Necessity is often said to be the mother of invention, but for bridal designer Celest Thoi, it’s also the mother of creativity. She went into the bridal business when she couldn’t find a gown she liked for her own wedding.
“I had three weddings,” she says, stressing they were all to the same man. “My husband is from Malaysia but grew up in New Zealand while I’m from Singapore so we had a wedding in all three places,” says Thoi in her bridal showroom, a glittering and white fabric festooned space in a quiet corner of the labyrinth Publika in Kuala Lumpur. “Getting married inspired me to fall in love with the whole bridal industry.”
That was 12 years ago and today, two kids later, Thoi has carved a niche for herself as the go-to wedding gown designer for blushing brides who want something simple and elegant yet look outstanding on their wedding day.
“After my own wedding, I felt kind of sad as there was a void,” says Thoi, 39, whose petite physique and perfect porcelain complexion belie her age. This anti-climactic mood put Thoi in a “cold turkey state” and she articulates what many brides feel after their big day. “I couldn’t believe my wedding was over so quickly and kept asking myself ‘How come it’s over?’”
She decided to do something she enjoyed and at that point in her life, it was reliving her blissful day walking down the aisle. Thoi was in New Zealand then and she started helping her friends with their weddings and attending night classes on flower arrangements and dress designing and this led her to opening her first boutique.
Called The Wedding Suite, she threw herself into all aspects of the bridal business and gained the necessary experience before closing shop to move to Malaysia.
Thoi relocated to Malaysia with her husband and two daughters in 2009 and took part in the Malaysia International Fashion week (MIFA) the same year in her capacity of a creative director of a bridal boutique she was working in. “I designed a range of bridal gowns called the Celestial Collection,” an apt name considering her first moniker and the fairy tale belief that all marriages are made in heaven.
She launched her own eponymous label in 2011 and hasn’t looked back since. “Today I focus on bespoke made-to-measure wedding gowns or off-the-rack gowns which can be bought or rented. Initially I didn’t have this renting service but in Malaysia brides are inclined to rent as they are very practical,” she says.
For the lucky bride-to-be who is able to get a custom-made bespoke gown, everything is made to her size, specifications and requirements. Thoi says she designs the gown closely with her client. “Every bride has an idea of her dream wedding gown in her mind already.”
Born and bred in Singapore, it is serendipitous that because of her marriage, Thoi ended up opening her bridal business in Malaysia. She graduated from the prestigious Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Singapore in graphic design.
“It wasn’t fashion design but I reckon if you have a good eye for design, you can go into any field of design,” says Thoi who is garbed in a chic black A-line dress complete with a geometric Lucite necklace, a Hermès cuff bracelet and laser-cut leather Nikes.
“I started working for IBM for a while as a media designer. I did all their interface and intranets.” She was posted to Melbourne in Australia and worked there for two years before doing her master’s degree in Info Systems at Monash University.
As kismet would have it, Thoi met her husband in Melbourne when he was also doing a master’s degree in finance. They subsequently moved to New Zealand where they got married.
Looking at the profusion of off-white wedding gowns which hang in Thoi’s showroom as well as other bridal paraphernalia such as veils, gloves, ring pillows, clutches and jewellery, it’s evident her boutique is a treasure trove for brides-to-be.
“I don’t normally like to impose my ideas on them so would listen to them first on what they want,” explains Thoi. And what they want is usually to conceal their perceived flaws. “Every woman is so critical on herself. I take those wishes into consideration and design something which will address their concerns and look flattering.”
Thoi says the most common concerns most brides-to-be have is their tummy and arms. “I can tell you this for sure, every girl will tell you they are fat no matter how skinny she is ... every bride has got an issue with her figure.”
Describing her wedding gown designs as simple and elegant, this sensibility pervades everything Thoi creates and it has served her well. Most clients come to Thoi by word of mouth and they know what to expect, having seen a friend or relative tie the knot in a breath taking Celest Thoi creation.
“I use off-white or ivory coloured material for my wedding gowns as stark white somehow looks tarty in a way,” she says while stroking a pleated gown which is cut on the bias. “We work quite a bit with silk, organza, chiffon as well as laces and duchess satin.” The latter, she says, is thick and gives a structured look. “It all depends on the silhouette of the dress and we will propose which fabric to complement that silhouette best.”
As it takes three months to make a bespoke wedding gown from scratch, a bespoke Celest Thoi number will set you back approximately RM8,000 (starting price). Meanwhile, one off-the-rack is priced from RM5,000 and rentals start from RM3,000.
Thoi also recently launched the Entourage Collection which is for bridesmaids as well as eveningwear and gala gowns.
According to Thoi, the bridesmaids collection was sparked by constant requests by bridal parties. On a daring note, she has introduced black into this collection.
Thoi has workshops both in KL and Shanghai as she also custom make shoes to match her wedding gowns.
Thoi believes the most important element for a wedding gown is to complement the figure and looks of the bride wearing it.
“A wedding gown shouldn’t overwhelm the bride and it should be practical and suited to the venue of the wedding. You wouldn’t look good in a big voluminous ball gown if you are getting married on a beach because you will be sweating buckets. You want something light and flowing.
“If you are getting married indoors, you can go va-va-voom! A wedding gown should give a bride comfort and confidence because when you feel both of that, you’ll feel beautiful.”
Celest Thoi Bridal Showroom will be moving to The Gardens Mall in KL in June. For more information, visit celestthoi.com.
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