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A new wave of wedding dresses have sprung up in this historic section of the city.
It’s the wedding day and the path to the alter is clear, ready for the bride’s grand entrance. She is radiant. Her makeup and hair are effortlessly chic (a look achieved only after hours in a chair), swept back into a relaxed chignon or flowing in loose waves. She holds flowers and maybe even wears a veil, but what she won’t be wearing is a big poofy skirt—at least not if she went shopping at a new wave of Gastown boutiques.Taking the spot of ‘traditional’ dresses is the self-described era of ‘unconventional’ or ‘alternative’ gowns. And while this trend isn’t new to 2016, it has sparked a growth in Gastown’s boutique bridal industry — one that favours more tailored, sheath-like dresses. With boutiques like Truvelle, Union Bridal and the new Rituals of Love taking up residence in Gastown, the area has turned into one of Vancouver’s hottest ‘alternative’ bridal hubs.“I was booked up from before I opened,” says Rituals of Love owner Samantha Hallaran. “I was getting calls to my cell phone. I don’t know how people were getting my cell phone number.” Hallaran thought she would be working on her own for the first year, but it’s been so busy that she has already hired two more staff members. “Especially on weekends, we’re back to back to back,” she says.What exactly is an ‘alternative’ or ‘unconventional’ wedding dress? “It’s essentially the alternative to a sweetheart, strapless ball gown, which is quite common in the traditional wedding world,” says Union Bridal co-owner Emily Milardo. “So, different cuts, different types of open back, different laces that aren’t just a chantilly, romantic, floral lace.” Union Bridal carries a number of sheath dresses, flowy dresses and geometric laces, as well as some of the more ‘traditional’ looks. Hallaran explains that she doesn’t carry any dresses at Rituals of Love that are too heavy or have large skirts. “I would say we carry gowns that are, to be put boldly, catered to a cool, fashion-forward bride that’s looking to stand out and feel a little bit edgy,” says Hallaran. “And dresses that are somewhat comfortable and easy to move in.”Soha Lavin, bridal expert and director of Crème de la Crème bridal showcase, says she has noticed the growth in Gastown’s bridal industry, but only just recently. “Gastown is growing in so many different ways fashion wise. It’s only natural that bridal would be included in that,” says Lavin. According to Lavin, one of the biggest draws of the ‘alternative’ bridal look is the personalization of it. “I feel like the brides these days are more sophisticated. In whatever is their style, they’re really not wanting cookie-cutter anything.”Hallaran decided to open Rituals of Love after falling in love with a boutique bridal shop she worked at when she lived in San Francisco. Hallaran felt there was a need in Vancouver for more unique gowns after struggling to find her own dress a few years ago. “I just found everything a little bit cake-topper, or tacky, or obscenely expensive, like over $10,000 plus.” Similarly, Milardo was disappointed with her own shopping experience and decided, “let’s do something cool and different for these girls who are wedding dress shopping.”Truvelle’s dresses are all designed and made in-house and can be tried on at their flagship store in Gastown by walk-in or appointment. Meanwhile, Union Bridal and Rituals of Love are both appointment-only boutiques that carry curated collections of gowns that you won’t find anywhere else in Vancouver. “You’re dropping quite a bit of money on this dress, and I’m not a fussy, high-maintenance woman, but I would expect a level of experience that I just wasn’t feeling at one of those bigger, Kleinfeld, box stores,” says Milardo. “I get a lot of girls coming into the store extremely nervous and anxious. So, our big thing is just calming them down and making them feel really at home.”The boutiques also have another thing in common—their aesthetic: large windows, open floor plans, and second-floor spaces to create more privacy. And with more of them in the area now, brides can make a day of it. “We all kind of have a similar feel about us and when a bride makes an appointment at one, they usually do two or three. So, it’s nice that we’re all close together,” says Hallaran.
The Capri gown by Bo & Luca is one of Hallaran’s favourite dresses at Rituals of Love. Hallaran says that each Bo & Luca Gown is hand-embroidered and is made from 100 percent raw silk, which is hand-dyed to achieve a unique soft-white. “I love their effortless, fluid, feminine, and uncomplicated silhouettes.”Rime Arodaky‘s Sewell dress just arrived at Union Bridal and Milardo says, “brides have been going crazy for it.” She points out that the skirt is tailored to elongate the legs, with the buttons down the front adding a little something special. “And while it is picking up from men’s fashion just a touch, it’s so beautifully feminine in the way it opens up to the lace insert.”Truvelle owner and designer Gaby Bayona is excited about using colour with gowns like the Alexandra. “For decades, white has been the standard for wedding gowns,” says Bayona. “I’m thrilled that the modern bride is embracing colour, which allows gowns like our Alexandra dress, which features an unconventional dove-grey chiffon, to exist.”