Here comes the … wedding dress


The inspiration for Mor Kfir’s wedding gown design — lace interwoven with embroidered, braided threads and silk chiffon fabric — was the tragic bride possessed by a devilish dybbuk in the classic 1928 Yiddish play starring Hanna Rovina at Habima National Theater of Israel.

For Yael Geisler, inspiration took the form of her Turkish-born grandmother’s dowry chest brimming with hand-embroidered tablecloths, napkins and linens. She tailored a gown of silk satin and delicate gold lace adorned with hand-embroidered oriental motifs.

These two dresses are part of a new exhibition, “Here Comes the Bride: Bridal Gowns Embroidering a Jewish Story,” at Tel Aviv’s Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People, through the end of February 2014. From Tel Aviv, it will go on the international road, stopping first in Austria.

“Here Comes the Bride” results from a unique collaboration between Beit Hatfutsot (bh.org.il) and Ronen Levin’s third-year wedding-gown design students at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv.

Each of the 14 students received a sketchbook and access to the museum’s entire collection of synagogue models, Judaica, marriage contracts, musical instruments, embroidery, dowry chests and family photos, according to Irit Admoni Perlman, director of the museum’s Israel Friends organization and the innovator of the collaboration.

“Initially, we thought the synagogues would best connect them with the Jewish lifecycle traditions,” Perlman said. But many of these talented students delved deeper, as chronicled in their sketchbooks, which are part of the exhibition.

“Most of them started with one idea and ended with something else,” Perlman said. “At the end of the day, they all did something related to their roots.”

The exhibition of 13 bridal dresses, one henna ceremonial gown and one groom’s outfit reflect styles and traditions of Jewish communities in Yemen, Iraq, Turkey, Salonika, Spain, Poland, Germany, Morocco and Algiers. It was first debuted at the 2012 Tel Aviv Fashion Week and at an event of the Nadav Foundation, a Beit Hatfutsot supporter and cosponsor of the exhibition.

“There is nothing like this in the world,” Perlman said of the show, which opened in September.

Wedding gown by Chen Ariel Nachman, whose ancestors are from Greece. Photo ocurtesy of Israel21c

Tradition With a Modern Twist

In her sketchbook, Adi Bakshi explains that her crepe-and-organza creation copies the delicate woodcuts and thin silver cords on the oud and qanun, two traditional Middle Eastern stringed instruments that formed the soundtrack of her childhood in an Iraqi Jewish home.

Tiny horizontal silver beads are stitched in two lines down the bodice of Bakshi’s dress to evoke frets, while hand-cut leather insets join the front and back of the dress to mirror the woodcuts.

Delicate crochet embroidery incorporated into Hadar Brin’s voile gown evinces the meticulous scribal arts practiced by her great-grandfather in Poland, who hid a mezuzah upon the advent of World War II that was retrieved by her family 60 years later.

A replica of a wall of the El Transito Synagogue in Toledo, Spain, inspired Levi Shenhav.

“The synagogue’s design integrates elements from Islamic decorative art and from Christian painting styles, blended into Jewish traditional art and calligraphy. Together, these elements create stunning visual themes,” he writes. His white chiffon gown incorporates beaten copper leaves and flowers adorned with leather strips and light pearls, reminiscent of the synagogue’s structure.

Chen Ariel Nachman’s ancestors are from Thessaloniki, Greece, where Jewish women once adorned their heads with amulets embroidered with baroque pearls in the shape of the Tree of Life symbolizing the Torah and the cycle of life.

Twelfth-century wedding rings inspired this gown by Eyal Ran Meystal. Photo ocurtesy of Israel21c

“I tailored the gown from wrinkled chiffon embroidered with baroque pearls, lace and beads, sequin leather and ropes coiled with embroidery threads, reminiscent of the fringes adjoined to Jewish prayer shawls, wishing to create an organic and natural look,” he writes.

Twelfth-century German wedding rings in the shape of a house inspired Eyal Ron Meistal to incorporate the rings into the wedding gown he created.

“The gown borrows from the formal structure of the ring … tailored of wild silk embroidered with thread and beads with ornamentation borrowed from the ring. The silk organza strengthened with Plexiglas rods symbolizes the wedding canopy rods that adorn the bride’s veil.”

Shani Dahan and Shani Zimmerman together created a Moroccan-style bridal gown, henna dress and groom’s ensemble inspired by the Dahan family’s heirloom baby outfit used at circumcision ceremonies, as well as the traditional jalabiya robe used in the henna ceremony.

Perlman notes that the student designers used tradition as a springboard to design garments “with a modern twist.”

For example, Chen Meron fashioned a simple but revealing bridal gown inspired by the leather straps of the tefillin worn by Jewish men as a symbol of connecting to God and preserving Jewish identity through the trauma of the Holocaust that the Meron family survived.

Meron’s gown contrasts the masculine elements of tethering, binding and clasping the leather to the arms, with the feminine, flowing bridal gown tailored of heavy crepe fabric accented by pale leather straps embroidered with golden beads.

Weddings: Fabric of your (future) life


Weddings are unquestionably high-pressure situations, with budgets, guest lists and locations being hot-button issues. However, as real life and reality television attests (Exhibit A: “Say Yes to the Dress” on TLC network), there is nothing that can bring out a bridezilla quite like the quest for the perfect dress. 

And while every bride-to-be must consider her body type, personality and vision of the big day, some Jewish brides have several additional things to address, including acceptable standards established by their denomination. 

So, what’s a nice Jewish girl to do these days?

Alison Friedman, Thousand Oaks-based owner and editor-in-chief of The Wedding Yentas (
Wtoo’s Shiloh gown features an illusion bateau neckline and detachable tulle train.

“We will take care of helping the bride get her dress back to L.A., whether it is packing it in a suitcase for her, shipping it, or even traveling first class and taking the dress home that way, with some even buying a separate seat for the dress!” said Rochel Leah Katz, a fitting specialist there who works specifically with religious brides to reconcile tradition and fashion.

