Wedding Wednesday

Meet the Designer: Claire Pettibone at the Dress Theory

Tips and advice from the beloved wedding dress designer in advance of her January trunk show event in Seattle.

By Laura Cassidy December 19, 2012

If you're a bride, or a bride-to-be, or you know a bride or a bride-to-be, and if at least one of you is a follower of fashion you know this to be true: Claire Pettibone is a big deal. So it's a big deal that she's coming to Seattle to spend some time at the Dress Theory.

She'll be there from January 25 through January 27, and as you might imagine, appointments for the trunk show event are a hot commodity. Contact the store today to find out about accessing a special selection of the designer's dresses, and a 10 percent discount on orders placed during Pettibone's visit. 

We chatted with the designer via email; use her tips and expertise to make the most of this opportunity. 

WWW: Brides stand to gain a lot of insight and knowledge at a trunk show like this one, but what do you as a designer learn from spending time with clients? How do trunk shows and designer events like this one inspire or influence your work? 

Pettibone: It is so valuable to see real women in the dresses. Designers can’t design in a vacuum, well at least not successfully, and seeing what works for different body types allows me to create the most flattering lines. Hearing personal stories, details about the weddings, and seeing what brides respond to is really interesting. It is so amazing to see how my work touches my brides; they are quite devoted, and really seem to embrace the collection in a very personal and meaningful way, so that is extremely rewarding and keeps me inspired to keep creating. 

Brides take on your designs and make them their own—adding color, texture, accessories, context, different hair styles, and whatever else. Can you share an example of being surprised by a real bride's style in one of your dresses? 

This is one of my favorite parts of the whole wedding experience: The individuality and how each woman really does bring the dress to life with her personal style and soul. I always say I have the best brides, and yes, maybe I am a little biased, but I really do! They are so creative and fun! I have a bride getting married in Toile Francais at the Natural History Museum who has dyed grey/blue hair; she will be wearing a vintage crown, and carrying a bouquet trailing to the ground! How cool is that?! Parading through New Orleans with a brass band, to vineyards and barnyards, to gilded gold Cathedrals, I love hearing about these memorable celebrations.

How do you love to see your dresses styled?

I do love a veil, but I am not about rules; there is no “right” way to style a Claire Pettibone gown. A jeweled headpiece, a flower wreath, maybe a fabulous pair of earrings. I usually suggest earrings over necklaces, but it really depends on the dress. You can always go a little bolder with accessories than you would in normal life. You are the bride, and remember, things don’t show as much in photography, so if you want to make a statement, go for it!

What advice do you have for women who'll be at your trunk show? What can they do to prepare and make the most of this opportunity—and, really, of every opportunity to try on dresses as they search for the right one?

From a practical standpoint, wear a nude bra and undies. You don’t want to be distracted by a black bra! Trunk shows offer incentives, so if someone is involved in purchasing the gown, bring them along. You don’t want to miss out and bring mom back when the dress of your dreams has left the building! From a deeper perspective, come with a sense of joy and exploration. Try not to put so much pressure on yourself. Remember to have fun, and enjoy the process. When you are relaxed, you allow that “oh-my-God” moment to happen, and if it doesn’t, you’re probably not in the right place for you. Know that these are sample dresses, and odds are they will not fit you properly; some visualizing and trusting a knowledgeable sales associate will be required. Once you select a gown, it will be ordered in your size, and from there, alterations are where the perfect fit comes together. Remember, the salon and dress designer have the common goal of helping you be your most beautiful, and lots of experience doing just that.

Are the old guidelines about body shape and silhouette valid anymore? Is that something we can toss out, along with those ideas of our mothers' about skin and hair coloring and the seasons?
Absolutely, toss ‘em out! Who said putting a large woman in a big ball gown makes her look smaller?! Sometimes I hear that my gowns are only for thin brides because I tend toward slim silhouettes. They see the model, and just assume, well, I don’t look like that. It’s a complete misconception! We sell all sizes, from petite, to full busted, to curvy all over. It’s just a matter of choosing a gown that highlights your best features, and glides over the rest. Of course, certain gowns will be more flattering than others, so that is why we have about 50 dresses in the collection. 

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