Glitter, tulle, veils and blushing brides — this is the world of bridal couture. And no one could be better equipped to talk about this world with JWU Fashion Merchandising & Retailing students than Harper Della-Piana.
HARPER DELLA-PIANA IN HER STUDIO. PHOTO COURTESY OF JASON WESSEL (@JWESSELPHOTOGRAPHY).
A designer and couturier, Della-Piana learned to sew at the age of two. She spent 25 years as a professional costumer and wardrobe supervisor for everything from television shows to movies, Broadway and beyond. She’s worked with commercial clients like “The Late Show with David Letterman,” Martha Stewart Living and Victoria’s Secret, to name a few. Now, she owns Seams Couture, her own couture and custom bridal studio in Providence, Rhode Island. She came to talk about her business with Assistant Professor Sara Jablon-Roberts’ Textiles class.
Della-Piana broke down the basics of the bridal industry, discussing the process of fabric buying, developing color palettes and navigating the economics that impact it all. She also talked about how important it was to her to have a line of dresses that could fit all body types well, and could come in color options that worked for everyone. “I think with bridal, because it such a niche market, you should be able to do many things within it,” she explained. “You shouldn’t be focused on just one group.”
This type of thinking has led her to build a brand that is inclusive, open-minded and experimental. “When I started 12 years ago, I made the decision that I was going to be completely LGBTQ-friendly, because I was appalled at reading my competition’s reviews,” she shared. “So, everybody in, I don’t care — you want a blue dress, you want skulls on it? I don’t care, we can do it. Come on down!”
One student asked if Della-Piana preferred creating traditional or non-traditional wedding dresses. “I think there are no rules about it anymore, if you come from a lot of cultures you should show that,” she replied. “It’s a party first of all, so you should be able to do whatever you want."
Her attitude about weddings is something Della-Piana has felt for a long time. “I was a flower girl when I was five, and I remember all the old ladies giving my cousin so much grief about what she could and couldn’t do. It was all rules, and that’s no fun.”
That sentiment led to more questions about how she handles brides and, more importantly, how she handles their family members. “I’m in the business of making someone happy,” she said simply. “This is one day in their life that will go by so fast, but for the rest of their lives they’re going to look at the pictures and their ancestors will look at those pictures, so they should be happy with how they look. That’s why I don’t like when brides come in and feel like they’ve gotten suckered into a dress because their mother wants it or something, it just feels wrong. I don’t care what their mother likes, I’m team bride!"
Students continued to barrage Della-Piana with questions about everything from buying the right fabric to starting a business from scratch. They also had the chance to see her look books and some color palettes from her distributor.
“When she was speaking about wedding dresses and sending around her wedding look books, it honestly made me want to get married right then and there!” revealed Kayla Anderson ’22.
It honestly made me want to get married right then and there!”
Other students were also inspired by the presentation, but in a different way. “Something I found inspiring was that she made and manufactured a line to show at market without dealing with China,” said Evan McCullough ’20. “Knowing all the steps to ‘make the cake,’ I am reassured that I can do a lot of things on my own.”
Chianny Dejesus ’20 and Michael Brewster ’21 were happy to have the chance to learn more about the bridal industry. “I’m glad we were able to hear from a professional about a part of the fashion industry that is sometimes overlooked,” Dejesus said. Brewster revealed: “Della-Piana really opened my world to the wedding industry, because I didn’t have any prior knowledge of it.”
Della-Piana really opened my world to the wedding industry.”
Overall, the students were impressed with the presentation, and inspired by the new insight they had gained about the custom bridal industry. Della-Piana also left them with some important advice. “Custom is not for everyone,” she said firmly. “Dealing with people one-on-one and being in control, it isn’t for everyone.”
And, though most of the students won’t be pursuing a career in the bridal industry, the stories and lessons Della-Piana shared were still relevant to all facets of the fashion merchandising industry, and especially relevant to what they’ve learned in their Textiles class.
To learn more about Harper Della-Piana and see more of her work, visit the Seams Couture website, which is where the above visuals were selected from.