Incorporating Vintage Elements into your Wedding Dress Design by Emma Hunt

Vintage influences have played a big part in wedding dress design in recent years, with designers looking to eras throughout the 20th century for inspiration. Here, top London wedding dress designer Emma Hunt tells us how to inject the glamour of bygone times into your own wedding style.

"It is no secret that there has been a huge surge of vintage elements being incorporated into weddings of recent years; it’s a simple way to inject a dose of glamour into your day, be that through décor, your stationery suite or, of course, your dress. Some brides will look to replicate the vintage look in its true form, and can look spectacular doing so, however the clients I work with tend to be looking for a more approachable version of this.

I work on a bespoke basis with my clients so that we can collaborate to understand what look and feel they are hoping to achieve and use my experience and expertise to realise this in its most flattering and elegant form. I love looking to vintage references as they bring an unparalleled richness to my designs and are a sure-fire way to make my clients feel womanly and glamorous in their most special of dresses. While none of my dresses are obvious imitations from any decade in particular, I often find myself drawn to certain eras depending on the client - the key is in understanding how elements from different decades work for each client and how they wish to look as well as what is right for their shape.

Above: Fleur & Ellen by Emma Hunt

At the Emma Hunt studio, we’ve seen a definite movement of brides wanting a more timeless look for their dress. In my experience, the most contemporary interpretation of this is to take a softly, softly approach; it’s a delicate balance of looking to eras bygone for inspiration and incorporating these along with sumptuous fabrics that provide movement and feel spectacular against the skin, while more current lines ensure that the finished dress is one that looks timeless and sophisticated. When looking to vintage dresses or styles for inspiration, there are certain elements that will add oomph to your dress – the juxtaposition of different fabrics and textures add interest while exquisite beadwork or embroidery will make for a luxurious finish.

My favourite references are those of the old Hollywood starlets. Black and white movie actresses such as Lauren Bacall, Veronica Lake, Sophia Loren and Hedy Lamarr all understood the importance of working with their bodies and the power of lush details. Draping, gathering or tailoring techniques were all used to emphasise the bust and waist and to show off collarbones and décolletage. Duchess silk satin responds well to structure - my Purdi dress makes use of a tailored bust and luxuriantly beaded waistband to add curves to a straighter figure, while the flattering deep V to the back and decadent full skirt of my Lara dress will work well on curvier types.

Above: Purdi & Lara by Emma Hunt

If you are looking for movie star sophistication, lavish, fluid satins and statement lace ooze old Hollywood glamour and are best suited to slighter frames. Both my Mara and Lana dresses have the wow factor and use fabric that pools gently around the feet for an air of pure opulence.

Above: Mara & Lana by Emma Hunt

Looking to a different era, Downton Abbey has certainly had an influence on some of my recent work, with brides looking to replicate the demure and delicate early 1920’s looks. Less structured, these dresses are perfect for those after the most romantic of styles. My advice would be to incorporate the lightest of fabrics – you’re looking for an ethereal feel, with light as air organza or Chantilly lace. Generally this is a style to suit the more lithe of frame, but I also combine lace overlays with the fitted bodices of my dresses for those in need of a bit more structure, such as in my Padma dress. A lightly scalloped edge also works well for an elegant 20s look – see my Ana dress, below.

Above: Padma & Ana by Emma Hunt

A high neckline is another way to work Downton style and is a request that I am seeing more and more of, but there is no reason for this to feel inhibited or too covered up. My Evie dress uses finest Chantilly lace up to the neck but I’ve kept the shoulders bare for a demure show of skin, while freshwater pearl detailing gives an effervescent finish. Alternatively, add a sheer embroidered organza jacket, as shown below on my Ilsa dress, to give a modest feel while still showing a hint of skin, perfect for church ceremonies where you might need to be more covered up. Of course, once the lights go down and the dancing gets going later in the evening, this can be slipped off for a statement reveal.

Above: Ilsa & Evie by Emma Hunt

Of course, the imminent release of The Great Gatsby film by Baz Lurhmann will certainly do nothing to decrease the influence of the 20s for brides in 2013 and this is where you can let your ornate sensibilities go wild. This is the true roaring style of the decade as opposed to the softer earlier 20s styles of Downton Abbey – opt for exquisite beading to bring glamour to even the simplest of silhouettes, while slinky silhouettes and beautiful layers will help you achieve decadent movement.  A dropped waist is perhaps the most iconic trend of this decade, but you needn’t be put off if you are not gamine of shape: my Sienna dress shows how it is possible to suggest a dropped waist with French corded lace brought down to skim the top of the hips before a full organza skirt flares out and down to the floor. This is also a chance to work a coloured wedding dress – a shimmering pastel will look fantastic. My Annie dress is made from slipper satin in softest pink with an overlay of Levers lace and hand-beaded detail to the waist.

Above: Annie & Sienna by Emma Hunt

The most important factors to consider when you are looking to incorporate vintage elements are how you hope to feel in your dress, what parts of your body are you happy to emphasise and what parts would you prefer to skim over. Perhaps don’t be too set on a particular decade or style, but understand that elements from an era you had not at first considered may just be the key to your most flattering, effortlessly beautiful dress."

Now in her 15th year in the wedding industry, Emma Hunt is one of London's top wedding dress designers, with a reputation for impeccable customer service and outstanding quality. For more information visit Emma's profile on The Wedding Vine.

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