'I could see how brides would be pulling their hair out ' - Irish wedding dress designer Dawn Fitzgerald
Irish bridal designer Dawn FitzGerald may know a thing or two about finding 'the one' - but when it comes to her own wedding dress, she knows ten. She talks to THEVOW.ie editor Karen Birney about how wedding dresses kept her business afloat during the difficult recession, why we love supporting Irish, and why today's brides need to ignore so-called wedding 'trends'
Wedding dress designer Dawn FitzGerald has a predicament.
And it's one that after over a decade of writing exclusively about weddings I can absolutely sympathise with.
While she's full of ideas and advice on what other people should - and shouldn't - do for their big day, she hasn't a clue where to start when it comes to her own.
"I used to think how is it so time consuming?" she laughs, her own wedding date officially set for next summer. "You're really just planning a party at the end of the day! But then you get into it and there's an array of different floral displays... I mean I can see where you could be pulling your hair out."
Far from matronly
Many will recognise Dawn as the designer behind the beautiful gown former Miss Ireland Rosanna Davison (pictured) wore for her wedding reception in Wicklow back in 2014. Indeed she has been one of the go-to evening wear designers for several of Ireland's most stylish women - Amy Huberman and Vogue Williams two names which immediately come to mind - since graduating from the prestigious Grafton Academy nearly ten years ago. Suki Waterhouse even wore one of her gowns in 2014's Love, Rosie - an adaptation of Cecelia Aherne's best selling novel.
She's clearly well trusted among friends and clients alike. Under Dawn FitzGerald Atelier, she designed the beautiful backless gown former model Alannah McGurk wore for her wedding in Kerry back in 2015, while more recently she created the breathtaking gown Fair City actress Aoibheann McCaul wore when she tied the knot with fiancé Brian Farrell earlier this month.
If someone had told her when she was in college that she'd become a bridal designer however, she would never have believed them.
"I would have said no way!" she laughs, "I always associated bridal design with thick, matronly dresses - obviously incorrectly!"
Of course Dawn's designs are far from matronly. Pretty pearl-encrusted cap sleeves, giant bows, pockets and delicate, intricate hand appliqué make up some of the most striking features of her gowns. Indeed Dawn's most recent creation for Irish actress Aoibheann saw the placement of a huge bow on the back, with a dreamy duchess satin detachable train, embellished with exquisite hand-beading and embroidery.
A quick eye over the eight-strong capsule collection however and the dress she describes is nowhere to be seen.
"Sometimes that's what happens," Dawn explains, "A client will come into me and they'll either fall in love with one dress or they'll fall in love with different parts of different dresses. A particular silhouette would suit them but they like different aspects of different dresses from the collection. Then I would design it up for them and we'll start making it."
She's traditional, sure, but elegance, she says, is her signature.
"I like a gown that accentuates the person, rather than the other way around," she says. "It complements their personality and their figure but you're also thinking how the silks are cut when you're designing the dress up, and how they're going to move when they're walking... That thought process goes in behind it."
Foray into bridal
Dawn opened her first boutique in Powerscourt Centre in the heart of Dublin in 2010 and at the time was mainly focused on evening wear and tailoring. However, as time went on she found herself being increasingly approached to design bespoke wedding dresses for her clients.
"I had professional women in their thirties coming in to me pulling their hair out and saying 'I'm looking at the same five dresses in bridal boutiques'," she explains. "They wanted something more sophisticated maybe, less bridal, and more of an elegant gown."
Dawn's foray into the bridal industry really came about as she tried to navigate the recession, which saw her business eventually becoming mostly wedding dress commissions.
"Really it was a blessing," she muses, "because when you're making a wedding dress there's a lot of time there to work with. You're working closer with the client and there's the budget there to use the best quality fabrics. There's time for hand-beading of lace and, it turned out, it was actually what I loved to do."
In the details
Perusing through Dawn's Instagram as we chat I notice a shot of the delicate gold embroidered Dawn Fitzgerald Atelier label she uses across her collections, a pretty blue bow in the corner. "Yep that's our 'something blue'!" she tells me before revealing another special addition to her 2019 collection. "For next year, we're working with Carrickmacross - so in our 2019 collection there'll be a bit of Carrickmacross lace put into the dresses in the collection."
Carrickmacross lace, if you are unfamiliar, is a special fabric which involves a technique hailing from the drumlins of Co. Monaghan. It was made famous worldwide when Princess Diana's wedding dress designers used the fabric in her bridal gown, and was a feature of Kate Middleton's wedding dress when she tied the knot with the now Duke of Cambridge back in 2011.
Bespoke veils made from the fabric can fetch around €2000.
Currently there are around 12-15 women keeping the craft alive, and Dawn is clearly excited about incorporating it into her dresses - as happy perhaps as her clients are to know that they're supporting Irish by choosing a dress from her collection.
"Definitely the fact that they're going to an Irish designer for a wedding dress that is made in Ireland is a definite plus for my clients," says Dawn, explaining how everything is dreamed up and designed in her own studio in the Dalkey suburb of Dublin.
"They like the idea of supporting an Irish business - which we all do I think - and they can see it all coming together too which is nice."
After enjoying the experience so much, her clients often come back for more.
Dawn has redesigned some of her wedding dresses as evening gowns, and even made christening robes from one or two of her bridal gowns. "There's enough fabric in some of our trains anyway!" she laughs, "but it's a lovely tradition."
Timeless v trendy
While Dawn's gowns are full of modern details, she explains that she's actually not one for following trends.
"I follow designers on Instagram," she admits, "but I'm more of a traditional person I think."
Her advice to other brides is to do the same too - to opt for the timeless, over the trendy: "If you look at Grace Kelly's dress even today, it's equally as timeless today as it was on the day she got married. Kate Middleton's wedding dress was taking inspiration from her dress."
It's difficult of course, with so many pretty 'Pinterest' gowns and high couture imagery showcasing often impossible looks.
"I think lots of these collections that are produced, they're shot on models that seem to be 18-year-old Amazonian supermodels," she says, "bodies are elongated, they're photoshopped... They look fabulous. But you need to think 'okay I'm getting married in Ireland - what's the weather going to be like?'"
One trend she could back however is the reception dress - "If you're working really hard and saving, why not have two dresses?!" she laughs.
So for her big day? Will she go with two? Or maybe even three?
"I'll have ten dresses," she says, completely dead-pan, and I believe her.
"Just kidding, although I'm working on the 2019 collection at the moment. I'll design ten of my dream dresses for that, and hopefully then I'll choose one from them!"
Wedding dress prices start from €3000. For more on Dawn FitzGerald Atelier, visit dawnfitzgeraldatelier.ie