She said that most of her designers who offer adaptable dresses for Orthodox Jewish brides include Edgardo Bonilla, Judd Waddell and Augusta Jones, with prices ranging from $4,000 to $13,000.  

“There are only a certain number of designers willing to modify a dress from scratch so it looks like it was made that way,” Katz said. “Among them, only a small number of their dresses can be adapted.”

Like Litt, Katz said that lace is an adaptable fabric for shoring up necklines and sleeves. 

“Depending on their degree of religiosity, some brides line their lace and others don’t,” she explained. “Some brides line parts of the dress, and others line the whole thing down to the 3/4 sleeves. Some brides like the beaded lace, as opposed to plain lace.”

In terms of general advice and observations, Katz said the enduring “Jackie O” look (covered up, but curve-revealing) from the late 1960s is readily updatable through beautiful fabric, clean lines, smooth seams and an elegant shaped skirt. And while she’s seen younger brides opt for the Cinderella-style ballroom skirt over the A-line, mermaid or “fit-and-flare” styles, she recommends more streamlined fits for brides over 35, as the frilly and voluminous look of the Cinderella dress may not be considered “age appropriate.”

In the end, perhaps the most important thing for brides, as well as for the tailors and designers they work with, is that they be wholly committed — not just to the groom but to the dress.

The unconventional dress


After Talya Ilovitz (née Strauss) got engaged, the hunt for a dress for her Orthodox wedding felt endless. She never imagined her best option would be a sleeveless white cocktail dress a few sizes too big. But after searching widely, every other possibility was either too expensive or didn’t have sleeves.

“I liked this dress more than anything else I could find,” she recalled. 

So, together, with the help of a seamstress, dedicated friends and her sister, artist Avra Strauss, her crack team gave the dress a makeover from top to bottom. 

“We cut the arms off a blazer to make sleeves and changed the very straight sheath shape to a mermaid shape that flared out. Then we added four layers of tulle to create a much fuller skirt,” Strauss said. “I also cut fabric into the shape of a few hundred leaves and we attached them with beads to the bottom of the dress. I liked that it was a little bit unusual, with a different texture and shape, and had a feeling of movement.”

The unique look of three-dimensional, raw-edge leaves suited Strauss’ personality. The result? A stunning one-of-a-kind creation, reminiscent of a tree in bloom, evoking the bride’s love of the outdoors. The stunning long-sleeve gown put an unconventional spin on a look appropriate for an Orthodox ceremony. 

As more brides opt for inventive solutions to classic wedding dress dilemmas, retailers are following suit. Vera Wang and Monique Lhuillier are among the household names of designers now producing bridal gowns in unconventional colors to match their ethereal, dream-like styles, employing shades of blush, nude and (gasp!) black. In fact, Wang’s upcoming fall 2012 bridal collection relies on colors primarily reserved for under- rather than outerwear. But these are far from the only unconventional options for contemporary brides. 

Transforming undergarments into outerwear has long been a traditional method of creating non-traditional attire. In fact, vintage trousseau “dressing gowns,” and other slip dresses once worn only at home, are frequently sold on etsy.com and other sites as potential wedding dresses for unconventional brides. The site is a great resource for unique treasures, including an eggshell- and champagne-colored 1930s boudoir gown with matching peignoir jacket found on a recent search. Silk nightgowns and other unusual pieces that traverse unconventional territory can be easily identified by searching with the key words “unconventional” or “experimental” to discover wedding dresses with unusual details such as raw edges in silk chiffon or georgette. 

Vintage pieces, unusual colors and Ilovitz’s DIY option are among the appeal of the unconventional wedding dress. As the character Carrie Bradshaw illustrated in the feature film “Sex and the City 2,” some brides might prefer a vintage suit. The look not only expressed Bradshaw’s on-screen personality, but the option also, in theory, presents the opportunity of a repeat appearance at other events. 

According to Jewish law, there is no halachic requirement to wear white under the chuppah (the wedding canopy) although it is considered a ritual convention suggesting spiritual purity. Among Orthodox couples, the groom, too, wears white in the form of a kitel, or ritual robe-like garment placed over a suit. The kitel is reserved for life’s most poignant moments: one’s wedding, Yom Kippur, Passover seders and, ultimately, burial. 

The Mishnah (Ta’anit 4:8) discusses the tradition of women wearing white dresses in association with marriage. Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel said, “There were no greater holidays (yamim tovim) for Israel than Tu b’Av and Yom Kippur, for on them the girls of Jerusalem used to go out in borrowed white dresses … and dance in the vineyards. What would they say? ‘Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself …’ “ These days, Tu b’Av, the 15th of the month of Av, which falls this year on Aug. 3, is commemorated as a Jewish day of love and is a popular time for weddings. 

Like all fashions, bridal attire takes cues from celebrities. When today’s brides say “I don’t” to a conventional gown, their choices may take the form of a two-tone dress. One of the most widely noted examples was singer Gwen Stefani, who donned a white Galliano dress that dramatically transitioned to a bright coral pink as it reached the floor. 

Some brides opt instead for more subtle twists, such as adding floral appliques or a contrasting sash, as Wang has done with a vivid black sash against clouds of white skirt for her spring 2012 collection. The look is one of the most anticipated trends for spring 2013, along with her debut of deeper blushing tones for gowns ranging from shocking fire engine red, to maroon, burgundy and deep wine. 

Some brides wearing color flip tradition by dressing their bridesmaids in white, with a colored sash on A-line or empire waists to match the bride’s colored gown. 

The operative concern when it comes to an unconventional dress is will it evoke regret years later when brides look back on their choices? Despite her on-screen “Sex and the City 2” white bridal attire, when actress Sarah Jessica Parker married husband Matthew Broderick in 1997, she chose a black dress. In a subsequent interview with Bazaar, Parker admitted that if she could do it all over again, she would definitely opt for a beautiful white gown.

