MEET THE EXPERT
How we met
It was a brusk October day when I learned that there would be a trunk show in the bridal suite at Ma Maison during the break of the event. Walking into the bridal suite, I heard the excited gasps of several other wedding vendors and creatives. These vendors were oohing and aahing at the beautiful dresses and veils she had hanging up.
She was not there, I looked but she was not behind the rack of clothes or the wall that hid part of the room. Finally as we stood mesmerized by the gorgeous dresses and veils, in walked Ashley who I later discovered was the designer. I introduced myself and talked some with her making sure to get her contact information to follow up with her. As y’all know stories fascinate me… The plan was to schedule time to hear Ashley’s story, help her tell it, get some pearls of wisdom for brides considering ordering a custom dress, all with photos of her gorgeous creations. I reluctantly said goodbye and went back to the event.
Storm before the calm
Following the event, I excitedly sent her a follow up email to set up a date and time for us to meet. We talked back and forth and until we finally settled on December 8, 2017 which was perfect for each of us.
As the day drew near I was excited to see Ashley’s studio and her gorgeous creations. A couple of days before we were to meet the news feeds filled up with talk of a snow storm the day before our meeting. I didn’t think anything of it attributing the news to some miscalculation somewhere. However, in the process of finalizing the plans for the meeting checking and re-checking the weather to make sure I was not hallucinating, yup… it was real … there was to be snow in our little section of Texas.
For the record, snow in Austin, TX is not a regular occurrence. Sure enough the evening of December 7, 2017 snow covered the ground in my back yard. I was not sure the meeting would still happen but I was committed. I gave Ashley my word so I was intent on going unless the roads were closed or impassable.
Uh-oh it was 10 am on December 8, 2017 and the ground was still covered with snow, did I make a mistake? The sun came up and it all started melting. I was a little relieved. But were the roads were closed? If so, for how long? But then I got the call from my road trip buddy Michael and he had good news the roads were clear and open, whew! We were still meeting for the appointment! I let Ashley know we were coming.
Joy filled and totally excited after all the weather dramatics, I met up with Michael and we rode down. We had a relatively uneventful trip compared to the weather we had just experienced. We arrived, Michael helped me unload equipment, met Ashley, and left us to chat.
Journey to fashion
Ashley’s studio space was gorgeous, decorated with her signature touches, the gorgeous chandelier and the mannequin Christmas tree with pink and white foliage, so gorgeous. Of course there was the gorgeous custom wedding dresses and veils in her studio, soooooo gorgeous! Pulling myself away from the pretty creations, we sat down to talk about Ashley’s story. I asked her curiously, “How did you get to the point of starting your own custom wedding dress business?”
When she was young, she watched her mom bead clothes and create elaborate beaded calendars, her mom was a very important influence on Ashley. Ashley started beading clothes as a little girl at 5 or 6 after she had learned to hand sew. Beading was also a way for Ashley to hang out with her grandmother and she really enjoyed it. As a budding jewelry maker she collected shiny rocks. However, as she grew she became more interested fashion design. Consequently, at the University of the Incarnate Word she studied fashion design.
Initially, none of the aspects of her fashion design training was fascinating to Ashley. Her assessment, “Pants and jackets were just boring! Nothing impressed me until the ballgown project. I was the first to finish, I finished it quickly, beaded it, and it was my highest grade! I even designed and pattern and all of it.” The difference according to Ashley is that pants and jackets are more about tailoring where ball gowns are more a body contour fit.”
A commercial break: for those of us that are not familiar with the terms. I looked up the terms and here is what I found:
- a tailored fit:
- skims the body contours and is structured in all the right places
- achieving the perfect balance between snug and roomy
- fits in a conventionally flattering way
- a body contoured fit:
- fits to the body
- is intentionally form fitting
- fits more closely to the body than a tailored fit
Ashley prefers the body contoured fit.
For her senior year capstone collection she created a bridal collection that won all the awards. Yes, it was pretty clear to Ashley that she liked dresses just dresses!
