After spending some relaxing time in the South of France and doing a lot of nothing the past week or two, I’m coming out of my cave to wish you all a Happy New Year! I’m also writing to finally write about the process of trying to have a wedding in France, not as a destination wedding, but as part of my life, love, and immigration to France.
In France, weddings aren’t as extremely elaborate as they are in the States. This does not mean French weddings aren’t spectacular; it’s just not common to spend 30-60k (the average cost of an American wedding) unless you decide to get married in a 100-room castle and set the sky ablaze with fireworks. Also, the wedding can be 1 to 3 days of celebration, whereas in the U.S. it’s just one big special day that has turned into a giant money-sucking scheme.
Nonetheless, I’ve fallen for that money-sucking scheme. I never think of myself as princessy, but now I have to admit I am in some ways. I’m that American girl who wants her perfect dream wedding.
As I said, I was always under the impression that French weddings don’t cost as much as they do in America. And this is mostly correct. The average cost of a wedding in France is only 10k! However, if you want all that jazz that American ceremonies have, you will be spending more money. This was the harsh reality.
But before I talk more about the different traditions, costs, and all these interesting cultural experiences, I want to speak about something very positive about weddings here in France. France supports small businesses like I’ve never seen before and it’s so accessible to go to an amazing wedding dress designer who will make your dress from scratch. They take your measurements, make some customizations, and create your dream dress IN FRANCE in an all-inclusive price. Most have models/lookbooks for the year, but these designers still create the dress on-demand. Some will take your designs and collaborate with you on the final outcome. This is very different from the American standard of going to just one or two bridal shops, selecting a ready-to-wear dress (that was made in who knows where!), and then paying extra for alterations.
This process was so exciting to me, I kind of overdid it and tried every single type of bridal experience that Paris had to offer. I went to indie designers, big label designers, places that sold used wedding dresses, and tailors. Most of my experiences were good, but some things were challenging (like only speaking in French!). Customer service will never be the same as it is in my country, but the level of French service for wedding gowns was very pleasant compared to other experiences here (ahem, French waiters).
One thing that was very difficult: In the US, I’m a size 8 (at least on the bottom) and on top, I need room as I’m big-busted (perhaps a 10 or 12). Most trial dresses were an EU size 38 (which was more like size 36) and rarely fit my body, especially my boob area. To be honest, a lot of the trial sizes fit more like a US size 4 or 6. Because many of these places are run by small designers, they can’t afford to make several sizes for each model. This is understandable. However, my friends pointed out that many of these dresses are mostly designed for women who have no boobs. The French are quite skinny, despite the cheese and butter! So Americans living in France who’ve got proud itty-bitties, you’re golden. However, for women of other sizes, your dress trials may be a pain in the ass. The silver-lining is that the designer will create the dress according to your measurements and will do several fittings to ensure that the dress will look good on you. Many designers also tried to make the dress fit on me, even pinning it onto the front of my body so I could imagine what it could look like. This eased the pain a lot.
I’m only going to write about my top favorite designers (writing about 12 would be too exhausting!), but you can see from my Instagram feed the many places I went to.
Marion was the first designer I saw. I discovered many Parisian designers through French wedding blogs or magazines. Impressed by her work in a magazine (I believe it was in Vogue France), I visited Marion’s website to see more of what her concept is about. Marion Kenezi has a unique approach for wedding dresses. She has individual pieces (tops and skirts) that seamlessly zip together. This means you could have a full-length gown AND later change it into a shorter skirt for dancing, keeping the same beautiful top part! The zipper is completely hidden and every top and skirt blend well together.
Moreover, visiting her atelier was a delightful experience. At first, we chatted in French (my friends backing me up a little since I’m not the strongest speaker) but Marion is able to speak very well in English (although she says her English isn’t good, it was great!). So if you’re limited in your French, you won’t be stranded if you can’t communicate fluently. I’d still suggest learning some key words about wedding dresses in French (taille = size, dentelle = lace, poitrine = bosom, etc.).
On top of all this, Marion was very nice! She was my second choice and it was a very hard decision to make! Well within my budget, I could have had an interchangeable wedding dress, perfect for summer. The South of France is really hot in July (the time of my wedding) and this could have been a great way to be comfortable in the heat.