As Ilovitz’s experience suggests, with thoughtful attention, even the most personalized white can be far from conventional.

Award-winning journalist Lisa Alcalay Klug has written hundreds of articles for mainstream and Jewish media outlets, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Jerusalem Post. She is the author of “Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe,” a National Jewish Book Award Finalist. Her next book, “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe,” debuts October 2012, everywhere books are sold. cooljewbook.com.

Shopping: Noshing in the Grass


Take a bold chance this summer by ditching the frigid shopping malls for the natural breeze and oak-tree shade of a gorgeous outdoor picnic. Your al fresco dining guests will marvel at these bright summertime items that capture the fun of the season. And to help you actually locate the great outdoors from amid the surrounding urbanity, check out the Valley-area parks mentioned below (all of which feature picnic spaces and tables).

Kosher? Check. Sweetly satisfying? Check. A charming basket you can use for many picnics to come? Check, again. Induldge your sweet tooth during your day in the sun with the crackers, cookies and chocolates inside the Deluxe Kosher Basket ($100). dolceinc.com


The lightweight silk of this ‘Antigua’ Sweetheart Strapless Dress by Shoshanna ($218) will help you keep your cool all day long in the Valley heat. With its flexible corset and flattering sweetheart neckline, ladies can embrace their flirty side while tossing around a Frisbee. bluefly.com/designer/shoshanna


The top notes of lime, chamomile and tropical fruit in the 2009 Herzog Special Reserve Chardonnay ($36) are a perfect complement to a romantic evening picnic. This refreshing summer wine comes from Oxnard’s own Herzog Wine Cellars — a Jewish family-owned winery with a long history of kosher winemaking. shopherzog.com


Judith Leiber’s Shanghai Lily Sunglasses in emerald ($475) will give your eyes 100 percent UV protection from the glaring 818 sun. Go “green” and chic with the uniquely colored frames and hand-set crystal flowers.  judithleiber.com


Vintage L.A. style finds its way into outdoor dining with Jonathan Adler’s line of “Hollywood” dinnerware: dinner plate ($12), salad plate ($9), divided tray ($48), salad servers ($12), rocks glass ($9) and highball glass ($11). The bright colors and funky patterns are sure to make your picnic pop!  jonathanadler.com


Hooray for a super-stylish shoe that ditches the discomfort of heels! Donna Karan’s gladiator-style Vacchetta Calf & Washed Linen Lace Up Flat Sandal ($595) laces up the leg to show off sexy summer ankles. donnakaran.com



Perfect picnic spots!

Tapia Park

884 N. Las Virgenes Road Calabasas

Los Encinos State Historical Park

16756 Moorpark St.
Encino

Arroyo Sequit Park

34138 Mulholland highway Malibu

Chatsworth Park North

22300 Chatsworth St.
Chatsworth

Which came first: the building or the dress?


A model at a Parisian fashion show sports an enormous collar that almost hides her head in an aureole of stiff, folded cloth. So stiff does the cloth appear, in fact, that it could almost be mistaken for concrete. Meanwhile, in Yokohama, Japan, architects have covered the ceiling of a port terminal with a folded material that looks very much like pleated fabric. Are these chance coincidences, or signs of some odd convergence between fashion and architecture?

“Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture,” opening Nov. 19 at the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown, proposes that building design and haute couture have increasingly begun to overlap and borrow ideas from one another. Even if the premise seems thin, the show’s parallel images of buildings and clothing suggest that meaningful connections can be found between these two very different kinds of design. Indeed, “Skin + Bones” turns out to have much to say about the current practice of both building design and fashion design, not all of it positive.

Skepticism is a legitimate starting point. Clothing and shelter have different purposes, different materials and different methods of assembly. Why should they be compared? Well, for starters, because designers are always searching for fresh ideas, and architects and fashion designers apparently check each other out on a regular basis.

In an essay for the show’s catalog, Brooke Hodge, MOCA’s Curator of Architecture and Design, who has previously organized shows on the architecture of Frank O. Gehry and Peter Eisenman, as well as the fashion designs of Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, identifies some obvious and not-so-obvious commonalties between the two mediums.

“A vocabulary derived from architecture has been applied to garments, describing them as ‘architectonic,’ ‘constructed,’ ‘sculptural,'” she writes. Architects, on the other hand, have borrowed some “sartorial strategies,” such as “draping, wrapping, weaving, folding, printing and pleating architectural surfaces and materials.”

Although Santa Monica-based Gehry may not be a “dedicated follower of fashion,” to quote the Kinks, he has undoubtedly boosted the cross-pollination between construction and tailoring with the biomorphic curves of buildings like the Disney Concert Hall, referencing to the human body and other natural forms. Gehry, Eisenman and Preston Scott Cohen are among the Jewish American architects who have contributed work to this international collection of design.

The complementary opposite would be clothing that looks hard and structural, such as a tulle dress from the spring/summer 2000 collection of Hussein Chalayan that appears to be a rigid structure, inflating by four or five sizes the shape of the woman who wears it.

Another structural-looking garment, this one from Chalayan’s autumn/winter 1999 collection, is the “Aeroplane Dress,” which appears to be a smooth, hard shell. A portion of its form seems to be slipping away, like a panel of airplane fuselage that has not been properly bolted, revealing the wearer’s navel and a seductive slice of abdomen.

Some architects are interested in exploring fabric-like materials, sometimes called extreme textiles. The “Carbon Tower,” an unbuilt project by Los Angeles-based architects Peter Testa and Devyn Weiser would be built with a lightweight carbon-based material that curves and bends much like fabric. Although the method of construction on the building is not visible from the images in the show, some so-called “technical textiles” can be woven or sewn together.

