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Workrooms Where Brides’ Dreams Come True

16 May, 2014

La Coqueteria

May is the month when wedding season kicks off. We take this chance to visit fashion workrooms where white dreams are turned into dresses.

We spend a morning visiting two bridalwear studios, Érase una vez and La Coqueteria, to learn more about an economic activity that also forms part of the wedding sector. They often go unnoticed in the face of the prominence that the leading firms with renown in the bridal industry have around this time of year, all of whom showcased their collections at the 24th Barcelona Bridal Week, held at the start of May. This is the most important event in the sector and this year, for the first time, was organised by Fira de Barcelona and included both Gaudí Núvies and the Noviaespaña International Bridal Fashion Exhibition.

Parallel to the activity of the 200-plus brands that exhibited models at Bridal Week, there are small and medium-sized artisan fashion workrooms – many concentrated in the city of Barcelona – who attend customers who want a dress following the couture model. A dress where the bride can take an active part in its making and where her preferences merge with the designer’s creativity to produce a design that is unique and exclusive. 

–        I’m getting married and I wanted to drop by tomorrow afternoon with my mother to see about a dress. It will be a simple and fairly unconventional wedding.

–        When are you getting married?

–        In June.

–        That’s cutting it fine – I’ll see what I can do. You’re in luck! There’s been a cancellation tomorrow so we can see you. We’re flat out at the moment, we will need at least an hour and a quarter tomorrow to talk and you can tell us all about it.

This conversation is repeated three times in at least one hour in the studio of Ruth Fernández, better known by the public as Érase una vez. Set in the heart of the Gràcia neighbourhood, it’s a place where workroom and store/showroom fuse in front of passersby, to their surprise and admiration. People often stop to enjoy the view of a common scene in early spring: a bride trying on what will be the most important dress of her life. 

At Fernández’s studio, where the designer behind Érase una vez signs her gowns as Rutaurora Maria, in homage to her grandmothers, the relationship with all brides begins with a preliminary appointment, when they are asked about their preferences and details on the wedding. “People usually tell us it will be a simple ceremony, but that could mean anything from eight guests, such as the case of the bride who was just now trying on the gauze dress, or three-hundred. The other day a bride came in who was going to have only around a dozen guests but wanted to arrive at the Town Hall on horseback. It’s essential to find out all these details to be able to do a good job,” Ruth Fernández says.

She has been working in the world of bridalwear for more than 11 years, after studying fine arts and taking a fashion course at the Llotja School. “I worked for a large Italian firm, MaxMara, for a couple of years, but when they were going to give me a fixed contract I decided to leave. I wanted to have my own place. I have always wanted that,” she says with enthusiasm. From this tale one gathers that Fernández made the right decision and today, with four people working for her on a regular basis, she has consolidated the business project she dreamt of when she used to watch her grandmothers sew. “It’s for them that I use the name Rutaurora Maria on my gowns, although the person who truly taught me to sew well and who made me understand that a dress must be perfect inside and out was my mother”.

Seasonal business and adaptation

The workroom in carrer Goya in Barcelona now has two other seamstresses presently stitching non-stop, as the work has been full-on since the bridal season began in April. “We are busy right through to October. Then after that it’s always a struggle to make it through winter,” the designer says, reminding us that this frenetic activity is seasonal-based.

The crisis has been another challenge for the Rutaurora Maria workroom. Previously it only had a range of bridal gowns valued between €1,500 and €3,000, but since the recession took hold, it has included a more affordable line, from €500 to €1,500, “for customers who were after a dress that was different and personal but couldn’t afford the gowns in the main collection,” she explains, adding, “We have had to adapt, of course. That’s why it is very important to have a preliminary appointment with the brides where we can explain what is behind the price. A dress from the main collection is made in the style of couture. We work with gauze and do two test runs before starting on the dress itself. But for those who can’t afford this yet also want a design of ours we have the other collection. In this case we start working directly on the dress and make the adjustments on the body,” the designer specifies, mentioning the difference in number of hours and work between the two systems.

When we arrive at La Coqueteria, we pass a smiling couple of their way out. “Do brides usually come in with their partners?” we ask. “Sometimes they do, although more often they come with their mother or some friends,” says the workroom’s designer, Ana Faustino.

Here the arrangement of the workroom and the store changes. While the bridal gowns and a wide range of accessories and multibrand dresses are on display at street level, the sewing and modelling area is located on the floor above. The bridal area for trying on Faustino’s own models and starting to dream about one’s perfect dress is at the back of the establishment.

A large red carpet and giant mirror preside this room, surrounded by vintage-style dresses that are romantic and replete with care and details. “The La Coqueteria bride likes the vintage inspiration but is after a modern and sophisticated line that adapts to her lifestyle and the type of ceremony she is planning,” Faustino says. The designer opened the workroom and store in Barcelona in 2012 and since then word of mouth and the Internet have helped it gain renown among customers from “Barcelona and nearby”.

Unique romantic creations

“We create customised gowns. In the workroom we have different models which we modify and adapt to each customer. I think the most important things is that a wedding dress can be adapted to any style and that each bride feels that her dress is unique and made especially for her,” the designer says.

Faustino also has a degree in fine arts and later did a master’s in fashion design. She spent a number of years working for other sector firms before taking the leap into becoming a businesswoman and creating La Coquetería, located in Barcelona’s carrer Girona. Here, in addition to wedding dresses, we find accessories, headwear and a great variety of other hair pieces. “We make floral crowns, headpieces and fabric flowers. We customise the accessories and tailor them for each bride,” Faustino says.

Customisation and personal and hands-on care are without a doubt some of the main appeals of both her workroom and that of Rutaurora Maria. Both designers know that within the large and varied offer of the leading bridalwear brands in the country, there is a niche market they can cover – and good proof of this is the intense schedule they face until well into autumn.

Barcelona for brides

There is no question that the 24th Barcelona Bridal Week, held from 6 to 11 May, once again turned the city of Barcelona into the epicentre of international bridal fashion. One out of every 10 brides in the world wears a dress made in Spain, according to figures from the organisers, this year led by Fira de Barcelona. The Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX) says the sector produces revenue of €341.7 million per year through exports and sales on the domestic market. And one last figure: 200 labels took part in Barcelona Bridal Week, half of them from overseas, including, in order of numbers, Germany, Belgium, France, Netherlands and the UK.

Bridal Week and its fashion show are key drivers of business and international promotion for the sector. That’s why none of the big labels that work in the sector want to miss it. Such is the case of Pronovias, which this year took advantage of the event to celebrate its  50th anniversy with an exhibition at Barcelona’s Convent dels Àngels and, as always, its eagerly awaited show at the Italian Pavilion at the Montjuïc trade fair grounds. For its part, the other leading sector firm, Rosa Clarà, opened the event on 6 May and was followed by names including Jesús Peiró, Yolan Cris, Inmaculada García and Victorio & Lucchino, among many others.

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