The next time you click through a wedding feature on a celebrity website, or flip through a weekly gossip magazine, you may consider that the glamorous, sinfully expensive gown being featured may have been given to, not purchased by, the star wearing it.As the field of bridal evening dresses design becomes more crowded, a number of designers are following the pattern set by Hollywood’s red carpet scene. In return for much needed publicity, designers are giving dresses to celebrities, whom potential customers can see immediately on television and in social media.“It’s the same for weddings as for red carpet appearances,” said Ronnie Rothstein, who along with Mara Urshel owns Kleinfeld Bridal in Manhattan. “Everyone is looking to improve their brand awareness. People don’t want to admit what’s going on. Red carpet? Yes. But weddings?”An industry built on selling romance has little incentive to tamper with its customers’ sentimental fantasies, but it is also a field with a firm focus on its financial realities.Continue reading the main story
“Giving goods away is tremendous for our business,” Mr. Rothstein said. “Everyone is so celebrity-conscious these days, it doesn’t matter if it’s a B- or C-list celebrity. The media coverage is so big and they all show the celebrities dressed up. It may not have been that way years ago, but now it only takes a minute for a picture to go around the world.”The designer Dennis Basso, who has dressed many celebrities over the years, acknowledges that giving away gowns is part of the business. “It’s always been a wonderful experience when you do a wedding gown for a celebrity,” he said. And this giveaway aspect, he admits, is not exactly new, but he said that it has changed. “Years ago it was the studios who paid for their stars’ dresses,” something they no longer do, he said.For the dresses seen on Hollywood actresses, the individual arrangements they have with the designers or retailers can vary. Most often “red carpet” dresses are borrowed, which somewhat lessens the designers’ outlay. But when it comes to wedding gowns, some of which can cost $18,000 or more, typically they are not returned.
According to Mr. Rothstein, they become “semi-disposable.” A red carpet dress, he said, is worn briefly during an award show and can be returned and used as a sample garment, whereas a wedding gown is usually used all day and evening and is often too soiled and used-looking to be worth taking back.“Gifting a gown is a business deal,” said Mark Zunino, a designer in Los Angeles. Whether the dress is from his wedding collection or one of his designs seen on the red carpets, Mr. Zunino says that the publicity and advertising that these images generate are an important part of expanding his business.If a gown is given away, it becomes a business arrangement, Mr. Zunino said, and the brides owe him or the retailer who has given it a credit each time it is seen in public.Most often, he said, gowns that are given to celebrity brides come with a written formal agreement about what is expected in return. “Everything must be in writing. It’s a business arrangement.”Among those who have worn his gowns is Tiler Peck, a principal ballerina with the New York City Ballet, whose June 2014 wedding was featured in the Vows column in the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times.“My wedding gown was beyond anything I ever dreamt of wearing,”
Ms. Peck said of the blush-color fully beaded, form-fitting gown. “I thought it was sophisticated and extremely feminine, and the silhouette was stunning. When Ronnie and Mara gifted me the dress, I was literally in tears.”Mr. Rothstein provided the dress and Mr. Zunino personally fitted it at Kleinfeld Bridal. There was no written agreement, which was unusual, because Mr. Rothstein said he believed Ms. Peck was “a mensch,” and she told him she would do whatever he needed in return for the gown.Another whom Mr. Zunino has dressed is Tara Lipinski, the former Olympic figure skater, who is getting married next summer. Mr. Zunino made a custom evening dresses uk for Ms. Lipinski and lent it to her to wear to her engagement party last May.In return, Mr. Zunino has the right to use photos of her in that frock for advertising.Claire Pettibone, a designer in Los Angeles, spoke about the publicity value in having a high-profile bride.