A Pure Michigan wedding look: Michigan-made gowns, veils
An inside look at the work of wedding gown designer Katerina Bocci and veil designer Ariel Taub, two of the top Metro Detroit designers who’ve risen to fame the past few years. Stephanie Steinberg, The Detroit News
When it comes to finding designers for wedding gowns and bridal accessories, New York and California are the meccas in America.
Which means Michigan is often overlooked, says Keasha Rigsby, co-owner of Beautiful Bridal in Detroit and former TLC “Say Yes to the Dress” consultant.
“There are hidden designers,” she says. “It’s like when you’re deep sea diving and looking for the pearls, and as you dig, you find a diamond in the rough.”
Wedding gown designer Katerina Bocci and veil designer Ariel Taub are among the top Metro Detroit designers who’ve risen to fame the past few years. Between the two, their creations have been featured in magazines such as The Knot, Bridal Guide and Inside Weddings, and at New York Bridal Fashion Week.
When Bocci attends fashion shows, she often astonishes others in the industry who learn of her headquarters.
“They’re like, ‘Michigan? What do you mean?’ ” she says, laughing.
Rigsby attests there are not many designers based in the Great Lakes State.
“But that is changing rapidly because Michigan is becoming a destination place for entrepreneurs in the bridal world,” says Rigsby, who opened Beautiful Bridal in February.
While renowned designers are also based overseas — specifically, Paris and Israel, Rigsby says — newly engaged Metro Detroit brides don’t have to hop on a plane to find their dream wedding gown and veil.
“Don’t sleep on these Michigan designers,” Rigsby says.
When Ariel Taub got married in August, it was no surprise all eyes were on her veil — not the dress.
“It was a lot of pressure,” says Taub, who designed her veil. “I wanted it to be perfect, one, because it’s my wedding day, but two, you feel like everyone’s looking at you for that reason — when that’s what you do for your living.”
The light ivory veil, with 5,000 crystals brimming the bottom and fading toward the top, wound up being her favorite veil yet. Naming it the Eternity veil, Taub featured it in her 2017 collection out this month.
The 30-year-old Ann Arbor resident is one of the few veil designers in Michigan and the only one who places Swarovski crystals on each veil by hand with a toothpick.
“Every crystal is done one at a time, “ she says, showing off a rack of glistening veils in her West Bloomfield studio. “The attention to detail is really important to me.”
A University of Michigan and Parsons New School of Design graduate, Taub always loved high fashion, but she later fell in love with theater.
“I thought bridal was a nice blend of the two industries,” she says. “Brides get to go a little more over the top, but it’s still wearable.”
Upon returning to Michigan in 2009, she started working for the now-closed bridal shop Le Salon. From that experience, she realized there was a “boring” wedding accessory that begged more glitz and glamor.
“Everyone always cares about the gown, and it’s what everyone pays attention to. But the veil is the thing that makes the bride a bride,” she says. “I feel like once you put it on, it’s that thing that completes the look and you can only wear it on your wedding day.”
To stop women from thinking of veils as “afterthoughts,” she decided to bedeck them with Swarovski crystals, using a secret glue she won’t reveal. And trust her, it is glue.
“I’ve had people tell me that it can’t be glue because they don’t see any glue spots,” she says, smiling.
Rigsby has one word for Taub’s veils: “angelic.”
“They’re not gaudy, and it’s not overkill,” she says. “She completes the veil by placing the jewels on both sides, and not too many designers do that.”
Taub’s sister, Melissa Taub-McNabb, 35, likes to take credit that she wore the first Ariel Jennifer Taub veil. Ten years ago, Taub’s two sisters got married six months apart. Taub laughs as she recounts how her eldest sister, Carrie, refused to let her design a veil.
“She was like, ‘No, you’re not ruining my dress,’ ” she says.
Yet Melissa loved anything her fashion-savvy sister made her.
“I would make her the worst clothes ever before I even learned how to sew,” Taub jokes. “She would wear everything.”
So Melissa entrusted her to design her wedding veil. Taub took a pattern from Melissa’s gown and recreated it with crystals to make the veil look like an extension of the dress. Twenty hours of work later, Carrie regretted her decision to turn down her sister’s offer.
Melissa, who’ll celebrate her 10-year anniversary Jan. 17, isn’t surprised her sister’s talents turned into a successful business.
“She just creates beautiful pieces I’ve never seen anyone else do,” Melissa says. “I wish I could get married again, so I could keep wearing them.”
Taub’s company, Ariel Jennifer Taub, officially launched in 2013 and produces up to 1,000 veils a year. Locally, brides can find the veils at Beautiful Bridal, Roma Sposa in Birmingham, Crowning Glory in Rochester and Bianka Bridal in Grand Rapids. They’re also sold in seven other states, including Kleinfeld Bridal in New York, and internationally in Canada, Brazil and Australia.
In each veil, Taub hides her signature mark: a blue Swarovski crystal.
“That’s my gift to the brides,” she says. “Brides always have such a hard time finding that something blue, and so there’s a little crystal hidden on every piece.”
Her two collections — classic and couture — offer about 75 designs from $60 to over $6,000. The more crystals, the more expensive. For example, the Bellissima couture veil with 15,000 crystals costs $6,100, partly because it requires 60-plus hours of work.
