The Genteel
February 28, 2021


The Genteel's own Editor-at-Large, Irene Kim, wearing Vera Wang on her wedding day. Photograph courtesy of Melissa Sung Photography.
From an episode of Say Yes to the Dress.

Although Paris Haute Couture Week is just around the corner, most women can only dream of splurging four (or five, or six) figures on a couture gown. Unless, of course, you're getting married. As couturiers race to dress the latest It-girl on her wedding day, more women are looking to fashion designers, or bridal designers marketed as couture, for their nuptials. 

Wearing couture on your wedding day, like Jessica Biel who stunned in a strapless, pink and floral ball gown by Giambattista Valli when she married Justin Timberlake in 2012, is a modern phenomenon pervading through popular culture and across socio-economic levels: from celebrities, royalty, oil rich women of the Middle East, to the brides of Beverly Hills, my two best friends getting married this year to The Genteel's own Editor-at-Large, Irene Kim, who appeared in Wedluxe magazine wearing Vera Wang on her wedding day.

Television shows like Say Yes to the Dress have popularised the idea of doing whatever it takes - or spending whatever it takes - to obtain your dream dress. But, the target demographic isn't the wealthy socialite or celebrity; it's ordinary women who are willing to spend their (or their parents') life's savings on a dress they'll only wear once. The couture wedding gown is becoming increasingly justifiable for the everyday woman - as though spending those four (or five, or six) figures on the dress is what one ought to do. 

The couture wedding gown is becoming increasingly justifiable for the everyday woman - as though spending those four (or five, or six) figures on the dress is what one ought to do.

At the same time, the upper crust of the fashion industry, Parisian haute couture, is seeing a palpable resurgence. Houses such as Valentino reported an eighty per cent increase in couture sales in 2011 compared to 2010; the Middle Eastern customer continues to snap up couture dresses dozens at a time, as well as offering their own revered designers like Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad to the growing Parisian roster - designers who are also widely known for their bridal collections. 

Traditionally, haute couture evokes a golden age of black tie soirees and debutantes dressed in Parisian made-to-order gowns, an almost antiquated concept. And although vestiges of this tradition are still alive today - couture devotee, Becca Cason Thrash, sent out invitations reading "high black tie" for a Louvre benefit gala in Houston, Texas - for the rest of us uninvited bystanders, the bridal market is emerging as an entry point into couture.

Before, one would have to fly to Paris to get couture; nowadays, middle-class brides can obtain couture wedding dresses in cities all over the world. Lebanese designers Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad, as well as Georges Hobeika, show their couture collections at Paris Haute Couture Week - at which the final dresses are usually jaw-dropping bridal gowns - then fly off to have private dress fittings with their clients all over the world. Other designers such as Inbal Dror and Yaki Ravid, both local to Israel, lend the prestige of couture to their bridal collections with ateliers similar to those in Paris. 

Middle Eastern markets such as Dubai, Israel and Qatar attest to the impact weddings are having on the burgeoning couture industry. In these countries, women attend anywhere between 15-20 weddings every year, and each event typically requires multiple dress changes. "Generally at weddings in Gulf countries, men and women are split into two separate groups, attendees say. Thousands of women gather together in one big ball room - all wearing haute couture - and some are not afraid to wear provocative and revealing outfits," reports

Elie Saab bridal gowns.

It's no surprise, then, that bridal couture could be such a lucrative business for designers - a Dior wedding dress can run up to one million dollars. While Dior is a house that dabbles in both haute and bridal couture, there are some designers who are deliberately eschewing bridal-wear in their collections. Canadian designer, Rad Hourani, will be showing his first haute couture collection as part of Paris Haute Couture Week this spring - the first Canadian designer to be invited to do so. When asked if he'd ever consider following in the steps of other couturiers by offering bridal pieces to his clients he said, "No interest at all. You are welcome if you feel like wearing Rad Hourani at your wedding, in a modern way. Other than that, there are many bridal collections in the world to look for. I don't do things to fit in a category, I do what make sense to me."

But, if the lines between bridal and haute couture continue to blur, and as more and more women invest in couture for their big day, who knows, maybe even newly anointed couturiers of the avant-garde variety like Rad Hourani just might end up saying yes to the dress.



Sign up to receive a weekly dispatch from The Genteel.

About Us

The Genteel unearths the forces shaping global fashion and design through the lens of business, culture, society and best kept secrets. 

More about us

Our Contributors

A worldwide collective of contributors currently form The Genteel. On a daily basis our team dispatches thought-provoking and insightful articles from the streets of Oslo, Toronto, Beirut, Moscow, United Arab Emirates, Seoul and beyond.