The “Inside Out 2way Dress” from the spring 2004 collection of Yoshiki Hishinuma, for its part, seems inspired by the glass “curtain walls” of high-rise buildings. The garment is a tight-fitting transparent tunic (think glass) held in place by a white band (think steel structure) wrapped in a crisscrossing band of cloth around the model’s body.

The relationship between buildings and clothing is not new, according to Hodge. In her catalog essay, she identifies some parallels, both ancient and modern. In ancient Greece, the flutings of classical columns may have been suggested by the folds in the chiton, a garment worn by both men and women. In the Middle Ages, the “propensity for extreme verticality” can be found in the “sharply pointed shoes, sleeves and hennins [conical headdress]” that seem directly related to the “ogival arches and soaring vertical spaces of Gothic architecture.”

Not all of Hodge’s examples are equally convincing, however, such as the analogies to fashion design in the soft curves of the landscape elements of the Yokohama International Port Terminal by Foreign Office Architects. Or the comically oversized collar of folded and feather-like white fabric from Junya Watanabe’s fall/winter collection for 2000/2001.

What is convincing, however, is the degree to which architectural style has become as attention seeking, and in many cases, as short-lived as fashion design. Here the commonality between architecture and couture is the quest for spectacular display. While display as a value in itself is not new, the degree of importance placed on display — so that buildings can make an impression in two-dimensional media such as magazines, newspapers and the Web — has undoubtedly increased.

If the result of fashion design dipping into architecture is not profound, neither does it seem harmful, because couture is ephemeral, fading away quickly into the next sensation. Architecture, however, is about permanence (or relative permanence), and most buildings are expected to last for decades and to serve many different users. Building design that is guided by momentary fashion, can lose sight of its purpose in search of the values of celebrity culture. “Skin + Bones” hints at the degree to which the runway mentality has influenced architecture for the worse.

“Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture,” Nov. 19-March 5, Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 90012. (213) 626-6222.

Morris Newman has written about architecture and other subjects for many publications, including the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

Wedding Gowns: A Long-term Commitment


All brides have this much in common: They love their wedding day, and it always goes by much too quickly.

Of course, there is little that you as a bride can do to make your wedding day last longer, but there are things you can do to make sure the beauty of your gown remains — if not forever, then at least for a long time.

When you bring your gown home from the shop, take it out of the garment bag and hang it where it will be safe from children and pets — perhaps in a spare room or from a hook you put into the ceiling for that purpose.

If it will be several weeks until the wedding, you can protect it from dust with a clean sheet or freshly washed unbleached muslin.

On the day of the wedding, all too often someone steps on your bridal gown or you catch it on something. Put several safety pins into the underside of your gown where they will not be seen but will be handy for just such accidents and prevent further damage.

Also, know whether your gown is made from a natural fiber such as silk or an artificial fiber such as polyester. Then if you spill something on your wedding day you will know whether you will be able to remove the stain. Water or club soda can remove coffee, tea, mud or blood from polyester, but silks and rayons are water-sensitive and you may make permanent spots if you put water on them.

If the stain is grease, lipstick or another cosmetic that is not water-soluble, you can try using a moist wipe on polyester (test it on an inside seam first to be sure it will not disturb the color of your gown). On silk, it is probably safer to camouflage spots with something white and relatively harmless such as baking soda, cornstarch or baby powder. Wite-Out or white shoe polish is tricky and is definitely not a good idea for use on silk.

Most importantly, remember that no matter how entranced you are with your gown, your family and friends will be focused on you. They will be looking at you and not at any spots or tears on your bridal gown.

Once the wedding is over, it may be hard for you to give up your gown right away, but it should be professionally cleaned and preserved. If not, it will yellow from exposure to light, air and any stains, especially if they are caused by red wine or mud, which will bond with the fibers. Even if you do nothing else, take your dress out of the plastic garment bag, which can emit fumes that yellow the gown even more quickly than air, and wrap it in a clean sheet or freshly washed muslin.

It can also be difficult to find a cleaner who understands just how important your gown is to you. Look for someone who specializes in cleaning and preserving wedding gowns and ask lots of questions. Does the company do the work, or does it send the dress to someone else? How long has it been in business? What precautions does the company take to protect delicate trims and decorations? How does it guard against latent stains caused by alcohol and other sugar-based stains that do not dissolve during ordinary dry cleaning?

Ask if you can inspect the gown after it is clean and if the service uses tissue with an environmentally safe, archival container that will not discolor or damage the fabric of your gown. Ask if the service seals the box or leaves it open and why. Does the service guarantee the gown will not be stained or discolored when and if it will be worn again? Does the guarantee depend on an unbroken seal? Today or 25 years from today, who will honor the guarantee?

Be sure you are comfortable with the answers to your questions. After all, you want to give your gown, an heirloom for the next bride in your family, the care that will keep it perfect.

Sally Lorensen Conant is the wedding-gown expert for

Expert Tips Crack the Dress Code


Many wedding guests are often are as concerned as the bride and her attendants about what they will wear.

Once upon a time, there were golden rules of wedding attire: Don’t wear white — it upstages the bride; and don’t wear black — too funereal. It was often a reliable pastel dress and matching pumps hanging in the closet, waiting patiently for the wedding du jour.

Today, one can never go wrong with basic black. But what to do when it comes to a formal affair?

Even though dress codes have become somewhat relaxed, there are still some guidelines that savvy brides and grooms might consider including on their invitations if their wedding is a formal event. Guests are usually grateful for this considerate gesture, especially in an age where “anything goes” when it comes to attire.

To avoid any confusion, Bridal consultant Sue Winner encourages her clients to put some type of dress code description on invitations.

“Some clients are concerned that if they don’t put something [about appropriate dress] on the invitation, people will come in jeans and sport coats. We’ve become a very casual society,” said Winner, who has been in business for 21 years — and has more than 600 weddings under her veil.

