My dress was a lot, as all dreams should be.
The story of my wedding gown started in June of 2013. I was headed to Guangzhou, also known as Canton, in China for work. I’d heard many people talk about Canton’s renowned Wedding District, and how many brides travel there on a girls’ trip to have themselves and their bridal party kitted out for the big day. I’d first heard about this from my friend, Zorah, as she had accompanied her cousin to Guangzhou as a bridesmaid, where they got the most incredible dresses; super chic designs, encrusted with Swarovski crystals, excellent quality and all for a great price.
My mother and Zorah both urged me to go and have a look at least, but I could never really imagine myself buying my wedding dress, I’m way too fussy and creative. Zorah has impeccable taste, which was the only thing swaying me to consider it. The night before I left, I filled my hand luggage with enough clothing to last me for my stay, and checked in one large, completely empty piece of luggage – just in case. I was not at all feeling optimistic though.
I woke up super early on the first morning, and asked the concierge at the Garden Hotel to write a note for my cab driver to take me to the Wedding District, and drop me at the very beginning so I could make my way from start to finish. We entered the area at a midpoint, when I realise I’d need about a week if I really wanted to comb through this entire place. The district was literally a district or large suburb; completely massive, with nothing but endless bridal stores and everything you need for your wedding. Some stores were lavish-looking, some a bit more dingy, but all with a similar price range – a simple wedding dress could cost you R2000, while the most expensive and most elaborate dresses cost about R7000 – R10 000 (I’m talking hand-beaded, impeccably-made Vera Wang replicas made of the most beautiful fabrics).
As you enter every store you are expected to remove your shoes and wear the slippers provided, because let’s be honest, China is pretty filthy, and you don’t need that around any white wedding gowns. When you need to try on, a routed curtain descending from the ceiling is pulled around you, literally wherever you are standing, and two to three women are undressing you and then dressing you in the gown, while a pair of super fugly heels are presented to you with pride so you can see how the dress looks with a bit of height.
I had made a deal with myself. I was only going to buy my dress here under two conditions; the first condition was that I didn’t want to pay more than R5000, while the second was that the dress had to have this very specific layered skirt I had only seen on one bridal Instagram account and nowhere else. Until today, I still haven’t seen anything like it – stiff, layered Italian tulle, with each tier having a wide-edged hemline. I didn’t mind what the top looked like at all, but the skirt was everything, and I didn’t trust anyone in Cape Town to make it, as parallel layered skirts are either a total hit or a miss. The volume and silhouette had to be just right, and I dreaded that obvious “I-had-this-made” look.
I roamed through the streets and even combed into the back alleys, sifting through as much as I could, as fast as I could, because as the saying goes – you never know where your luck lies. I tried on about ten dresses in total, and it was crazy how every single dress fit my body exactly, from bust to length, which made the experience really convenient. To my complete shock, the third dress I tried on, in the second (slightly dodgy) shop I visited, was the one I ended up buying. And it more than met my two conditions; the skirt was identical to the one on Instagram, except it boasted a phenomenal 2m long train (score!), while it cost me ¥3600, which at the time converted to R4200. And I think I may have bargained with them too and knocked off a couple of hundred.
Once I had picked my gown, the two shop assistants pounced on the dress, literally mauling the massive design it into a tiny, compact parcel, while throwing in a brand new stiffening, veil and a pair of lace gloves because, well, we were still in China. I couldn’t believe how tiny the package was, and I could have easily fit two of these packages in my luggage. But this didn’t stop the dress from weighing 5kg!
I took it back with me to Doha, where I was living and working at the time, and two months later I moved back to Cape Town. After finding the top I wanted to have made for the dress, I went to our family friend, Fatima Bagus, or as I’ve grown up calling her, Aunty Fa’ama. This fussy, pedantic Libran professional is someone I am SO glad I put my full trust in. She is a perfectionist, innovative with exceptional taste, and the only person I trusted to remove the original, strappy, corseted top and create a new one from scratch. She often scolded me during fittings, but I loved it because she knew what she was doing. The pointed neckline of my top’s lining was her idea, while my thick waistband was inspired by Grace Kelly (only the best bride in history). The top’s overlay was made of an already-beaded fabric. Aunty Fa’ama hand-beaded the neckline and sleeve edges, while covered buttons all the way down the back gave it a dreamy finish. Over one week before the big day, both of my dresses were complete, and if you’ve ever had an older Muslim lady sewing from home make anything for you, you’ll know why this kind of time-management is a miracle. I was super happy with the result; everything fit my body like a glove – without a hint of boning in the bodice. I took advantage of the headstart, and had my mom and aunt add extra pearl beading to the top throughout that last week, because on occasions like these, more is more.
Aunty Adila Kafaar who made my morning headpiece made this headpiece too, following a second bout of Grace Kelly inspiration, because I don’t do tiaras. Again I opted for a chiffon (or maybe it was georgette?) veil, because I preferred the soft flow, and my skirt was already an overload of tulle! My bouquet was made with orchids picked from Zorah’s garden, and coincidently made by the daughter of the woman who made my mom’s wedding bouquet. Finally, simple black and white pointed heels from Zara completed my look, only to be replaced by my adidas Superstars an hour into the reception.
My dress, and overall afternoon look, was comfortable and better than anything I ever hoped for. A huge shoutout goes out to my husband, five bridesmaids and photographers who all at some point preserved my 5kg creampuff dream by carrying my train everywhere while I trotted along happily.
Photographs: Flashbox Photography