Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Conversation with Stephanie Ward of Punk Rock Bride

I had the pleasure of sitting down with DC designer Stephanie Ward of Punk Rock Bride on Monday night at her studio in Capitol Hill. Below she dishes about how she began designing wedding dresses, her inspiration, and what it's like to be a designer in DC. Enjoy!

How did you begin designing wedding dresses?
About 2005 a really good friend of mine, named Meredith, was getting married and had a really hard time finding a dress that she liked in stores she had been to. I had never really designed a wedding dress before, but for some reason she asked me to do her wedding dress. It was exciting, but kind of scary at the same time. I ended up doing it and it was really fun. It was nice to be able to work one-on-one with somebody, which I had never really done before. It was custom design, but she is a good friend, so it was fun to have that camaraderie.

Did she have a lot of input?
Not really as far as the design goes. She had a few specifications, she had to have a pink petty coat. I tried to talk her out of. I hid it so you really couldn’t see it. She was, of course, a great customer because she was my friend.

Of course!
Then while I was working on her dress, this girl up in New England was looking for someone to do her dress. She knew about RISD [Rhode Island School of Design] where I went to school. She found me and I found her and ended up working on her dress at the same time. She was paying me to do that one, which was really cool. From there I just started getting referrals. At first I would do anything I could. I would do alterations. I would alter a bridesmaid dress, anything just to get the word out. Then, in 2006 I just said “I’m going to register a company,” and then launched the first collection in 2008.

How did you come up with the idea of a “Punk Rock” bride as opposed to something more traditional?
I wanted something original and that would get noticed. I had no interested in designing stuff that was similar to what was already out there, because I didn’t like it. I felt like there was a void and this was a good opportunity to fill the need for something. To do that I felt like I needed a really catchy name. I was in my car one day listening to the radio and I heard “Punk Rock Girl” [by the Dead Milkmen] come on. Then it would not get out of my head. It was around the time I was thinking of the name and I said “I’m just going to do it, I love it!” Everyone hated it. My dad asked me, “Are you serious? Why don’t you name it Elegant Bride?” It sounded so generic! But that’s my dad, he isn’t really my consumer base. It’s gotten really good feedback since I did it. I still like it.

Looking at your website I noticed that all of your dresses are named after women. Do you design with a specific person in mind or it just an easy way to keep track of the styles.
I don’t design with anyone in mind, but they are almost all named after people I know, friends or family. The one with the corset and champagne colored skirt is called Meredith, after my friend Meredith whose is the one dress I started on. One this season is called Grace and that’s after my great-aunt who actually used to make wedding dresses when she was my age.

It’s all come full circle now.
Yeah, I think it’s in my blood.

Going on the idea of inspiration, where do you get your inspiration for your dresses?
It’s really hard to say. People ask me that a lot and I wish I knew. If it was a place I would go there, but it’s really from observing. Looking in a lot of magazines and noticing details on clothes or even jewelry. I might see a detail here or a detail there and just put them all together, rework it and then it’s done.

Do you have any tips for a bride who is looking for her wedding gown?
I would just say the first thing is to try on as many dresses as you can, because you really don’t know what’s going to look good on you. It’s different than regular clothes. Usually I think you can tell if something is going to look good on you in a regular store, but with bridal for some reason it’s different. Maybe because you’re not used to wearing this kind of stuff, like strapless gowns. So I think the more styles you try on the better.

Second, I would say to find something that suits your personality. On that day especially you should be yourself. You don’t want to just conform to this version of what other people think you should look like, what tradition says you should look like. I think you should feel comfortable and be wearing something that you love. Whatever you want to do. I think anything goes nowadays.

I just thought of another thing that inspires me and that is fabric. I can see fabric and I’m dying to use it. I’m sure you know what I mean.

I know! I always find fabric and know how I’m going to use it. I think a lot people will think of something to make and find a fabric that conforms to it. I’m a little bit opposite.
I’m a little of both. I definitely prefer finding the fabric first, but sometimes you can’t.

Who are some of your favorite designers bridal or otherwise?
Probably my favorite designer right now is Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel. If I was a bazillionaire that’s all I would wear. Other than that I love Stella McCartney, she is one of my favorites. Zac Posen, obviously, everyone loves him. I don’t know why, but there is something really young and edgy about those guys. It’s stuff that I would want to wear. I can appreciate other designers who design for a different audience, but I’m always drawn to people who make stuff that I would want to wear.

What do you think about the fashion scene in DC? What is it like to be a designer here?
I think DC gets a really bad rap for being frumpy and not very fashionable. I think it’s changing a lot. I’ve been here for almost ten years and now I see people walking down there street that are actually catching my eye that I never used to see before. Especially in certain areas like U Street, Adams Morgan, and even around the Hill. That never used to happen, so I think it’s changing, which is great. There’s a lot more unique shops around, like on U Street, which is great. It’s not all chains anymore.

But it’s hard to be a designer here, because there aren’t many of us. In some ways that’s good, but it’s hard because you are alone. It’s great, because I do feel like I’m filling a void. A lot of people when they come here they say “I’m so glad you’re here.” There’s not much else around here that’s like this. We get brides from New York who come here, which is really cool, because they have a lot more options. I guess it’s a good opportunity being here.

Where are some of your favorite places to shop in DC?
Let’s see. I probably do most of my shopping at Zara to be honest. I don’t know why, but their clothes fit me so well for some reason. Sometimes I go to H&M, especially in the summer to get fun stuff that’s not going to last forever, but fun to wear. I actually honestly don’t shop that much, but when I do, I don’t shop online I always go to stores. I do a lot of shopping when I go to my hometown in Florida, we have these really good outlets. We have a Banana [Republic] outlet. We have a BCBG outlet. I try to take advantage of those places. I wish that I spent more time exploring what’s around here. I know there’s a lot of cool shops. I don’t know why I just feel like it’s dangerous for me to go into them.

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