Here’s a helpful dress code lexicon from “Town & Country Elegant Weddings” (Hearst Books, $60):

Black Tie

This means that women are to wear evening dresses (short or long) and, technically, men should wear traditional tuxedos. Yet, Winner said, it is not a commandment. She said men can certainly wear a dark suit — navy, black or charcoal gray would be acceptable.

The notation said, “please don’t show up in jeans and a sport coat,” Winner said. “Guests won’t be turned away, but they’ll be uncomfortable in the room.”

And for the women, etiquette expert Letitia Baldrige, the former White House social secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy, advice columnist and author of several books, declares: “Pantsuits are not proper.”

Black Tie, Long Gown

This is not a common edict, but found occasionally — and Winner believes it’s redundant. Some couples find that this gives guests more clarification when the occasion is very dressy. Joan Rivers, for example, used this specific dress code on the invitations to her daughter Melissa’s fancy New York wedding because she felt dress was important to the overall effect of the event. (Take note: Perfect attire does not the perfect marriage make. Melissa’s 1998 marriage to John Endicott ended in divorce five years later.)

Black-Tie Optional

A bewildering dress directive for many guests, this option is considered by many etiquette experts to be very confusing.

“It’s the worst phrase in the English language,” Baldrige said.

Winner said that while common usage sometimes “makes things work, technically it is not correct. Black-tie optional is really a business term,” used, for example, when company officials might be hosting a dinner in honor of its retiring president, yet would not expect all company employees in attendance to rent a tuxedo.

As do most people who take the word optional to mean they don’t have to wear black tie. Those few who do dress up often feel out of place, making for a very mixed-up (and mixed-dress) crowd.

Creative Tie

Another distressing dress code according to Baldrige.

“An affair should either be black tie or not,” she said. “If it is not, you need say nothing at all.”

However, one fashion designer, John Anthony, believes that an invitation stating creative tie signifies that the hosts want the guests to be more thoughtful and lavish in considering their attire. It might mean a patterned cummerbund for the man and a frock that’s something other than the usual little black dress for a woman.

Casual or Island Chic

One bride planning a beach wedding put “island chic” on her invitations, said Winner. For other less formal celebrations, like some bar and bat mitzvah parties, hosts have indicated everything from “No Jeans, No Jackets” to a simple “casual chic.”

When in doubt about attire, Winner has a simple solution: “If you really don’t know, call the bride or the host and ask what they have in mind.”

Sharon Mosely of Copley News Service contributed to this story.

Create a Bridal Look That’s Made for You


The ornately beaded gown spent decades wrapped in a sheet from the time grandma was a bride until her granddaughter walked down the aisle.

Both brides were beautiful and the dress was a focal point each time, thanks to the loving restoration work by dressmaker Camila Sigelmann, who made it possible for Amee Huppin Sherer to be married in Grandma Marian Huppin’s 1925 wedding gown.

It took Sigelmann about 40 hours and a lot of luck to find beads to match the originals, to repair and reinforce the gown, to make some modifications and to create a matching head piece.

“It was a real honor for me to work on the dress,” Sigelmann said. “I understood that not only was I working on a dress for a very important occasion but that it had a lot of family history. That gives the project a whole other dimension.”

Sigelmann, who teaches apparel design at Seattle Central Community College, has run her own dressmaking business for about six years. She is one of a number of seamstresses across the country who restore antique wedding dresses and create new, custom gowns for brides. Amee found her in the Yellow Pages.

It is a special and honorable profession for the dressmakers who have the opportunity to participate in some of the most joyous moments of family life. They speak of their work with pride and enthusiasm.

Victoria’s Bridal has been in the business for more than 20 years, making everything from contemporary to traditional gowns to theme weddings.

Choosing to have a custom-made wedding dress is more a matter of style and personal service than of price, said Denise Mahmood, store manager of designer Victoria Glenn’s shop Mahmood. She said formal gowns from Victoria’s start at $1,000 and tea length dresses start at $600. Prices vary considerably, however, based on fabric and style. The cost of a custom-made gown includes fittings and alterations, which can cost up to $200 extra when buying a manufactured dress.

Another dressmaker, Laure Rancich-Flem, cautions brides not to look at custom-made gowns as a way to save money.

“If someone comes to me and has found a dress in a magazine … I cannot make it cheaper,” Rancich-Flem said, unless the bride wants to make changes in the dress such as using satin instead of silk.

The dressmaker said the best reason to call a seamstress is because you want a special gown tailored to your body and your taste.

“If you’re going to do custom work it’s usually because you cannot find what you want in ready-to-wear. Maybe you don’t want a traditional gown, or you’re hard to fit … or you just want something very untraditional in fabrics, colors or styling,” Rancich-Flem said.

She recommended trying on some manufactured gowns and looking at bridal magazines before deciding to talk to a dressmaker. A trip to a bridal store will give a woman a chance find out what dress details she likes and what looks good on her.

All three women agreed on suggestions about how to find a custom dressmaker. The first thing to do is ask for recommendations from friends who have had custom gowns made or who have hired a seamstress to create other clothing. Brides without personal recommendations can ask at a fabric store for a list of dressmakers who specialize in bridal gowns.

The next step is to call some dressmakers, talk to them about their experience and see some of their work. This process should start about six months before the wedding.

Mahmood said brides should ask a dressmaker how long she has been in business, how many dresses she averages a month, if she’s overloaded with work and if there are other seamstresses working for her on contract. Ask to see the dressmaker’s portfolio book and some actual dresses she made and request a list of references.

Rancich-Flem said that once you and a dressmaker have talked about the details of your actual project, you should request a bid, including creation and design time and materials cost.

Sigelmann said the dressmaker and the bride, and possibly her mother, need to be able to forge a good personal relationship because they may be working together for up to six months.

Her clients tend to be working women and mature brides who have clear ideas about wanting something a little different in a wedding dress.

