Vicars and tarts -after Father B, Madame Eva and Coco Charnelle, time to turn to the subject of weddings. The French get hitched from June to September, but all the planning starts months before. In early 2012, I went to meet Véronique le Garrec who runs a wedding dress shop (though she might like to call it a Dream Emporium). As fate would have it, Ms Garrec’s shop is only a few hundred metres from Coco Charnelle (this will only make sense if you have been reading the interviews in order. You might like to peruse Provincial Pleasures before reading this.)
Taking the plunge in 2012 ? It’s probably time to start thinking about wedding plans. Roughly a quarter of a million couples get married in France every year, and to help them with the organisational nightmare, there are numerous Salon de Mariage held from September to January throughout France. French high society types start to organise their nuptials in January, but what about the Français Moyen ? I took a trip to the provinces to meet Véronique le Garrec who has been weaving wedding dreams for the future brides of Bourges for the past ten years. The current trends for Mariage à la mode in smalltown France.
So, tell us about wedding dresses.
Whatever you want, my advice would be to order early. No matter when you’re getting married, just remember that a dress takes around five months to make. We don’t sell « off the peg. » The dresses in the shop are just used for fittings, and every dress we sell is unique. Clients will start with one of our standard models and « adapt » it depending on their taste or the theme they have chosen for the wedding.
How much is a dress?
Prices range from 300€ to just over 1000€. The average spend on a dress is roughly 600€.
Wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy « off the peg » dress or even rent one?
Possibly, though apart from Tati, I don’t know of anyone who sells « off the peg » dresses. Besides for the majority brides to be, this is the biggest day of their life, it’s a fairytale moment they want something special. I’ve never actually heard of anyone renting a wedding dress.
There were two royal marriages in 2011, have the dresses of Kate Middleton or Charlene Wittstock influenced trends for 2012?
Perhaps for chic Parisian society weddings. As far as my clients are concerned, no one has asked for a Kate Middleton-style dress, though I have had a few requests or the same kind of sleeves.
What about dress trends for 2012?
In dress trends there is no such thing as a spring or summer or winter collection. All collections run from September to September. This year the trend is for long « trapeze » shaped dresses. Volume is out. In terms of material, this year it’s taffetas and silk organza. As for colours, for years bordeaux was very popular, but this fashion is coming to an end. The trend now is ivory, chocolate and even black. I’ve sold quite a few ivory dresses with touches of black, though no one is likely to get married all in black.
We are in France, so everyone has to get married at the « mairie », with Monsieur le Maire presiding, though many couples will go on to have a religious ceremony. Are there any « dress » differences for each ceremony? Charlene Wittstock had separate outfits for both ceremonies.
Occasionally, brides just having the civil ceremony might go for something just a little more sober, but in general terms, no matter the ceremony, the bride-to-be wants a dream dress for her dream day. It is rare for brides to have separate outfits for each ceremony. Remember that Ms Witt stock had the civil and the religious ceremonies on different days.
A dress is a once in lifetime purchase. What do brides do with their dresses after the ceremony? Can they adapt them and wear them for other occasions?
When the confetti has settled and the magic day is over, most brides keep their dresses as a souvenir. These dresses are made to measure. They embody the dreams of their wearers. They can’t really be sold or recycled.
Unfortunately we live in a world where marriage isn’t necessarily for life anymore. Is this thought much in the minds of brides to be when they buy a dress?
Not at all. Brides want the best dress for their big day. I would say though, that we are getting more and more customers who are « second timers », and even on the second time round, they still want to get married in a traditional dress.
What about the groom?
We can kit out Monsieur too. Grooms have one distinct advantage over their brides; they can recycle their wedding suit. If its not too ornate or garish, it can be worn as everyday working apparel for the office. For many men, the wedding suit is perhaps the only one they will ever buy.
What about wedding trends?
They reflect the times we live in. An average « all-in » wedding costs around 13,000 Euros. The happy couple might take out a loan to pay the wedding, or other family members might chip in. People don’t tend to cut corners on food or clothing, however, they save money elsewhere. They may make their own invitations, they might have a disco instead of a band or they may not hire an expensive car, and just go to the Church in the family saloon. As for presents, couples are marrying later in life, so they already have all the homemaking stuff. The wedding wish list is on the wane. Nowadays couples will just ask for money. At the reception, the best man or family members will collect cheques or cash contributions for the happy couple. Some people use this money to actually pay for the wedding.
Selling wedding dresses, you are very much dealing in dreams, what does it take to be a good dream weaver?
A girl comes in the shop with her idea or dream, and we have to try and make it come true. You need to be a good listener, and you also have to be frank with the customer. If she looks awful in a dress, you have to tell her, though always diplomatically. The other problem is reconciling the dream with the reality. Customers come in with ideas on colours styles and materials that might not necessarily work, or be within their allotted budget. Not all of their dress dreams may come true, but we try our best.
What about qualifications?
Well I’ve never heard of any Professional dream-weaving diplomas, however, as with all sales jobs, the basic two year CAP diploma is indispensable, and for wedding dresses some kind qualification as a seamstress. I personally did an « école de Couture » before working here. After that, it is all down to your personality and passion for the job.
Are you passionate about wedding dresses?
And now a few facts, stats and phrases