THE ANNUAL WINTER salve that is the English Dept.'s A Novel Romance runway show greets us again. An informal kickoff to wedding-planning season's full swing, the impeccable taste and perfectionism of proprietor and eponymous designer Elizabeth Dye is a breath of lightness amid the drizzly gray of February. Even for those who aren't planning a wedding, this show is a treat for any appreciator of beautiful dresses and event ideas, pulling as it does from related sectors like floral design, hair and makeup styling, and catering. Dye took a minute away from preparations to give us the details of what's on the docket for 2013. A Novel Romance, The Cleaners, 403 SW 10th, Sun Feb 17, 11:30 am, $10
MERCURY: Which collections are being featured this year?
ELIZABETH DYE: The show will be a runway event exclusively focused on bridal dresses and accessories—we have a lot of new things to show! In addition to my own collection, this year we are featuring new designs by Nicole Miller, Ivy & Aster, Jenny Yoo, and two new designers: Jessica Fontaine, a designer with a 1930s Hollywood sensibility, and Project Runway alum Carol Hannah, who has a great talent for bringing a bit of couture edge to bridal.
How are you organizing the presentation thematically?
Since we're carrying more dresses and designers than ever, we've let the guiding principle be to show our very favorites from the new collections. The show is inspired by the muted palette of winter into spring: bare branches, whites and grays, with just the faintest mist of new green.
How will other elements like floral, music, and catering be represented?
Bouquets will be provided by Ink & Peat, Gold + Arrow salon will be doing the hair, makeup will be by Amy Gillespie, Lisa Warninger will be photographing. Clyde Common will provide refreshments, and the whole event is produced with the assistance of Jillian Rabe and her team.
The English Dept. has always catered to the modern bride, which means (as I interpret it) someone who is both practical and tasteful. I've always associated the shop with an anti-bridezilla, relatively levelheaded bride. Would you concur? Is the modern bride evolving?
I love a modern bride—what modern means to me right now is a fashion-forward but still timeless dress in beautiful fabrics. It isn't a fantasy or a costume—it's just a smokin' dress on a real girl. Where there's detail, layering, or drama in a dress, it's purposeful and polished. Accessories are chosen with care and restraint. With so much out there in the rustic, ruffly, or razzle-dazzle category, I think it takes a bit of discipline to design a great bridal look. I keep coming back to Diana Vreeland's advice: "Elegance is refusal."
Tell me a little about your own 2013 collection. Did you have a particular focus or inspiration? Would you say you pushed yourself in a new direction? Should I give up all hope of ever seeing a non-bridal collection from you again?
With this collection I wanted to get up close and personal with my girl. Since I started designing the line in 2010 and selling it at shops around the country, I've gotten to know the "Elizabeth Dye bride," and I designed the new group of dresses to carry my signatures (classic silhouettes with vintage, sweet details) while going in a direction that's a bit more sleek and sexy. "Siren" is my favorite dress from the new collection. [As for a] non-bridal collection: It's never left the to-do list. I hope 2013 is the year where I finally get to design in COLOR!
What's going on generally in bridal/bridesmaid designs this year?
I see more fitted, body-conscious silhouettes that are closer to runway looks than traditional bridal gowns. More brides are choosing color (blush, pale blue, or gray), which I think is great—a non-white dress can carry a lot of flair and detail without it feeling fussy or princess-y. Sparkly details that evoke the flapper era are definitely having a moment. I think the six-girls-in-matching-dresses scheme for bridesmaids is on its way out. We've actually stopped carrying bridesmaid dresses at the boutique because we think the most stylish and affordable choice is for bridal parties to mix and match from the available ready-to-wear options out there.
What does the immediate future look like for the English Dept.?
My collection is currently in boutiques in seven cities in the US, including San Francisco, Toronto, and in three locations in Australia. As for the shop, we're happy to be part of a growing group of boutiques around the country that provide an intimate, relaxed environment for choosing a dress. The experience of buying a wedding dress doesn't have to feel formal or stressful to be "special"—we're very good at what we do and that includes providing great styling and service without winding it up to 11. The English Dept. is a dedicated bridezilla-free zone.
What are the details of the trunk show happening at the shop on March 15-17? Will that feature your line exclusively?
It seems kind of obvious that the shop I own should host me as a designer, and I do trunk shows at other boutiques throughout the season. But we've never set aside a special time to show the whole collection and offer a one-time discount to customers who order my dresses. Since I'm more and more in the studio on the design side, it's also a chance for me to meet with brides and hear their feedback. I learn so much from my clients—they make the dresses come to life!