The dressmaker found the Huppin gown an interesting challenge; it was also an emotionally and intellectually intriguing project.

“It was a very special dress,” Sigelmann said. “I found myself wondering what her grandma was like and how did she feel when she wore the dress.”

Donna Gordon Blankinship is a freelance writer living in Seattle.

You’re Fired!


From the beginning, even before it was famous, “The Apprentice,” Donald Trump’s reality TV show, had piqued my interest — but not enough

to make a standing engagement with my TV set whenever it was on.

But then one Friday night I had Shabbat dinner with a few friends, and it turned out that one of the women there, a friend of a friend, was working on some reality programs. I said that I’d never want to be on any reality show, “Except maybe ‘The Apprentice,'” I conceded. As a businessman and entrepreneur, I thought I could make it through the process.

“There’s actually going to be a casting call in a few days,” she said.

Immediately I began to picture myself on The Donald’s show and, of course, winning the apprenticeship. Hey — I’m no supermodel, but I’m not a bad-looking guy. And I’m as smart, aggressive and ambitious as anyone else who’s been on the show. I’ve got all the qualities it takes to win the prize.

There was only one little issue. Should I wear my yarmulke to the interview?

As a traditionally observant Jew that toes the line between the Conservative and Orthodox world, I have a strong sense of Jewish identity. Not only do I wear my yarmulke in public and for business, but I also proudly wear my chosen Zionistic declaration of Israeli citizenship and volunteering in the Israel Defense Forces on my sleeve.

I didn’t always dress this way. When I first started my business, I was choosy about when I decided to wear my yarmulke. Because of anti-Semitism, I didn’t want to risk losing a client. I figured that if all I had to do was remove my yarmulke, I’d do it to get a client. (People of color don’t have it as easy as yarmulke-wearing white men: I can take off my kippah, but they can’t change their appearance).

Then one day I had met with a very successful Orthodox businessman who wore a black yarmulke and sported a long beard. He said he had never taken off his yarmulke for any business reason.

“If you believe in your identity, you don’t want to do business with people that don’t respect your religion and culture,” he said.

I haven’t taken it off since (except to shower and sleep).

I didn’t know what to do for “The Apprentice.” Wearing a kippah in New York business is one thing, but wearing it to get on national television is completely another.

I started filling out the application at midnight the night before interviews, and arrived at NBC at around 4 a.m. There were already 337 people there before me. But I was lucky later when there were even more behind me. On that line, we were all equal. We all believed that we had a shot at the title — or at least getting through the door. We stood outside in the freezing wind. I was bundled up, hat and all.

Five hours later, when I got inside, I took off my hat and revealed my secret: I wore my yarmulke. Why? Because I decided that my only chance to shine, to stand out from the hundreds of others, was to show off how different and diverse I was. Out of 16 people — eight men and eight women — surely not everyone could look exactly the same.

For the interview, they sat 12 people around a table and had them face the casting director. During introductions, I told everyone that I was a Web developer and ran a Judaica store over the Internet (www.judaicastore.com). Then the casting director suggested a topic of conversation.

The theory was that if you can rise above the others with intelligent thoughts and could express yourself clearly and speak well, they would notice you as good material for the show. As most of my colleagues and friends will admit, I certainly have this skill. I, along with one or two other people, dominated the conversation at the interview. After five minutes, the interview was over and they thanked us all for coming.

I never heard from them again.

Did my yarmulke matter in the end? I think so. Maybe they just didn’t like me –although I can’t imagine that. I think that national network television is not ready for an observant yarmulke-wearing Jew from New York. I’m not sure that the show wants someone so strongly identified with the Jewish community, Israel and all of its current politics — even if that person were “fired!”

Maybe I shouldn’t have worn the yarmulke. But I’m glad I did. Now I have my own version of reality.

Raphi Salem, CEO and president of SalemGlobal Internet, lives in Manhattan.

Clothes Call


There was a time when the retail clothing industry was thriving.

“In the ’80s, my customers spent almost 8 percent of their disposable income on clothing,” said David Sacks, owner of Sacks SFO apparel stores.

However, time and a change in consumer habits have eroded this reality. Over the last decade, Sacks, 53, has had to close several of his outlets. He watched his retail miniempire dwindle from 20 stores nationwide to two local outlets: one in Studio City (12021 Ventura Blvd.) and a new location in Culver City (9608 Venice Blvd.).

“We’re going back to our roots,” Sacks said. From the onset, Sacks’ intention was accessibility.

“My mission goal is to provide people who work for common jobs to dress in uncommon wardrobe,” Sacks said. “To make a guy who makes $30,000 dress like a guy who makes $100,000. I’m very value-driven, not label-driven. I don’t care what labels I stock, as long as they look good and are of good value for my customers.”

That accessibility is not only found in the merchandise sold. It also extends to Sacks himself, who runs a hands-on business, where he enjoys schmoozing with his customers at his stores.

“I’ve never been in it for the money,” he said. “I didn’t want to work for someone else, but I don’t want to lose money. My employees will see a raise before I do.”

Sacks retreated into a back office, where he offered what he jokingly calls “my Horatio Algerstein story” — the origins of a hometown boy who grew up in a Conservative kosher home in Cheviot Hills and attended Hamilton High School and UCLA.

Sacks’ parents met at Indiana University. His mother, of Lithuanian descent, came from a well-to-do family that ran a department store in Terre Haute, Ind. His father, of Romanian and Ukrainian heritage, put himself through medical school selling sandwiches. He moved his wife to Los Angeles, where he became a prominent pathologist and later built the pathology department laboratory at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Sacks was something of a rebel during his school days.

“I went before the principal for buying candy and selling it on campus,” Sacks said.

That was in the second grade. A few years later, when the new pennies were released in 1959, Sacks made some pocket money selling two pennies for a nickel. By the fifth grade, he was winning poker games.

