant skirt made of gold leaf. More sensuous than brazen, it made an impression, she recalled. “People talked about it — a lot.”
Catherine Cuddy, an insurance analyst in New Jersey, was similarly focused on turning heads when she married in Bryant Park in New York last October. She dispensed with the customary long, fitted sleeves and train in favor of a halter style that dipped to the small of her back.
Even a veil was too much for her. “I didn’t want to cover up my dress,” said Ms. Cuddy, 33, a self-described Rita Hayworth type. Or the torrents of curls that rushed past her shoulders. Or, for that matter, her gym-toned back.
To get in shape for her gown, a white lace sheath that appeared to have been turned on a lathe, she stepped up visits with her trainer from one to three sessions a week. Ms. Cuddy had no thought of defying tradition or making a statement of any kind. She simply wanted to make the most of her curves, she said.
When she marries in Long Island City next fall, Ms. DaSilva, too, will dress as she sees fit — and with her mother’s blessing. “My mom loves my gown,” she said delightedly. “She thinks it’s very figure-flattering.”
Would her male relatives object?
“Oh, no, no, no,” Ms. DaSilva said. “Besides, in my family, we’re mostly women. It’s pretty much — we’re in control.”