When Cara Delevingne’s sister Poppy married in May 2014 wearing a Chanel haute couture bridal gown, the world was reminded how stunning a made-to-order French wedding dress can be. Crafted in Paris by some of the most exacting seamstresses, and overseen by Karl Lagerfeld, the dress was testament to the power of Parisian couture in the wedding world.
It may have been a British monarch, Queen Victoria, who started the trend for white bridal dress when she married in 1840 –prior to then, most women wore their ‘best’ dress to their wedding – but the Parisians spearheaded the desire for a once-in-a-lifetime, fairytale dress.
By the 1950s most couture designers were ending their catwalk shows with a bridal gown. It was pure theatre and allowed the designer to proudly walk the runway as members of the audience rose in their seats in roaring appreciation. A couture wedding dress became the ultimate statement in luxury.
Since then, many high-profile women have turned to the ateliers of Paris for the ultimate wedding outfit. Who could forget Audrey Hepburn’s shift dress and headscarf from Hubert de Givenchy in the 1960s, Gwen Stefani in Christian Dior, or Catherine Zeta Jones in layers of romance, courtesy of Christian Lacroix. Recent brides who have embraced French couture have included Anne Hathaway in Valentino and fashion stylist Caroline Sieber in Chanel, who rejected white in favour of light grey in a traditional style that nodded to her Austrian heritage.
These large fashion houses turn to specialist businesses and artisans to make the intricate details found on many dress, and Chanel now owns seven such ateliers. Decades of skill are kept alive in France’s leading ateliers, such as at the embroidery company Guillet, which specialises in fabric flowers.
Calais lace is another sought-after addition, and at Valentino’s show last season, the models walked down the runway wearing this with silk and light tulle.
For all the tradition, designers are also giving dresses a modern edge. Lanvin’s riotous brides sported tattoos, Elie Saab’s wedding dress was in pale pink while Giambattista Valli described his 1960s inspired dress as ‘temperamental, spontaneous and urban’.
High-profile designers are now creating ready-to-wear collections for the bride with her special day coming up. Lanvin’s Blanche collection has a wide selection of dresses and Hervé Léger's selection includes the house’s signature bandage dresses along with fishtail gowns and traditionally female designs. Delphine Manivet, who worked at haute couture company Rochas before starting her own bridal label in 2004, creates pieces with a wonderful whimsical quality, featuring ruffled collars.
Of course, Paris can provide all the other items you’ll need. Chanel has just launched a wedding make-up service and you can create your own wedding scent at Guerlain on Champs-Élysée. Maison Michel creates delicate headpieces while, for lingerie, follow in the footsteps of Naomi Campbell and Catherine Deneuve and head to Sabbia Rosa (73 Rue des Saints-Pères) or visit Carine Gilson for exquisite pieces in Lyon silk and Chantilly lace.
Your wedding heels can come from Christian Louboutin (who has been known to create custom-coloured soles for the big day, departing from his trademark red version) or from Philippe Atienza at Massaro, and for something suitable for dancing in during the evening, look to Repetto’s perfectly crocheted lace ballet flats.
Naturally, the choice of honeymoon destination is equally important, so consider a stay at The Ritz or Hôtel Plaza Athénée. What could be more romantic?