Best Hidden Deal: Le Dressing Club
While researching other designers, I came across many different places that sold used dresses. For budget brides in Paris, this is your best bet to get a beautiful gown at half or one-third of the original price. Although the assistant who helped me was quite helpful, the downside to Le Dressing Club and other used bridal gown places is that many of the dresses were often used more than once (quite some wear! probably brides who passed down their gowns to cousins and other family members before finally selling the dress) and most of their sizes were extremely small (EU size 34-38 or US size 2-6). You won’t find many gowns over the size of EU 40 (US 8). Be aware too that the assistants who work at used wedding dress places may not speak English so well. These places are a bit of a secret that only real Parisians know about.
The upside is that Le Dressing Club can make changes to the used dresses. There's an extra fee for these alterations, but they're pretty minor.
Best Dream Designer: Laure de Sagazan
Laure de Sagazan is the most wanted wedding dress designer in Paris right now. It took me almost four months just to get an appointment. Her beautiful and delicately soft wedding gowns were so tempting and so beautiful, it was another hard decision to pass on taking a dress from her magical atelier. The service was superb and the quality of each dress I tried on was dreamy. I’m really sad I didn’t take any pictures of her atelier on my Instagram and I keep dreaming about going back. Perhaps I’ll go and get my civil ceremony dress there? (And if you don’t know about the different French types of ceremonies, I’ll get into that in my next post.)
My advice: call ASAP after your engagement. I got engaged in early September and I should have called right after. After frantic waiting and calling, I got my appointment right before I had to make a decision for a dress (many designers need 6-9 months to create your gown).
Best Big Label Designer: Pronovias
I knew about Pronovias since I was 16 years old. In one of the episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she has a dream about marrying Angel (yes, I’m cheesy!). Sarah Michelle Gellar was wearing a stunning wedding dress made by Pronovias. Ever since I saw that gown, it was in my head that I had to try on something by Provonias one day. After waiting 14 years for that moment, I was not disappointed by my experience.
I went to their location in the first arrondissement and their shop was sensually beautiful. Upstairs, you had a grand gallery showcasing some of their most exquisite dresses as well as hair accessories and shoes. Everything shined. The consultant I met with was fabulous and spoke fluently in English. She stayed well within my budget and choose such beautiful and affordable dresses (including a veil!), that this was also another hard decision to not take her offer. Downstairs, you got to try on dresses in your own large private dressing room. There was even that platform to stand up on and look into the mirror… with “yes” to the dress just on your lips. I felt like a princess there.
While I won’t be living out my teenage dream with a Pronovias dress, I think I made the right decision at the end.
The Designer I Choose: Maison Floret
This designer is already well-known for designing a cape for Solange Knowles, the sister of Beyoncé. Many people think that Maison Floret created her wedding dress, but this is exaggerated (the cape is still awesome though!). Nevertheless, I was intrigued and I loved the designs that were on their website.
Maison Floret is composed of a two-person partnership. I got to meet Sidonie, the other half of Maision Floret (there's also Sarah, who is also very nice). The atelier was a little hard to find at first, snug in a nice passage (or fancy alleyway) in the gentrified area of the 9th arrondissement. Sidonie was the kindest person I met during this entire wedding dress shopping experiment. I had a gut feeling I would find my dress here. Still, I was hesitant for a while because it was only my second stop on a list of 12 places :P
After trying on three gowns there, I still felt like one other dress was calling me. For my last try-on, I walked around the atelier and found what I was looking for. I had eyed this dress originally when I came into the dressing area but for some reason, didn’t ask to bring it with me. After putting it on, I knew it was the one. I had the biggest smile on my face and I felt like the princess my American self always wanted to be. The style I was looking for was dreamy, romantic, light, a bit boho, but classy. Most of all, the fabric was the softest I’ve ever felt. I can’t tell you which design I picked yet (as Mon Fiancé may read this), but I'll tell you it's perfect.
So there you have it! Future anglophone brides to be in France, here are some of your options! Godspeed and please do not actually schedule 12 appointments. Your bridesmaids will hate you for it. When you find that dress, take it!!!