Chatting with designer and bridal expert Ou Ma about her favourite subject, wedding gowns, revealed timely advice on what brides impacted by COVID-19 can do to ensure a successful, if delayed, wedding. —Vita Daily
Hi Ou! Please tell us a bit about yourself and O M Couture to start.
My name is Ou Ma, and I’m the founder and creative director of couture bridal boutique O M Couture in Vancouver's Gastown.
How did you get into fashion design and, specifically, bridal design?
I was born and raised in a diplomat family in Beijing. My parents worked in Chinese embassies in Norway and the U.S., and brought me back lots of fashion magazines and art books. I had a strong interest in art, colour and gouache painting when I was six, and was obsessed with my Barbie dolls! Making dresses from scraps of fabrics for them took most of my leisure time growing up. I also remember how excited and obsessed I was watching couture fashion shows on TV, featuring designers like Dior, Alexander McQueen, Christian Lacroix and Chanel. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer! I taught myself sewing, pattern making and draping and started to make clothes for my friends. I then applied to and was accepted by the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and, after graduating, started to work at Ralph Lauren, where I was involved in the entire design process from sketching to dressing the final garments on models. My colleagues noticed my fascination with eveningwear in particular, and started asking me to design one-of-a-kind wedding dresses for them (including a Shantung Silk peplum pantsuit with a tulle overskirt for an elopement in Iceland and a hand-appliqued French Chantilly lace dress for a mom-to-be married in Cape Town). I loved the process of transforming a bride’s needs into a creative design, as well as the feeling of accomplishment when watching my brides walking down the aisle.
How is bridal design a specialty? What are some of the challenges involved? And the rewards?
It’s all about balancing and designing with restrictions. As a designer, I am not just making a beautiful dress, but an outfit that suits the bride’s personality, the venue, the wedding ambiance and more. The dress has to stand out but also needs to fit into the whole picture. It’s also hard to design something fashion forward in bridal because you don’t want to look outdated in 10 years—and that’s the challenge of balancing being classic and contemporary. I remember one bride coming to me, frustrated because she'd been to four countries, tried on more than 100 dresses and still couldn’t find “The One”. She was looking for a dress with a classic fit and flare silhouette and an intricate lace pattern, decorated with silk fabric flowers—a combination that doesn't exist in the market. I found her three different types of laces, along with my own handmade silk flowers, and created my own lace pattern by cutting the motifs one by one and placing them in my own design. Every single flower stem had its own place with a reason, either mimicking the pattern from the other side, or threading through the patterns around them like brush strokes. Seeing my bride wearing the dress with the biggest smile from bottom of her heart was an amazing moment.
You offer custom services; what are your top tips for brides who want to design their own gowns?
I have three tips: first, try as many dresses as you can! Pinterest can be fun and inspirational, but when it comes to reality some of the most pinned dress won’t look good on everyone. Try different silhouettes, materials, shades of white and types of laces; a custom bridal gown can be inspired by anything, but has to be built from reality. Second, keep in mind that you're not just wearing a beautiful wedding dress, you're wearing a dress that says your name. Don’t dress to impress or to be someone else. Finally, plan ahead and listen to professionals. It takes us at least five months to finish a custom dress, which involves at least two fittings, so start the process as early as you can.
With so many brides sadly having to put their weddings on hold at the moment, what advice do you have?
I feel terribly sorry for brides who have had to postpone or cancel their weddings due to COVID-19. For those still looking for dresses but who obviously cannot visit bridal shops, O M Couture is going completely virtual and offering video consultations, where we help build a moodboard, showcase (and even ship) fabric options, do real-time design and sketching and help brides visualize their custom wedding gown. For brides who already have their dress but can't wear it until a delayed wedding date, proper storage is key. Hang the dress covered with a plastic or cloth garment bag. If the dress is too big to fit in your closet, flip it inside-out then fold it and store it flat. It’s hard not to have any wrinkles but most of them can be steamed out before the wedding. If the dress is made of bias-cut silk or any knitted fabrics, hanging will actually elongate it so folding is your best option. Regarding sizing, most of gowns have room to alter, but brides should contact the original retailer or designer once they've set a new wedding date so they can help put a new timeline for alterations in place. It might take longer for some stores to complete the work due to the pandemic, so definitely plan ahead. Also, you can ask the store or designer for some scrap fabric, just in case. Finally, keep an eye on wedding trends, which change quickly (from year to year). Styling your gown with accessories to look current is the most efficient way to go if you don’t want the dress to go waste.