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VOL. 40 | NO. 50 | Friday, December 9, 2016

Brides say ‘yes’ to Hendrix’s dresses

By Hollie Deese

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Karen Hendrix holds up the mother of the bride’s old wedding gown that will be used as part of the construction of the new dress.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

For brides looking to create a totally customized wedding, the dream usually starts and ends with the dress.

And with popular TV shows like “Say Yes to the Dress” and Pinterest upping expectations, something off the rack just won’t do.

Couturier Karen Hendrix has loved creating gowns since she was 14 and growing up in California. As a classically-trained opera singer, she would make her own costumes, customizing the dresses to accommodate her performances. She would experiment with texture, hand-crimping or braiding fabrics to create new textiles.

She created theater clothing, then cocktail and evening gowns. While traveling as a singer, Hendrix was exposed to even more interesting fashion and her passions began to shift.

“Training for the opera world was my goal, and my music took me to Europe, it took me all over the United States,” she says. “Every time I would go somewhere, I was so attracted to fashion that I would start seeking out the couturiers in the area, how they made dresses and their styling.

“Back then there was no internet so I would study all the literature and books that I could find.”

She and her husband moved to Nashville in 1994, and it was then she moved into the world of wedding dresses. In her mind it was the ultimate challenge in artistry and beauty, and one she wanted to take on.

Details of a clients’ wedding dress that have been sketched by Karen Hendrix.

“I love to make hard things and I always love to give myself challenges,” she adds. “I thought, ‘What’s the most complicated clothing I could make? Well, it would be bridal gowns.’”

She started working in local shops doing alterations. When she was bold enough to bring in a dress she designed, it was well-received and she began to slowly build a clientele of her own.

Today, Hendrix, whose business is Karen Hendrix Couture on 21st Ave. S, will have anywhere from 30 to 70 clients on the books at a time, with as many as 19 fittings in a week.

She works with four seamstresses, two part time and the other two who work during the busy season which in Nashville only seems to be growing. June brides, summer brides, fall brides – they want it all.

Still, Hendrix says things do tend to die down from August to December when vacations end and people gear up for school, and then the holidays. “But we’re pretty much busy all year long,” Hendrix explains.

Hendrix also works with a growing number of mothers of the bride or groom, and her bridal business includes an evening business as women remain repeat customers. In fact, she is launching a brand new evening gown collection before the end of the year that will be more subdued than her haute couture gowns.

“It’s a beautiful collection, easy to wear,” Hendrix says. “That collection can transfer over into an evening gown very easily and they’re classic, so they look good on all age groups.”

Making custom dreams a reality

Modern Trousseau Nashville offers brides the “freedom to change each dress to each bride’s particular likings.”

-- Submitted Photograph Courtesy Of Modern Trousseau Nashville

Clients who come to Hendrix are generally professional women who want to stand out, to look amazing and not to look like anyone else. Today’s bride doesn’t want to see herself coming down the aisle at a friend’s wedding.

“They want to show their individuality at a wedding because weddings are all about the bride and groom – what their favorite food is, their favorite venue, what shows their personality the most, the flowers,” Hendrix adds. “Even their invitations, it’s all their personality. Of course what she wears, she wants to feel her best.”

That’s where they lean heavily on Hendrix. She advises brides to bring in lots of pictures, though she makes it very clear she will not copy another designer. Instead, they can take ideas of what the bride likes from different dresses and incorporate styles into an individual dress that is custom.

“That excites them to no end,” Hendrix says.

Then the sketching begins, with the bride giving input while Hendrix draws. Throughout the process she will ask questions about how the bride has always felt about what she would wear, what her dreams are. And when the bride sees her dream on paper, the sketch is complete.

After that Hendrix creates a muslin pattern dress, sometimes with different options, changing and altering, pinning and tucking until the bride is in love with the look.

