'Make me look like a disco ball': The rise of non-traditional bridal fashion


This picture shows one of Madison Chamberlain's dress sketches at her studio in Philadelphia. The designer is known for her non-traditional bridalwear. Photo: The New York Times

“Make me look like a disco ball.”

For most designers, this isn’t a common request, but for Madison Chamberlain, so-called disco brides, and anyone looking to splash extra colour, sparkle or glam into their wedding day, are a mainstay of her business.

Chamberlain, 29, started her bridal brand in 2022.

“I’ve always been what you would call an occasion-wear designer,” she said.

In college, at what was then known as Philadelphia University, she studied fashion design and made “jacquard coats decked out in embellishments and trimmed with orange fur”.

She said: “Things that were just extreme.”

In 2019, Chamberlain left a design assistant job at Free People, where she had worked on party dresses. She was feeling burned out from corporate fashion and dreamed of someday starting her own fashion line, one of “joyful things,” made in a size-inclusive, low-waste way.

For about two years she worked for a wedding-invitation studio, painted pet portraits, did freelance design work and taught children’s art and sewing classes.

Then, in 2021, a friend of a friend asked Chamberlain to make a dress for her wedding in New Orleans. She created a custom gown embellished with shimmering paillettes, and wound up being invited to the wedding. The experience inspired her to shift her focus to non-traditional bridal design.

Madison Chamberlain at her studio in Philadelphia. She started her bridal brand in 2022. Photo: The New York TimesMadison Chamberlain at her studio in Philadelphia. She started her bridal brand in 2022. Photo: The New York TimesRead more: Bridalwear that is elegant and rich in culture popular among Malaysians

In August 2022, Chamberlain posted a TikTok video of her first veil, a rainbow sequin piece. It got more than 2 million views and sparked a flurry of inquiries.

After that, she was able to make the brand her full-time job, running her business out of a studio in Philadelphia.

Her vibrant veils, gloves, dresses and capes have captivated thousands.

The Sweetheart Veil, which drapes into a heart shape and costs US$695 (approximately RM3,271), is one of her most popular designs. Last year, she designed a custom dress for comedian Catherine Cohen.

On a recent video call, Chamberlain spoke about her design process, inspirations, the role of social media in bridal trends and what “non-traditional” means to her.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

What is your process when designing a custom outfit?

People inquire, we have a consultation, we meet virtually, and they tell me what they’re looking for. Everyone has different pain points of why they’re showing up.

They’re showing up because they have a size-G-cup top and their waist is supertiny, and they’re like, “I’m just never going to find the right fit in this vintage art deco vibe that I want.”

Or people come and they’re like, “Make me look like a disco ball – I’ve seen you do it before.”

From there, we take all your measurements. Then we move into muslin fitting, which they have to come in person for, and then we move into a final fit.

A core tenet of the brand has been: Fit is so important. Visual appeal and impact are so important. It should visually look fussy, but it shouldn’t feel fussy.

I want you to be able to eat, dance, drink and not have to be like, “Oh my gosh, I cannot wait to take this off.”

Where do you draw inspiration from?

So many things. I’m a consumer, I am an internet user.

People are like, “How did you blow up on social media?” It’s because I used it so much. I should look at it less, but I’m inspired by what I see online.

I’m really obsessed with art history, fashion history. Movies – I love time period pieces. I love dramatic main characters. I keep thinking right now of Lady Jessica in Dune, or Natalie Portman when she played Anne Boleyn, or Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge.

Female characters like that, with really amazing outfits.

There’s also a lot of humour in what I make, and kitsch. I really like to push the bounds.

It’s so funny to me when people comment on my stuff and they’re like, “This is not meant for weddings.”

I’m like, "It’s literally pink with a heart on it. What is not more meant for a wedding? A day of love?"

Madison Chamberlain is carving a niche with her vibrant, over-the-top bridal designs. Photo: The New York TimesMadison Chamberlain is carving a niche with her vibrant, over-the-top bridal designs. Photo: The New York TimesDo you think social media fuels the movement toward colourful or over-the-top bridal designs?

It’s like, yes and no. I can only base it on whom I have worked with.

They have private accounts, they do not post for a living. They are literally doing this for themselves, their friends, their family. It doesn’t have to do with social media for them.

I have worked with influencer-type people before, and that is something they care about.

I do think there’s maybe truth in that, but I think there’s less truth to that for the average person actually wearing colour and doing something different. I don’t really think it has anything to do with their posting, because they’re not really posting.

So, of course, there’s some truth in that, but I feel like that narrative negates all the people that just want to do it because that’s what feels good to them.

Read more: Shrugs, voluminous gowns, peplum waists: What are the latest bridalwear trends?

"Non-traditional" in bridal can mean different things to different people. As a designer, what does it mean to you?

At the core of it, “non-traditional” for bridal, for me, represents wearing what you want to wear on your wedding day, without any preconceived ideas being present.

If you want to wear white, if you’re like, “I’m so pumped, I love the colour white,” that is you.

It’s showing up as you and not necessarily as how society wants brides to be perceived, which is super feminine, virginal and dainty, simple, the “blushing bride”.

But again, if that feels like your jam, awesome. But if you feel not lit up by that, that’s what it means to me.

Then there’s a whole other meaning of the word to me.

As a designer, I feel like I’m working in a way that is so traditional, from back in the day. I’m doing this art form, which is creating clothing from start to finish in a way that comes from the early times of creating clothing. And to do that now is, honestly, a non-traditional way. – The New York Times

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