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Designer gowns

16 September 2022
kathmandu wedding dress mar 19 1 768x512
The Tanya Carlson and Kathmandu wedding dress collaboration made of GORE-TEX for an April Fool's Day joke.

While she’s well-known around New Zealand for her signature seasonal fashion collections, Dunedin fashion designer Tanya Carlson also does a line in stunning bridal attire. Interview Josie Steenhart

When did you start designing bridal, and how many wedding dresses have you created to date?

I started designing bridal when I first opened my madeto- measure business in Dunedin in the early 90s. I vividly remember the first wedding dress I ever designed – a strapless white velvet column dress with a matching silk georgette hooded cape.

Over the years I’ve designed countless wedding dresses, but each one has been memorable and unique. It was incredibly special bringing the dresses together for the exhibition ‘Not All White’ held at Dunedin Public Art Gallery during the 15th anniversary of iD Dunedin Fashion Week in 2014.

They were arranged in the space on ten cuisenaire rod platforms designed by Michael Parekōwhai, and, as the name suggests, there were ivory dresses but also dresses in pink, green velvet and red lace. It was pretty amazing seeing them all together.

What have been a few of the most memorable and why?

It’s difficult because they’re all so special and I feel extremely privileged to be involved in someone’s special day but I’ll choose a few.

My friend Bronwyn, who married another friend Josh Kronfeld, in an island wedding. She wore an exquisite backless, form-fitting dress in transparent lace.

My fabulous work wife Cara’s Spanish-inspired dress, which involved 16m of raspberry-coloured silk.

And I’d have to include my collaboration with Kathmandu to create Adapt, the one-off all-weather/all-terrain wedding dress made of GORE-TEX for an April Fool’s Day joke one year, while also raising money for charity. Strangely, the fabric reminded me a bit of old-fashioned taffeta. It featured 7m of GORE-TEX cut and draped in a continuous line, creating a classic silhouette with minimal seams. It also had a train that transformed into a cape with hood plus large storage pockets for carrying flowers, first-aid kits or bottles of water.

You recently designed Lisa Carrington’s wedding dress, what can you tell us about that?

I’ve dressed Lisa for years, and I’ve always loved working with her. We began talking about her dress while she was in MIQ having just returned from the Tokyo Olympics. It was a real collaboration – Lisa wanted a dress that would make her “feel like herself”.

What we ended up creating was a timeless 50s silhouette with a modern twist. It’s a two-piece off-the-shoulder dress, in duchess silk, which has a circular bias-cut skirt lined with silk organza, which is removable and comes off to reveal a mini dress.

Lisa wanted it to look like it was effortlessly and kind of casually falling off the shoulders, like a shirt that has just fallen down into that perfect off-the-shoulder look. But to create that effect in a wedding dress involves a lot of engineering.

What are your design signatures when it comes to bridal?

A lot of my work is quite sculptural and the signature is working with minimal seams to create volume in the drape and a sense of movement and ease. Sometimes it’s quite intricate, but I always design to accentuate the bride and make the most of the fabric.

What are a few tips/things to think about that you could give to brides to be re wedding dresses?

The first thing I always ask brides is think of your favourite dress – what makes it special, how do you feel when you wear it? What is it about the shape, colour, feel of it that makes it your favourite? That gives us a foundation to build on.

I’d also say, don’t overthink or overcomplicate it. Often your first idea is your best idea. It should be about comfort. You want to put the dress on and know that it was made for you, that it feels exactly how you imagined it would and that you love it.

What kinds of styles/details/fabrics etc are currently popular with your clients?

I try to encourage clients to move away from trends and instead think of the dress that they love. The dress should always fit the occasion, so there is a difference between a dress for a beach wedding, for example, versus a formal church wedding. I love working with brides and creating something that accentuates their best assets and suits the occasion.

Do you think the global pandemic has changed what brides want in a wedding dress?

The pandemic has created a lot of postponements of weddings and in some cases the weddings have changed quite dramatically in size or scale or location. While there haven’t been any particular changes to the dresses I’ve already been working on, there seems to be more brides moving towards simpler silhouettes.

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