“I didn’t need an allowance again,” Sacks said. “I was lending money to my brother [Phillip Sacks, now practicing general dentistry in Woodland Hills].”

During the 1960s, Sacks continued hustling.

“I sold unreleased Bob Dylan recordings before bootleg tapes were deemed illegal.”

Then Sacks became a phlebotomist, one who draws blood for transfusions.

“That was rather boring,” he said.

The boredom ended the day when he accompanied his bridge partner downtown to the garment district. Sacks convinced a supplier to give him a dozen items to sell. Sacks sold them off his arm in office buildings.

“I was originally thinking of calling it ‘Lost on Horizon,'” Sacks said, referring to the original Horizon Street location of his first store, next to the Sidewalk Cafe on the Venice Beach boardwalk.

But instead, he called his clothing outlet Sacks Fifth Off, and Saks Fifth Avenue didn’t share his amusement. After two years of legal wrangling, an agreement was reached between the two parties, and the chain’s current moniker, Sacks SFO, was born.

Twenty-five years later, Sacks now resides with his wife, Nikki, in Cheviot Hills. He has two grown children — Anthony, 26, a technical theater apprentice, and Andrew, 24, a substitute teacher.

A few years back, Sacks started a Giver’s Club, giving customers a 10-percent discount off of store items in exchange for clean clothing donations. The donated clothing goes to shelters that help battered women and AIDS hospices.

Sacks takes the clothing business in stride.

“I never had the foresight or the money to buy the buildings. My last big downsize came after the Northridge earthquake,” said Sacks, who had already been stung by the Los Angeles riots.

Despite its ups and downs, Sacks wouldn’t trade his experience for anything.

“The best part is that I’ve made friends with people all around the world,” Sacks said. “It’s an immigrant’s business. People are very bright, but may not have formal education. I’ve met people from every continent, and every religion.”

My Very Own Chuppah


Hold onto your son’s baby blanket. Don’t give away your daughter’s cheerleading uniform. If they hold precious memories and deep meanings, you may be able to recycle them — as part of your child’s chuppah.

Chuppahs and ketubahs are long-standing Jewish wedding traditions. But Los Angeles couples are now taking their heritage to a more personal place, using chuppahs and ketubahs with intimate, as well as religious, significance. And they are asking their parents to help them create these special wedding fixtures.

With their parents’ assistance, Los Angeles-area brides and grooms are trading in hotel rent-a-coverings and standard flowered archways for chuppahs they can truly call their own. Joan and Joel Schrier of Brentwood helped their daughter and son-in-law produce a patchwork chuppah. Joan Schrier, a Skirball Cultural Center docent, sent out 36 fabric squares to her daughter’s wedding guests, asking the friends and relatives to decorate their swatch with a meaningful illustration.

"Weddings all have common denominators: a white bridal dress, a band and not-so-wonderful food. This was a way to make Kimberly and David’s wedding unique to them," Schrier said. She collected the finished squares and her husband sewed them into the quilt under which their daughter, Kimberly Gowing, married.

Gowing, a pediatrician, attended Palisades High School with her husband David, a singer-songwriter. The former classmates started dating after their 10-year reunion and married on July 1, 2001, at the Skirball.

"It was amazing to stand under the chuppah, glance up during the ceremony and see how many special people contributed to our day," Gowing said. Cherished chuppah panels displayed the handprints of a 6-month-old niece, a non-Jewish friend’s Tree of Life and Joan Schrier’s embroidered Rashi quote. The Gowings, who now live in Seattle and attend Temple De Hirsch Sinai, plan to prominently display their chuppah in their home.

The quilt chuppah is a fast-growing Los Angeles wedding trend. Nicole Jessel Heilman, who attends Temple Judea in Tarzana, also recruited her guests’ talents. "I wanted to get my family and friends involved with our wedding," she said.

Heilman, a teacher, was married at the Bel Air Bay Club under a schoolhouse painted by her kindergarten teacher, photos scanned by a childhood friend and a police car she designed for her husband, Dave, a law enforcement officer. Heilman’s mother, Maxine Jessel, spearheaded her daughter’s chuppah effort. "It’s the way people who shared in their lives could share in their ceremony," said Jessel, owner of The Max Event Coordinators.

Variations on the patchwork chuppah are springing up around the Southland. Some couples turn to themselves, not their guests, for square ideas. Newlyweds-to-be have sewn together fabric swatches from memory-filled clothing like football jerseys, baby blankets, beach towels from a first date at Zuma and even college pennants.

Carol Attia, owner of Under The Chuppah Online, has seen a significant increase in personalized chuppahs during her 10 years in business. She believes these self-designed chuppahs truly enhance a wedding day.

"A wedding is so personal, people want their chuppah to reflect who they are," said Attia, recalling one bride’s chuppah made of white fairy lights. She sewed her favorite chuppah out of the mother-of-the-bride and mother-in-law’s wedding dresses.

"The couple married under this chuppah viewed their wedding not as a union of two people but as a union of two families," Attia said. "It’s wonderful that couples now feel free enough to express their love through creative concepts," she added.

Los Angeles couples and their parents display this same creativity with their original ketubah designs. While ketubah prints and texts can be purchased at Judaic galleries, catalogs and Web sites, many Angelenos produce their own. Original artwork can highlight everything from the couple’s hobbies to their engagement stories.

Jessel recently created a ketubah that incorporated the newlywed’s occupations. A teacher and a veterinarian, the couple’s ketubah was covered with animals and children. "Bride and grooms really want the ketubah art to represent their lives, and their two worlds coming together," Jessel said.

Michah Parker, president of e-ketubah.com, just constructed a ketubah using a grandmother’s painting of the bride and groom at sunset. Parker noted that the number of nonconventional ketubah requests he receives has increased every year since 1995. He credits this trend to technology

"Nontraditional, abstract, even bizarre, ketubah art and language has become more popular. When people surf the Internet, they get new and unusual ideas," Parker said. "Plus, now we can download art files, like the grandmother’s work, or a friend’s painting, so we have the ability to accommodate original ideas," he added.