The 2017 collection includes new clutches, hairpins and belts, many which debuted in Taub’s wedding. The veils are inspired by old Hollywood glamour. Taub points to a mood board pinned with black and white photos of Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe.
“I flip through magazines, not to get inspiration, to see what’s been done,” she says. “I don’t want to do something you’ve already seen.”
She stretches out one of her favorites from the season, a black and white floral lace veil named Enchanting. All veils are available in traditional white, ivory, blush and Champagne, but “this is a little wild,” she says.
Another favorite from last season, Delilah, was inspired by Monet’s paintings and is adorned with silk organza flowers in pastel pinks and blues.
“I like to do a little color. I get tired of the same-old white,” she says.
While Taub mostly designs and leaves the labor to her two Michigan-based staff, she finds the work therapeutic. Sometimes she’ll listen to music, but the quiet is also nice for inspiration.
“I’ll lay out crystals and just stare at them for a few minutes,” she says, “and it just comes together.”
Gowns fit for a princess
Bocci has designed CD cover dresses for Aretha Franklin, auto ad outfits for Fergie, pantsuits for Gov. Rick Snyder’s wife, Sue, evening gowns for local TV anchors and wedding dresses for thousands of brides from Metro Detroit to Dubai.
But when Bocci came to America 15 years ago from Albania, no celebrity knew her name — or sewing talents.
“I started this company from zero,” says Bocci, sipping coffee out of black and white tea cups in her Shelby Township studio. “Having your name in the range of Oscar de la Renta, Monique Luo and Vera Wang, and being with those dresses, as winners as they are, it makes you very proud. You feel that you are doing something right to be in that group of elite people.”
Bocci, 42, is among the few couture wedding gown designers in Michigan. Her story is as magical as Cinderella’s transformation from rags to a sparking ball gown.
For starters, Bocci was trained to sew by modern nuns at the Sitam school in Italy.
“The nuns loved fashion,” Bocci says, adding that they’d sell dresses they made and donate the profits to Africa.
When Bocci moved to Michigan in 2001, she found a job as a seamstress. But she couldn’t grasp the idea of a woman buying a pre-made dress and then seeking a seamstress to alter it.
“In Europe, we don’t do that,” she says. “High fashion is not taught that way, and I really found it very strange.”
She soon started making custom dresses out of her one-bedroom apartment, and her evening wear caught the attention of local media personalities such as Lila Lazarus and Rhonda Walker.
Walker, a WDIV-TV (Channel 4) anchor, says Bocci designed some of her most memorable gowns for the North American International Auto Show Charity Preview.
“From wedding to formal, her gowns are original, high quality, beautifully crafted and glamourous — attributes I look for when I dress up,” Walker says. “But what I love most about her is her drive, ambition, determination and incredible work ethic.”
Gaining clients and needing more space, Bocci bought a house and turned the basement into a studio. She hired other local seamstresses, mostly older women from Europe, to help sew.
In 2009, Bocci decided to focus on bridal gowns. Though she has an annual collection — this year’s features 15 gowns and is dedicated to her mother, who recovered from an illness — her specialty is customized dresses. She’s against the idea of mass production.
“When God created us, he created us one person at a time and he gave us all different fingerprints,” she says. “None in the world are the same fingerprint, so why should a bride be like every other bride and wear the same repetition of things on the most special day of her life?”
When brides arrive at the studio, Bocci sits them down for a cup of coffee. She digs to find out how their fiance proposed, how they fell in love and their wedding plans. She then instructs the bride to close her eyes and answer the question: “When you were a little girl, how would you envision yourself on your wedding day?”
“I ask them about what kind of textures, shapes, ta da ta da, and — ” she pauses, snapping her fingers, “it just comes, and I just start sketching.”
While Bocci uses American products whenever she can, the fabrics are imported from Italy, France and Spain — simply because the high-quality materials aren’t sold in the U.S. The $500 per yard lace is one reason the gowns start at $5,000. The other is time. Depending on the style, a dress could require 25 to 400 hours of work.
Bocci can design slim mermaid dresses, but her forte is frouffy princess ball gowns. In her Albanian accent, she admits she’s partial to “old traditions.”
“What did a princess wear? Did she wear a mermaid, tight, see-through dress?” she asks. “No, she wore a princess dress! … You wear it only once, so why not be a princess for the day?”
Her two eldest daughters are getting married five months apart in 2017. And there’s no doubt she’ll sew them into princesses.
Kristina Bocci — the store manager who plans to head a Katerina Bocci showroom in New York after her February wedding — hesitates to reveal details. “It’s going to be huge,” she grins.
Kristina, 24, picked the fabric and entrusted her mother with the rest.
“She knows exactly what I want, so I’m just going to let her do whatever she thinks is best,” she says. “I think we’re setting a couple new trends with both of their weddings,” her mother says.
And Bocci enjoys setting new trends, like her Isabella dress, a lacy silhouette with a ruffle train, that Yahoo Style named among the “Top 31 Dreamiest Dresses” in October.
While her gowns are now sold in stores from New York to Florida to Texas — Bocci has no plans to leave Michigan.
“Michigan was quite welcoming to me,” she says, ”(People) were supportive of my vision, my business, who I am being a minority coming to America as an immigrant. They’ve been just great.
“I feel like I would be like a traitor to leave.”
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