A gown from Les Reves Bohemians collection designed by Galia Lahav.
Led by three Israeli designers, a growing number of wedding dresses have taken on a distinctly Mediterranean flavor: low backs that skim the derrière, deep navel-revealing necklines and a shocking amount of sheer fabric.
The sexy bride has become the rising norm, said Mark Ingram, the owner of an influential namesake bridal atelier in Manhattan, who has added the Israeli designers Inbal Dror, Alon Livné and Mira Zwillinger to his lineup. Pointing to recent celebrity evening-wear trends led by Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian, whose gowns are often nothing more than sheer netting and strategically placed beading, he said, “Bridal has become a red carpet moment, and the gowns reveal so much more.”
That sexier bridal aesthetic is shared all across the Mediterranean, not just in Israel, said Christos Costarellos, an Athens-based designer. Also right on trend are the Lebanese evening-wear designers, Zuhair Murad and Elie Saab, who are known for creating red-carpet-style bridal wear.
There’s plenty of other new talent in the region to discover, like Sandra Mansour, a Lebanon-based designer who was raised in Switzerland, whose collection features several dresses that could easily cross over to bridal.
Fashion scouts from the Moda Operandi have fanned out to the fashion weeks in Dubai, Tbilisi, Georgia and Ukraine, according to Elizabeth Leventhal, the online retailer’s general merchandising manager.
The American designers — stalwarts like Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta — have been slower to adapt to the barer look, Mr. Ingram said.
When it came to finding a dress for her wedding last October, Danielle Kneppel of Manhattan, a 29-year-old software marketer, said she decided that “it was really about the dress,” not the designer name.
She kept an open mind about designers as she scoured Kleinfeld Bridal,Wedding Atelier and the Gabriella New York Bridal salon, ultimately deciding on a lace strapless exposed corset gown by Pnina Tornai, another Israeli designer. It was a win all around.
“It was just obviously the best dress I tried on that fit my budget,” she said. “The main point is the detail: the lace and the shape. It was tight in the right places and loose in the right places. I thought I was going to die at the end of the night with the corset, but I loved how I looked.”
Ms. Kneppel also recognized the brand from watching the reality show “Say Yes to the Dress,” but the association wasn’t necessarily a good one. She was quick to dispel any comparisons with those TV brides. “Those dresses are crazy — see-through fronts and bedazzled everywhere,” she said, laughing. “But yeah, I did want to look sexy and have something form-fitting that wasn’t inappropriate but that also wasn’t traditional.”
There is the sexiness trend, but, like Ms. Kneppel, the customer is more willing to try unknown niche brands today.
“It’s only in the last three years or so that they’ve really made an impact,” Mr. Ingram said of the Israeli designers, who he noted: “Really understand flattering the female body. The three designers I work with are all made to measure, not made to order as many gowns are, and there is a very complicated measurement — about 25 different measurements — that I have to send to them. These gowns are very complex and they are also very expensive.”
With many of the Israeli brands starting at $7,500 and skyrocketing, the sticker shock can be overwhelming. But Berta Balilti, who has designed a namesake bridal line since 2004, said the cost is justified in Israel because of the local customs. “The weddings are very big here,” she said. “The average one is probably no less than 400 guests. Sometimes it’s 600 to 700 people. The brides go over the top.”
As for the notoriously risqué cuts, Ms. Balilti is unapologetic. “Maybe some people see Israel as a religious country, but it’s a very sexy country and a very open-minded country,” she said.
Ms. Dror, who trained under Roberto Cavalli, echoed the skin-baring sentiment. Those bridal boot camps are not for naught. “Women today take great care in their appearance and physique and are not ashamed to be confident and feminine,” she said, adding it is a global trend. Demand for her dresses, which start at $9,000, is also coming from China, Russia and Australia, she said.
And when it comes to hugging a woman’s curves, the Israeli designers take their craft seriously. Aside from complex measurements, the designer Galia Lahav, whose gowns start at $8,000, said she specializes in “body contouring” by using innovative custom fabric blends. Other times, it’s old-school construction.
Mr. Ingram said that despite the skimpiness of the cuts, the designers often use hidden corsets and nude materials to practically bind the bride in. “So no matter your figure type, they do enhance you,” he said.
Flattering or not, the sky-high price points can be alienating, said Mr. Costarellos, the Greek designer. Like the Israeli designers, Mr. Costarellos offers a different aesthetic, which he describes as sexier (but not aggressively so) than the standard American looks.
“I have a more dreamy, luxurious bohemian style,” he said, but he is trying to remain sensitive to keeping his entry prices in the relatively affordable range of $3,000 and up. “We use only French and Italian fabrics and the garment is European made. I think about value, too.”
Ms. Leventhal said that many of today’s brides look for something unique, and in doing so now tend to look to retailers “as a point of discovery.” Mr. Ingram agreed: “Everyone was so label conscious before. Now everything is trend driven. Designers with very little brand recognition can get a foot in the door with the right type of dresses.”
But with bridal style changing every year, Mr. Ingram also sees the risqué bridal look as simply one aesthetic that will be in today, possibly out tomorrow. As with any trend, he said, “you have to know when to get off the bandwagon.”
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