Understated is not a term normally associated with the wedding dress institution, but it's a trend currently taking over aisles. Brides are trading showy, dramatic gowns in favor of comfort and personal style, and couples are opting out of over-the-top wedding receptions, instead going for nature-inspired, casually elegant fêtes, customized to reflect who they are.
And the pared-down approach seems to be imported from—where else?—France. Nobody does effortless chic like the French, and the move to trim away the overly showy and "loud" elements to focus on comfort, functionality, and personal style has brought a slew of French bridal designers to the attention of American brides.
VIDEO: Sneak Peek of The Perfect Fit: A Bride Tries On Her Mom's Wedding Dress
"There’s a certain laid-back simplicity that characterizes French bridal style versus over-embellished and fussy styles that can oftentimes characterize the US bridal market," says Marisa Montalvo, co-owner of Alt Brides, a bridal boutique in the San Francisco Bay area. "French bridal style is about exuding a sense of chic confidence. Styles are not over-the-top or risqué—less is more." Shortly after Montalvo and her sister founded Alt Brides in 2016, they started offering designs by Donatelle Godart, a Paris-based designer known for her simple and romantic aesthetic.
"We were looking for a line that was chic, cool, seductive, and laid back, which can be difficult to find in a wedding gown," Montalvo adds. "There are so many thoughtful details that characterize Donatelle’s aesthetic, like plunging necklines, low backs paired with free-flowing skirts, and unique lace and embroidered silks that are on another level."
Sandra Smith, who got married last year in one of Godart's dresses, said she had always pictured herself in an effortless and comfortable gown, but when she started going to appointments, she came across a lot of options that were made from "cheap lace," which turned her off immediately.
American customers also seem to be gravitating toward French designs for their craftsmanship and fabric quality, which tend to take center stage over fussy detailing. Go French and you'll find soft, silk crepes and luxury lace produced in France, not strapless ball gowns in layers of taffeta or mermaid satin numbers.
"The attention we pay to details and the delicacy of our trims and laces are truly valued by all our brides; they can feel the difference on their body, and they love it," says designer Laure de Sagazan who opened her first showroom in New York City in 2016 after demand for her designs on this side of the Atlantic surged.
Sagazan's creations, together with those of Rime Arodaky and Margaux Tardits make up the entire bridal collection of The Mews Bridal, a New York City boutique that exclusively sells dresses by French designers. The store, which opened its doors about a year and a half ago is owned by mother-daughter duo Gail and Lauren Crispin. They handpick every piece displayed in their three stores (two in the UK and one in the U.S.).
"The French have an unparalleled attention to detail, a standard of work they completely set for themselves," says Lauren. "It’s as if the commercial success of their work is an afterthought. Every intricate detail is executed with precision and passion that reflects everything they stand for."
In addition to quality, what draws the shop owners, as well as their customers, to French designers is the way "they marry elegance with ease, classicism with nonchalance," Lauren says. "It’s a juxtaposition they execute in a way no one else can."