The Devil is in the Detail: Vintage Inspired Embellishment & The New Bling!

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It always bemuses me how wedding dresses like fashion reflect the Zeitgeist of a particular time.

During the ‘noughties’ wedding dresses became a statement of conspicuous consumption. As such, they were often full of heavy silver and glass beading, with fabric ruched, nipped and tucked into the embellished areas to create an air of opulence and abundance. Some might say a period of effervescent ‘bling’! However come the credit crunch and the ensuing recession there appeared to be a re-evaluation of this blatant glitz. Even now as we climb out of recession there still seems to be an extended period of sobriety. That is, if there is decoration or embellishment it is done in a less ostentatious manner – more subtle in appearance. As such, where there was once glass, sparkle and sequins, now there are matt pearls, self coloured (not contrasting) satin embroidery and antique lace. Evidently when we talk of ‘antique’ lace we cannot dismiss the prevalent ‘vintage’ trend, which I believe is in part due to our desire for nostalgia - as often during times of austerity we seek comfort in the thing we know: the past. Especially when there is uncertainty in the present and a fear of the future.

Notwithstanding this need for nostalgia there often remains in our contemporary society the need to be different which paradoxically vintage garments provide in abundance due to their relative scarcity. And here is where vintage embellishment and decoration comes into its own. Often hand finished and difficult to mass produce, with consistency they create a headache for the commercial manufacturer – who ultimately abandons their production.

To replicate some of these embellishments which are exquisite, ingenious and rare Vyn Johns has spent many an afternoon poring over vintage needlecraft and dressmaking books, as well as visiting costume museums and exhibitions for inspiration - translating and adapting the originals for the dresses in the studio.

Most recently with the 50s Etc Collection Vyn Johns developed the bow-rose. A play on a traditional bow inspired by a picture found in the renowned 1948 Dress Design pattern cutting book by Hillhouse Mansfield but hand stitched in such a way as to produce a ‘rose’ effect which the company first used on a 1930s bespoke dress for a client. With the addition of pearls the bow-rose becomes more opulent and three dimensional without the ostentatious ‘bling’ of the noughties. Such details, although time consuming, are ‘tricky’ to mass produce due to the hand sewing required to finish them. This gives our brides a sense of authenticity and perhaps more importantly exclusivity as they are not ubiquitous as is so often witnessed with modern day bridal dress embellishment.

Hillhouse Mansfield
1930's Bespoke Dress

60's Inspiration

From the request of one bride who loved our samples but wanted her dress differentiating further we ‘weeded’ out lace flowers from off-cuts of a 60s inspired lace, added freshwater pearls to highlight the carpel (central) area of the flower then hand stitched them to emphasise an otherwise simple rounded neckline.

A similar embellishment was undertaken on an order for a Dusty dress. Freshwater pearls were once again added to the central part of each flower creating a more 3D decorative effect on the yoke of the dress - subtle yet very effective.

3D Detailing on the Wedding Dress
Obviously these are just a few examples of vintage inspired surface embellishments ‘sans bling’ which we currently use in the studio to make sure our customer never looks the same as another person in the crowd. Make no mistake; at Vyn Johns we are not averse to ‘bling’, it’s just that more recently customers have been giving us their patronage for our understated glamour: subtle with elements of ostentation, if that makes sense!

As such we’ve noticed that brides with their ears to the ground are wanting embellishment but in a less ‘shiny’ way. A lot of them are leaving shiny for accessories and jewellery. So you may ask ‘how long will this last for?’ My response would be – keep an eye on the economy and a girl’s spending power! If my Zeitgeist theory is anything to go by - as soon as the period of sobriety has passed people will start to demand more ‘bling’ to stand out from the more ‘matt’ crowd. I imagine that Vyn Johns will step up to the challenge but it will be done in the best possible taste!

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