With wedding season already upon us, for any bride - especially the style-wise Italian - one of her most important decisions is what to wear on the big day. In the present economic climate, though the actual wedding occasion may be less extravagant, the average Italian bride still splashes out on her fantasy frock. It’s a trend echoed across Europe. Almost a year since the worldwide interest in the British Royal Wedding, Kate Middleton’s choice of classical gown is still the bridal world’s top trend-setter. Now celebrating her own style milestone of 21 years at the cutting edge of equally regal wedding wear is internationally renowned designer, Caroline Castigliano. Her signature understated chic also extends into evening-wear and has graced celebrities on the red carpet. Said to be suited to the Italian bride’s taste for timeless elegance, the latest Caroline Castigliano Collection is soon to be stocked in selected bridal boutiques throughout Europe. The designer lives in the English countryside with her husband and four children.
How did you first become interested in fashion and in bridal-wear, in particular?
‘I’ve always had a passion for design and fashion. When growing up, my best friend and I would always make the clothes we saw in Vogue. Aged 22, I opened my first business with her - designing and selling fitness clothing in the United States. We called prestigious stores such as Bloomingdales and Macy’s and before long our line was in stock. It was my ‘university’ and how I learnt to run a business. After five years, it was time to move on – or back – and I returned to England. The bridal-wear business appealed because the bridal gown is the single most important gown a woman will invest in. I opened my first bridal boutique in 1991 and launched my first bridal collection shortly after – luckily, it was an instant success. I often had a queue of people on the weekend waiting to buy their wedding dress. The rest is 21 years of history!’
In a competitive market, how does the Castigliano brand stand out from the rest?
‘My signature style is unquestionably feminine and effortlessly elegant. Everything is unique: from the exquisite fabric to the foundation of the gown - created using specific corsetry and foundation-wear techniques. My ethos is to design for women who appreciate beautiful fabrics and quality workmanship.
‘I think that the purchase of a wedding dress is the most important decision of a bride-to-be. It expresses your style, your personality and everything about you as a woman. I believe in designs that never date. I love women to look effortless; it is the hardest look to achieve but when done well it is style personified.’
Have you seen a change in the range of brides you have dressed over the years?
‘It’s always been relatively wide-ranging. In recent times, the higher divorce rate has meant a lot of older brides remarrying and wanting the Big White Wedding dress a second time. The oldest bride I’ve dressed was in her 80s. She looked fantastic in a corseted creation! Previously widowed, she was incredibly excited to have found a mate with whom to start anew. As we design for many Middle Eastern arranged marriages, my youngest clients are just sixteen. Where there are lots of tears shed in the lead-up to the average Italian or western wedding or love marriage, in their culture, it’s a different process so the girls show no emotion about the event.’
How has brides' style tastes changed in the past 21 years?
‘Bridal wear has changed enormously. Two decades ago, every dress had sleeves. No one dreamt of wearing a strapless gown – as most weddings were church-based, it was considered too risqué! Dresses were also puffy and frilly creations. Today’s brides are more influenced by Hollywood’s red carpet style and go for glamour. The most significant thing that has happened is that you no longer have to have a religious ceremony. Now couples celebrate their wedding in castles, in manor houses, in front of beautiful lakes – this change offers exciting scope to the designer.’
What are your thoughts on trends for this year/season?
‘The key trend for 2012 is still beautiful lace – hot on the heels of Kate Middleton’s wedding gown. Several silhouettes are looking strong; though I feel the fishtail stands out: supremely fitted gowns through the bodice flaring into fullness either at the mid-thigh or out at the knee in a classic ‘tail’. The laces are very soft – lots of Chantilly often seen with organza or silk tulle. Feminine glamour – in echo of Hollywood or Cinecitta in their heyday - is the key look this year.’
Who or what are your inspirations?
'My artistic inspiration mainly comes from the beauty and movement of fabric; the way it is cut so that it glides and moves around with ease. I love textures such as the wonderful lace that’s out now. On a philosophical note, I’m inspired by people who overcome things – then go on to succeed and achieve.'
What’s been your own hurdle to overcome in business or in life?
‘The biggest influence in my life was that I was born with congenital hip deformity. This meant I was not really able to walk well up to the age of 10. Doctors suggested I try dance to help with my condition so my parents sent me to dance school when I was 12. After just a few years I was dancing as well as the others. As a result it made me really believe in myself – handy of course, in business.’
Who are your favourite fashion and/or bridal-wear designers?
‘In terms of fashion designers, I love Dolce and Gabbana – they’re brilliant! They create style and glamour with stunning cuts. My favourite Italian bridal wear designer is Atelier Aimee.’
Image-wise, what elements do you consider add up to an elegant Italian bride?
‘The perfect elegant Italian look is always intrinsically romantic, best achieved with understated glamour. Shades of cream are flattering and help create a great summery, Mediterranean feel. Bridal gowns cut on classically feminine lines flatter this figure…in exquisite fabrics with sophisticated detailing, the effect is altogether alluring.’
How may a bride add a touch of Italian style finesse to her wedding dress?
‘If you take a beautifully-cut, stunning silk gown, simple and without detail, and add a textured silk veil with beautiful lace and hand work around the edge, you can transform an understated look into something that reflects the beauty and style Italian woman are renowned for.’
Do you source/commission any part of the bridal-wear process in Italy?
‘We source many of our beautiful laces and silks from Italy as the most exquisite lace houses are based there. Their quality and business is something I appreciate very much.’
What’s your style advice for brides before dress buying?
‘As the pressure is so intense to find the right dress, it can mean the average bride feels insecure before she even begins… So first, go shopping with someone encouraging and don’t let anyone dictate your choice – your dream dress is your own decision. If you intend to significantly alter your appearance before walking up the aisle – for instance with a radical diet or hard-core training or surgical enhancement – bear in mind it may affect the end result of a made to measure design, or even which dress shape suits you best.’
'What have been career highlights so far?'
‘It was a great honour to be involved in the historic, worldwide coverage of the UK’s Royal Wedding in 2011. Being part of such an event was a dream. As well as commentating I also designed for a number of the guests. I’ve also dressed stars from stage and screen including UK actresses Dame Helen Mirren and Kate Beckinsale – and have dressed many VIPs but cannot always intimate who! However, every Castigliano bride - famous or not – is special. I love being able to transform any woman so that on her big day, she looks and feels fantastic. She can then set out on her journey of marriage with confidence and radiance.’
The Caroline Castigliano Collections are now available at selected stockists worldwide. Visit www.carolinecastigliano.co.uk