Hendrix Couture head seamstress and assistant designer Stevajanice Clay – also known as Star – sews lace on a gown.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

“Usually it brings tears to their eyes when they see the realization. I love to say, ‘If you love it now, wait until you see it in your fabric.’ When that process comes along, mom’s there and everybody’s crying.

“Then I really involve them heavily with their dress, because if it was all about me, and she has second thoughts on her wedding day, that’s not a win-win situation. If on the wedding day, she looks in the mirror and she says to herself, ‘This dress has everything that I like and Karen has made sure that it looks best on my figure,’ I’m too happy.”

Evolving expectations

Because of all of the information that is available for brides on social and traditional media, anyone in the market for a wedding dress realizes that custom made is an option within financial reach.

“Brides don’t fall short of their expectations because they realize, ‘Wow, I could really have this anyway I want it,’ and that includes her wedding gown,” Hendrix explains. “I tell my seamstresses they have two choices, either get the job done right and get it done on time, or get the job done right or get it done on time.’ My view of getting the job done right is perfection.”

That means if something doesn’t look right the pattern piece needs to be recut, or if an errant wrinkle is ironed into taffeta, they need to recut the taffeta.

“Every detail is an important detail,” Hendrix adds.

No woman’s body is like another, which is why Hendrix feels so strongly about going couture – especially for the women who never do anything for themselves.

“What I love is when we show them the strengths of their figure, and that translates into their everyday wardrobe,” Hendrix says. “Women don’t realize that they can get a custom gown from a custom couturier like me. Mainly because they don’t know we’re here, and we’ve been here for 20 something years. And there’s several of us in town.”

Hendrix’s meaning of couture is having a dress that’s made from first sketch to final stitch with at least three fittings. Others in the field can help brides looking for the experience of creating a custom gown at a more affordable price point than creating one from scratch.

Madison Stephens is the sales director at Modern Trousseau Nashville, the third flagship in the U.S. of the business that also sells gowns in 42 retailers nationwide and two international flagships. The headquarters is in Woodbridge, Connecticut.

Based on the dress designs of Australian-born designer Callie Tein, Stephens says each dress is customized and modified to meet the bride’s wants and style. There is a range of custom selections to choose from, including color accents, trimmings, skirt shapes and strap selections.

“No gown has to come as-is,” says Stephens. “You have the freedom to change each dress to each bride’s particular likings, whether it’s the color, adding sleeves, taking them away, dipping the back line. You can go as far as to take the top of one gown and put it with the skirt of another. I just finished with a bride, and she took elements of six different gowns and put them into one.”

There are 34 seamstresses on staff throughout the company, and their success lies in the fact that women can take bits and pieces of all different dresses to create one that is just for them, and the fit is impeccable because they take 25 different measurements of the body and a minimum of three pictures of the bride before work begins.

“It’s really fun to be able to play around with that and have a bride create what she’s always dreamed of,” Stephens points out. “Brides want to be a little different, and we can make them a dress that has not been worn before.”

Dresses at Modern Trousseau start around $2,500 and can go up to $6,500, on average.

“If a bride has chosen an all-lace gown, and then wants to add beading and she wants to extend her train 12 feet long, that is going to up the price very much,” Stephens adds. “If a bride adds buttons on her zipper or going to add a strap, that’s going to add on. It just depends on, No. 1, the fabric they’re using, and No. 2, what it is exactly that needs to be done to make it come to life.”

Stephens actually landed her job at Modern Trousseau when her sister was engaged last summer. They had been shopping around for a dress, unsuccessfully, and Modern Trousseau was their third stop. They walked in and one of the flagship directors helped them find the perfect dress. They all hit it off.

Three weeks later the sales director put in her two week notice, and then two weeks after that, Stephens was hired and was able to help her own sister through the entire process of creating her gown.

“Yes, you can find a beautiful dress anywhere, you truly can,” Stephens says. “But brides want the experience. From beginning to end they want to feel they are taken care of. They want to get exactly what they want, and have it made for them, and know that special work and care went into making their gown.”

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