Becoming boss lady
Ashley always wanted to be a business owner and to learn how to run a business. For this part of the journey, she moved from San Antonio, TX to Dallas, TX to learn the business for 3 years.
Most impactful was a paid internship for Ashley in a couture shop. She also worked other jobs in the custom industry to get a varied experience. For her final stint, she worked basically running a business for someone in the industry. Staying focused on her goal to open up her own business she saw the end coming. She knew when she started bossing the owner of the business around to make efficiency changes that is was time to go.
When she moved back, she set up her business assembling an international team of sorts. She works with a team of contract seamstresses and a fabric making company in India to make dresses for brides all around the world. She speaks very highly of the fabric making team in India who have: consistent, excellent, beadwork on fabrics and a great sourcing for fabrics. The fabric making company not only excels in the quality of the tambour beading but it also does the beading very quickly.
Ashley designs fabrics electronically that she sends the team in India to fabricate. In 2017 alone she and her team have made 40 custom wedding dresses. She has assisted some international brides with their custom wedding design: one from Japan, two from Canada, and two from France.
Ashley had learned even more about custom wedding dress design on her own. Here are some of her lessons. The Wedding Industry involves more emotions and emotional attachments, which has led Ashley to cultivate her patience and calm. Schedules tend to be harder with higher quality expectations in shorter time lines, which led to Ashley not taking on any rush orders and requiring a minimum of three months of time for a custom wedding dress order.
ASK THE EXPERT
After we finished Ashley’s story, we launched in to her advice for brides considering a custom wedding dress.
Try a dress
If she could only give one piece of advice to a bride wanting a custom dress, Ashley would ask, “Have you gone dress shopping? Did you try on dresses?” It is the first and biggest thing because no one can design a dress without knowing what looks good on them.
Trying on a dress has the added benefit of creating realistic expectations and pointing brides in the general direction of a good dress for their body type.
Is Custom for you?
Ashley says and I quote, “Custom wedding dresses are not for everyone. There are brides who can find the dress they are looking for in the store.”
A custom wedding dress might be for you. Ashley’s whole goal is to make custom wedding dresses affordable and available to more brides. As a result, she has tiered wedding dress design with her dresses starting at $950 and up. She has done this to match price points and budgets.
The advantage of ordering a custom wedding dress is that you can have whatever design you want. Also Ashley advices that when you are comparing prices between store bought and custom dresses not to forget to add in the cost of altering the store dress for an apples to apples comparison. She recommends this because the dresses in the store will not be to your exact measurements.
Another reason you might consider a custom wedding dress is that they are great dresses for women with body proportions that are different from the standard size.
“For those looking to design a dress, a great way to start getting some ideas is to create a Pinterest board with all the features of dresses you like.” That is Ashley’s advice.
Brides who are creatives make up 50% of Ashley’s clientele so far. Custom dresses are for brides that like very unique and different styles of dresses. She has also seen a lot of brides who want a custom dress because they would like sleeves on their wedding dresses.
How many to the dance?
Ashley recommends that brides do not bring too many people to their dress consultations. A bride with too many people drowns out her decisions and preferences with mass opinion. Also, more people creates a more stress filled situation. The optimal number of people to bring would be 2-3 people so the ideas for the dress are still the bride’s.
The Process with A.Cherie Couture
- Bride’s initial contact with an idea for a dress. Ashley will direct the bride with no idea of the kind of dress she wants to look around for ideas. Recommendations to the bride:
- know your body
- have a dress decision
- know your custom wedding dress design
- Next, comes a consultation over the phone prior to which the bride would send photos for her desired dress design
- Following that, Ashley creates the sketches and sends them to the bride
- Ashley creates a price quote after the bride settles on a dress design
- Then Ashley and the bride finalize the design details: fabric, beads, materials
- Ashley sends custom measurement sheet to the bride which she takes to a tailor near her to get her measurements. (She indicated that this would cost about $20 in the U.S. to get about 30+ measurements.)
Ashley manages all aspects of the bride’s custom dress creation. This is what she does full time and her passion for her work is evident.
Enjoy some of the photos of her gorgeous creations!