Looks like the votes – Democratic and Republican alike – have been cast: one-shoulder looks are a key silhouette of the fall season, influenced by Michelle Obama. The fashionable first lady practically sashayed in her one-shoulder gown by Jason Wu, a Taipei-born designer, at the Inaugural Ball in January and pulled it off without a hitch, according to the fashion cognoscenti. Wu’s white silk chiffon number cascaded down her 5-foot 11-inch frame with ease and grace, prompting brides to seek the envelope-pushing style.
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Even though designers had already created their fall 2009 collections prior to the presidential bash, Obama is giving the one-shoulder style some legs.
“Designers already had gone in that direction, but she helped substantiate the look,” says Heather Levine, fashion and beauty editor of TheKnot.com. “Women look to her as a style and fashion icon.”
It’s a silhouette popular even in red-state Texas where brides are asking for the one-shoulder design – but they’re not making the Obama connection.
“We haven’t had people mention it,” dryly notes Debbie Watts, owner of Bridal Portfolio in Southlake, Texas, which carries Anne Barge.
Levine and bridal designers say it’s been a while – perhaps too long – since a first lady inspired bridal gown trends. The last time that was the case was in the early ’60s when the Beatles were singing “Love Me Do” and Jackie Kennedy enthralled millions of American women with her pill-box hats, oversized glasses and shift dresses.
“Before Michelle Obama, we had Jackie Kennedy, but our new first lady represents what is fashionable now – chic yet accessible, mixing ‘high’ and low’ fashion (i.e. designer and mass labels),” says Rafael Cennamo, a Miami-based designer who launched a new bridal collection for fall 2009, including one-shoulder styles. “There is an ease to what she wears and she is comfortable in her clothes which is in contrast with some of the former first ladies.”
That ease is giving confidence to women to embrace the one-shoulder gown, which designers have created in a variety of silhouettes, from mermaid to ball-gown styles. Some, such as Angel Sanchez, avoided using the asymmetrical look with A-line styles. The Cotton Bride offers a cotton chiffon Grecian column with Swarovski trim on the neckline, while another is shirred at the bust with a long sash. Kirstie Kelly for Disney implemented the one-shoulder neckline into a silk satin ballgown with lace. And, a Jim Hjelm design marries a sexy sheath with the trend.
How the designers weave the one-shoulder strap in the design also differs, some going for drama and others playing coy. Both Angel Sanchez and Junko Yoshioka up the glamour quotient with flowers serving as the strap, incorporating three-dimensional organza flowers for a romantic dress and using diaphanous organza petals for a soft, wispy effect, respectively. Rafael Cennamo embodies the 1940s screen siren with a strap crafted from gold paillettes.
Designers say the gown appeals to brides looking for newness in a sea of strapless options. There’s no question that strapless is the No. 1 seller, since it’s a safe, practical choice for most brides who can count on looking good in the silhouette. But, brides still are looking for ways to stand out from their contemporaries and individualize their ensemble and wedding.
“I think in the past, it was perceived as too different or edgy, but today’s bride is reaching out to edgy,” says bridal designer Anne Barge, who created a mermaid-style gown with silk flowers clustered on the shoulder. “She’s not afraid of being different so this is the right time for it.”
Opinions vary on whether the statement-making gown suits most body types. In general, bridal designers note that the look flatters taller woman, creating a statuesque silhouette, and those with wider shoulders and longer necks. They suggest that smaller ladies should strive for a simpler one-shoulder design so that the dress doesn’t wear them.
“A very petite girl has to be careful that the strap is not too wide, because a lot of width around the face is overpowering,” Barge says.
More than body type, retailers say the riskier style could be overshadowing since everybody doesn’t carry themselves with the confident air of Obama.
“When brides see her, they want to emulate her fashion sense, but that doesn’t mean [the style] looks good on everybody,” says Michele Martin, owner of M Bride in La Jolla, Calif., whose store carries Platinum and Monique Lhuillier. “You can’t be a cute Barbie doll bride and wear it. You can be 25 or 40 as long as you have that sophisticated look.”
For more modest brides, the dress holds appeal, giving them an alternative to baring it all in a strapless gown.
“It allows a woman to be covered up, yet also feel like she’s wearing something sexy,” says Kelly, who sells her gowns at boutiques such as The Wedding Shoppe in Wayne, Pa. and Something Blue Bridal and Formal in Orlando, Fla. “You don’t have to wear a shawl with it like a strapless dress.”
TheKnot.com’s Levine calls the style more of a “staple” in a collection vs. a trend and designers are taking note. Jim Hjelm will include another look in its fall 2010 line, according to designer Francesca Pitera.
“Customers keep asking for it so we will slowly keep introducing more ways to approach this style,” Pitera says.