You can be a bridezilla or you can be the most laissez-faire lady around, but finding your wedding dress is still going to be a pain in the butt. There’s the fun part depicted in films and on television: the champagne, the oohs and aahs of your girlfriends and family members, the ebullient chant, “Do you say yes to the dress?”
But I tell you, what shopping for a wedding dress really entails is too much time on Pinterest and Google, lots of emailing and appointment scheduling, trying to figure out how bridal boutiques find it fair to charge you $5,000 simply to attend a fitting (here’s looking at you, Designer Bridal Room), trying your best not to damage the beading on a gown as you stuff your body into one-size-fits-all samples – and, finally, making the decision to throw down a substantial amount of cash for a garment you’ve been dreaming about your whole life and will only wear for but a few hours. Because no matter what your gown budget is, the one you want always costs more (I’ll double-check with Feiping Chang on that, though).
My gown journey started, like most do, on the Internet. Tip one: seven months is not enough time. Most designers need five just to deliver a custom-fit gown, and another month to do alterations. But with my July wedding looming, and my heart set on a Viktor & Rolf, I found myself in Paris last December, late to the game and late for my appointment at Metal Flaque, a bridal boutique in the first arrondissement that stocks the likes of Viktor & Rolf, Inbal Dror and Monique Lhuillier.
In pictures, the Viktor & Rolf gowns are elegant simplicity – they are in real life, too, but they’re structured and heavy, cut from dense fabric, beautiful for photography as they hold their sculptural shapes well, but not for this bride, who wants to dance and move and perhaps engage in a little light yoga in between vows and dinner. The Inbal Drors are beautifully beaded and amazing if you have the body you want already – with no corseting, they’re comfy as hell, but hide no bulge of the belly. I fall for a sweetheart strapless duchesse satin Viktor & Rolf with appliqué flowers that trail from waist to floor, but the cardinal rule of shopping is, don’t buy at the first stop.
Onwards and upwards to Amsterdam, and the site of my wedding, where a single luxury bridal shop exists: Bloomfeld Luxury Bridal. The space is beautiful, a quaint townhouse with high, high ceilings, large rooms and great light. It’s also a 45-minute Uber ride from Amsterdam Central, and I travel there as a snowstorm pursues us. Oscar, Vera, Elie, Carolina and Zuhair all have a presence here, but the one I fall for is a light-as-a-feather plunging number with an A-line skirt that moves with the wind and makes me giddy as I twirl before the mirror, by a brand I’m not familiar with, Valentini Couture. “Sorry, no pictures,” says the boutique assistant, though, as I promise to think hard about it. Twenty minutes later, while standing in the snow, one foot puddle-wet, pondering why no Uber cars are available, or even in the vicinity of this upscale residential neighbourhood Middenbeemster, I decide that even if this is the dress, I’m never making this commute again.
The dress hunt doesn’t end in Europe – back home in Hong Kong, I hit up all the necessary spots. At Designer Bridal Room, they try to coerce me into paying a substantial “membership fee” before being allowed even to touch the dresses. At Audella Bridal House, the gowns – mostly by Israeli designers such as Berta Bridal and Mira Zwillinger, known for their exquisite beading and incomparable workmanship – are truly showstoppers, though perhaps a little too precious and revealing for me. On a whim and off an Instagram ad, I find myself at a sample sale for Pier 94, where dresses are a mere $3,000, and brides line up for the changing room, gowns in arm and trailing across the floor, as a portly auntie trusses you up like a turkey and derides your body shape before sending you out to the communal mirror to make your final decision (final decision: never again).
The new kid on the block, The Loft Bridal tops my list of experiences. Designs by Yolancris are ethereal but best for someone of a more lithe frame, while the Delpozos have great hanger appeal, and amazing drape. Owner Jacqueline Au snaps shots of me at all angles, sending them over after my session by Whatsapp – the most thorough customer service I’ve received yet. I fall hard for a V-neck sheer blush creation that looks like it’s been spattered with white paint – the perfect balance between frou-frou and fashion, demure and daring – until I see an acquaintance of mine on Instagram looking equally fantastic in the same gown on her Big Day. What a bitch.
Time’s a-ticking, and I’m certain my trip to L.A is my last chance. I’m booked in at Kinsley James in West Hollywood, which stocks lines like Australia’s Pallas Couture and Israel’s Liz Martinez and Idan Cohen. The service is fantastic and the bubbly’s not bad, either. The pieces are showy, but not trashy, and I’m this close to sealing the deal on a nude tulle mermaid gown that hugs the body and requires very little underwear, although the image of my father’s likely disapproving sneer is a factor that gives me pause. I go as far as to have my measurements taken and credit-card details photocopied, leaving with Kinsley James Post-its and stationery, a champagne hangover and a huge decision to make.
I’ve procrastinated too long and by now, it seems this wedding has become a modern re-telling of The Emperor Has No Clothes, when I find out the bridal shop downstairs from the Prestige office, Trinity Bridal, is having a sample sale. It’s already started when I see the flyer, but they squeeze me in, and I sneak out of the office with the smell of desperation as my perfume. Sample sizes are generally 2s and 4s in Hong Kong, and I am … not a 2.
All the Oscar de la Rentas I choose are deemed impossible to squeeze into, the Carolinas a little too traditional, and then Lluvy, who’s been helping me, pulls out a beaded plunging number from Gala by Galia Lahav that’s got rhinestones, an illusion neckline, a low back and built-in Spanx. Nuh-uh, I think, I’m not an ice dancer – but she says it will fit me and, to pacify her, I put it on.
Of course, you know how this story ends. It fits like a glove. It’s all curves and boobs and va va voom. I look skinny. I look hot. But can it be? Is it she? I’ve seen so many gowns and variations, I’m paralysed with indecision. It’s a sample sale, Lluvy warns me, so if I can’t decide now, well …
The other shoe drops not in the moment, but that evening, at a Tibetan singing-bowl meditation session at which I’m finding it very difficult to locate my Zen. Instead of Om Shanti Om, I’m hearing Galia, Galia, Gala by Galia Lahav. Instead of a blank slate, I’m seeing a hand-stitched lace hem, crystal-encrusted skinny straps, a mermaid silhouette. So it’s true. Meditation really does help clear your mind. As the last note of the bowl dies out, the vibrations are still singing through my body as I dash to the corner of the room. I pull out my phone and start composing the email. Lluvy, I write. Save me the dress. You’re coming home, baby.