Gene and Ruth Kirshner, members of Temple Beth El in San Pedro, enlisted modern technology to produce their daughter, Shana Johnson’s, ketubah. Gene Kirshner authored the ketubah text and created the artwork on his home computer. "I once did a sample photo mat that looked like the two tablets. I had that in mind when I designed the art," said Kirshner, who once owned a framing business.

The proud father shaped his daughter’s ketubah like the covenant tablets. "I’ve been putting away ketubah texts and ideas for years, in anticipation of my children’s weddings. A ketubah is more meaningful if it has the exact words and images you want," Kirshner said.

Johnson, a physician’s assistant, and her husband Matt, a Score Learning Center executive, married on March 25, 2001 at La Venta Inn in Palos Verdes. Johnson beams as she talks about her cherished ketubah. "I love it. It really captures our relationship, and it means even more to me and Matt because my Dad made it for us," Johnson said. Their ketubah, written in English, is bordered in the same deep rose color as Johnson’s bridesmaid’s dresses.

"It’s so much more special and personal than the standard ketubah. It was a way to take the Jewish heritage and make it our own," said Johnson, whose ketubah hangs in her living room.

This desire to mesh Jewish culture with personal expression seems to drive these wedding trends. In producing their own chuppahs and ketubahs, couples weave their religious ties with their own lives. And in doing so, perhaps they are starting their own tradition.

Gowing was so moved by her personalized chuppah and her parent’s involvement, she hopes to continue the custom when she has children of her own. "I’d love if they got married under our quilt chuppah, but with an added a perimeter of squares made just for them," Gowing said. Perhaps this new nuptial trend is actually becoming a new nuptial tradition.

Personal Shopper


I had to buy a present for my sister recently. Shopping for women, if you don’t happen to actually be a woman yourself, is a nightmare.

I’ve noticed that when men go shopping for clothes, there is a sense of purposefulness about it. We’re going to the store to buy something, some specific thing in response to a specific need. A shirt. I need a shirt. We march in, try something on. If it fits, we buy it and march back out. No squealing, no cooing, no fanfare. We take care of our needs. There is a sense of accomplishment. We live from shirt to shirt.

When women go shopping, it’s closer to a jazz dance than a march. They go into a shop with only the vaguest idea of what they want or — Dare I even bring this word into the discussion? — need. Let me tell you, these women are amazing. They are bred to shop from the time they are little girls. They need special dresses for special occasions. They think about what they’re wearing. They are actually trying to look good when they get dressed. Men are simply trying to not be naked when they go outside. We want to be protected from the elements. That’s good enough for us. "Shirt. Warm. Good."

Women don’t need most of the things they buy. How do you explain that you need a pair of black shoes when you already have 50 pairs of black shoes at home? I understand this now that 10 women explained it to me. None of those shoes will do. None of them are right. Those are bad, bad shoes. There is a pair of shoes out there that is absolutely perfect for this outfit, this evening, this destination, and she is going to find it. Somewhere, over the rainbow, perhaps, there is a Manolo Blahnik mule that is calling her name.

I love women’s shops. They’re so civilized; the salespeople so welcoming. It seems to the outsider that they’re inviting you in to relax, sit down, have something to drink. Women’s clothes don’t look like much of anything when they’re hanging on a rack. All the curves are missing; they need to have real live women inside them to make any sense to us. I wonder how women know what looks good on them? The answer: Intuition. The closest a man gets to intuition is bringing his wife, girlfriend or mother with him when he goes shopping.

Sometimes, women go shopping and don’t buy anything. Do you know what that’s about? They’re doing reconnaissance missions, preseason warm-ups. A woman window-shopping is like a batter in the on-deck circle taking practice swings.

How a woman ever chooses a purse is beyond me. I took my girlfriend Kathy to Gucci for her birthday. Some bags were too big, others too small to hold all her crap. She didn’t like the color of this one, the strap of another, the clasp of a third. When she asked my opinion and I told her that I liked the tan one, she looked at me as if I had just passed gas. In Gucci, no less! My utter lack of female intuition was glaringly obvious.

Forty minutes later, she finally chose something that looked roughly like a leopard print-covered human liver with a strap that fit her like a shoulder holster — all this for a scant $650. I was exhausted. Women may have 60 percent of the muscle mass of men, but they have twice the shopping stamina.

In the end, my sister told me that she wanted the faux-crocodile patterned purse in celadon, which is a color somewhere in the sage-mint-celery area, and goes with beige, white and black. "Tell me it doesn’t!" she challenged. I did not dare. Celadon is the new gray. Brown is the new black. Pink is the new red. No wonder I’m so confused.

Women are so free with compliments that buying a good purse can be a confirmation of one’s self-worth. If a woman tells another woman, "I love your bag, is it new?" It means: "You’re so smart, and I can tell by looking at you that you’re a good person. I want to be your best friend in the whole world. You’re going to heaven."

I’m convinced that men have more or less been running the world because we don’t have to choose between heels and sandals. If men had to accessorize, it would throw the order of the universe into chaos. A man thinks: "I’m wearing a belt. It’s either black or brown. It’s either thin or thick. It holds my pants up." Add one more variable to that stew, and anarchy would reign. If men had to buy pantyhose … I shudder to think.

Sooner or later we all have to cross that Rubicon and go shopping for the women in our lives. At the very least it says: I’m sorry about something and I’m trying to buy my way out of trouble. At best it says: I am so thoughtful, and you are one lucky girl to have me. My girlfriend Kathy broke up with me three weeks after our Rodeo Drive shopping spree. She left with the purse and no regrets, explaining that shopping is like sex, but it lasts longer. "Men come and go," she said wistfully, "but Gucci is forever."