Weddings can no longer be big fat affairs. The pandemic has transformed weddings into small and skinny events, but there is still one thing no bride will compromise on – her gown. It’s just that the dresses they are saying “yes” to have had to adapt to fit the times.
Lebanese fashion label Azzi & Osta is known for its dream-worthy dresses. The brand has been worn by Beyoncé, Kendall Jenner and Queen Rania. It is known for its haute couture approach to fashion, bridal is at the very heart of their business. As the duo behind the label George Azzi and Assaad Osta say: “Bridal is the essence of haute couture in the sense of creating exclusively for the most special day of the bride. She is the highlight, and the spotlight is on her, hence the uniqueness of her look.” With most Arab labels being known for their craftsmanship, bridal wear is an important part of their business. It also reflects this region’s love of large celebrations when it comes to weddings. “Middle Eastern brides prefer a customized couture gown and supply in the region is minimal,” says Dubai-based Syrian designer Rami Al Ali. “That is a fundamental difference between the region’s brides and those in Europe and the United States.” Which is why most brides in this region turn to Arab labels for their wedding dress.
This, of course, has been good news for homegrown labels at these times. Last year Al Ali launched a new label called Rami Al Ali White, an annual edition of ready-to-wear wedding and special occasion dresses. These were not trend driven but timeless elegant pieces with a more effortless approach to bridal wear. Says the designer: “Naturally, with the tension around big gatherings and parties, weddings were all put on hold, which impacted our bridal couture line in a drastic way. As wedding dates became very unpredictable, brides resorted to simple and quick solutions for their special day. Our ready-to-wear bridal line was developed and was meant to launch in 2022, but given the circumstances, we expedited the process and launched during the pandemic.” This line is now available in his store and online, and he’s very happy with how it has performed.
Al Ali recently launched his bridal couture collection for 2021, and it was full of all the fairy tale details you expect from the designer. “Our Bridal Couture line is our most important commercial line and demand for it is very high. Each line has a completely different clientele, which doesn’t overlap. The demand for the ready-to-wear bridal line existed before the pandemic, but supply for it was scarce. Most of the American bridal brands were taking a large amount of the market share, however they had little understanding of the needs of the Middle Eastern client.”
Azzi & Osta, who launched their own digital platform last year, explain that bridal couture and ready-to-wear may cater to different niches, but they still have the same DNA. “One is magical, dreamy and a journey, while the other is functional, lifestyle and minimalist. Both, however, follow the escapism trail.”
While the pandemic did make brides opt for more subdued styles, which did give ready-to-wear bridal fashion a boost, things in this region seem to be bouncing back. Even if weddings are smaller in size, brides who have had to delay their special day want dresses that are even more special. That doesn’t mean they want flamboyance, but rather finesse. As Azzi & Osta say: “The pandemic with all its negatives, brought back the importance of values, craftsmanship and reason to buy. This will stay for a very long time. Brides now want to know the story behind the dress they are buying, know about the fabrics – where they were sourced, how they are made – and are looking for those handcrafted details.”
While in some parts of the world this newfound love of nostalgia has made brides look at wearing vintage pieces that perhaps once belonged to a family member, this is not the case in the Arab world. “In our region, most brides prefer a fresh new design that is modern and relevant,” says Al Ali. This has meant Arab bridal designers have had to learn how to marry artisanal details with a contemporary aesthetic. The result is that wedding wear is now more about being distinguished than dramatic.