All Dressed in Black
By BEE-SHYUAN CHANG
AFTER a season of high-profile weddings, beginning with Kate Middleton’s royal affair and culminating with Kim Kardashian’s blowout, could bridal designers be experiencing white-dress fatigue?
For her fall 2012 bridal show this month, Vera Wang, who designed Ms. Kardashian’s wedding dress and those of countless other famous brides, sent a flock of black wedding dresses down the runway. “I found black to be fresh and tongue-in-cheek,” Ms. Wang said in a telephone interview. “With all the big weddings that happened this year, it was fun to step out of the box.”
Ms. Wang, who has been in the bridal business for nearly 22 years, has dabbled in purple, pale green and dusky neutrals in past bridal collections, but never in a palette this outré. In an industry that is as tradition-bound as this one, and given Ms. Wang’s reputation as a setter of trends — wedding attire as ready-to-wear; gowns with swirls of ruffles (see Chelsea Clinton) — the collection caused quite a front-row stir.
“It was shocking and outrageous, but it was also fabulous,” said Mark Ingram, the owner of the Mark Ingram Bridal Atelier in Manhattan. “It was bold, but it also made me pay attention to the details all that more carefully.”
Ms. Wang balanced her inky palette with sheer layering on bodices and skirts. She drew on lingerie motifs with exposed corsets, and added insets of frothy gray tulle. Even so, the looks were far from sweet and virginal; they were almost gothic.
“I did take it to a witchy kind of place,” she admitted. “For me, it helped build a sense of mystery that I was hungry for. And it added this sensuality and sexuality, and a little bit of severity, too.”
Ms. Wang, who has the safety net of a more traditional and accessible line for the David’s Bridal chain, designed the collection while she was in Los Angeles, far from her New York headquarters. The distance, she said, had freed up her perspective, allowing her to explore novel ways for black to read “wedding day.” Not that the noirish hue would be all that strange at her home base. (“No matter what people say, black is very associated with New York,” she said.) But the collection had personal resonance as well.
“I wore white on my wedding day,” Ms. Wang said. “I was very frustrated, it being so traditional at the time, but the bridal industry wasn’t so evolved back then.”
Conventional etiquette would still say that a bride (and no one else) should be in white at a wedding.
“The bride who chooses the black dress does not care about etiquette,” said Jung Lee, a founder of Fête, an event-planning company in Manhattan. Ms. Lee advises brides on the intricacies of everything from invitations to attire. “That’s not to say she doesn’t have manners,” she said, “but it’s certainly not etiquette. My advice is that she really think about it, and not just in the short term. Think how the pictures would look 10, 20 years from now. A bride in black will draw more attention than one in white or ivory. You have to be prepared for that.”
In the celebrity-saturated context of the times, the black wedding dress may herald a new phenomenon: the wedding aisle as red carpet. Ms. Wang’s darkly romantic wedding gowns would be equally at home at an important awards show. And for many brides, the wedding day (the expensive gown, makeup and accessories) is the closest thing to a red-carpet ritual. Is it that much of a stretch to say that the celebrity experience has become the modern-day fairy tale?