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Hand-Made Monday: Gowns & Dresses by Dahl NYC

Corinne Photo

Hello, Indie Wed community! I’m Corinne Van Arsdale, a wedding coordinator based in Madison, Wisconsin (you can visit my website to learn more about me). I’ll be guest-blogging here on two of my most favorite aspects of wedding planning — small businesses (shopping local) and handmade wedding items! Weddings are great opportunities to give business to small/local companies that do unique and custom work, and I’m so excited to be sharing some of my favorite small businesses and hand-made finds with all of you on Hand-Made Mondays! [Side note: Do you know of a great small business whose work you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about it! Send me an email at corinne@corinnevanarsdale.com] Without further ado, let’s dive right in and get to know Alison Dahl Kelly of DAHL NYC!

The perfect wedding gown is like the perfect mate — it should make a woman feel courageous, comfortable, beautiful, and truly like herself. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that independent-spirited brides are turning more and more to like-minded vendors to help them achieve a look reflects their unique personality and perspective.

One such independently-spirited vendor is Alison Dahl Kelly of Dahl NYC, the designer of a gorgeous line of unique gowns and dresses for brides and their favorite ladies. Indie Wed has featured Dahl dresses before (see the post here), but this time Alison was kind enough to answer some of my questions below about her journey to her current line of work (fun fact — it includes Project Runway, one of my most favorite shows), what inspires her, the kind of women she designs for, and her advice for brides-to-be.


{Alison Dahl Kelly in her NYC Studio}

CV: Tell me about the beginnings of Dahl. How did you get into the bridal fashion industry?

ADK: In some form or another, I have always had my own clothing line since graduating from college. In the beginning it was all punk-inspired one-offs made from vintage and surplus fabrics under my first label, Run R1ot (the “1” symbolizing one-offs). I happily sold these mini-collections on consignment in boutiques around LA.

Later, when I moved to New York City, I auditioned and was immediately cast onto the third season of Project Runway. This changed things a bit! Because of the buzz associated with the show, I took the plunge and created a wholesale clothing line called Dahl, named after my Swedish grandmother. Large-scale wholesale fashion production ended up not being the right fit for me at all, so I continued to design tops and dresses to sell through my website while designing select pieces for boutiques with which I’d formed good relationships.

It wasn’t until planning my own wedding in 2011 that I realized the significance of wedding attire. I designed and sewed my wedding gown, seven different bridesmaids’ dresses and three flower girl dresses for my wedding party [the photo below is from Alison’s wedding]. We were all Dahl’d up. This collection of dresses became the catalyst for a new collection–it had struck me that wedding attire can be incredibly meaningful and personal, and that we don’t all fit into the traditional bridal molds of style and aesthetic.

My Wedding

{Alison & her wedding party on her wedding day}

CV: Where do you draw inspiration for your work?

ADK: I would say textiles are the driving source of inspiration. I am forever using muted silks in a range of pastels, soft vintage lace, swishy tulle and I hand dye fabrics for that special touch. I am less trend-driven and more enchanted by vintage silhouettes, especially from the 20s-40s.

I am someone who isn’t afraid to dress up and I find so much expression and personality in clothing. I live in Dahl dresses and sometimes use an occasion to create a new silhouette–for a friend’s wedding in California, or date night, or a day dress. I try to incorporate romantic and whimsical accents into my dresses. I’d like to think that I’m not only creating a dress but a mood… A mood that is at once nostalgic and modern. I strive to make dresses with a lived-in feel, or at least look a bit vintage-y, to seem like they have a past or a story to tell.


{The Clara Gown}

CV: What do you love most about your job/working in the wedding industry?

ADK: I was never one to fantasize about the perfect white wedding, so I was shocked by how much I cherished planning the artistic details of my own celebration. I’ve since learned that this public confession of love can be so beautiful and meaningful, and that everyone has their own idea of what they want, whether it be grand or toned-down. I get a charge out of working with brides on color schemes and fabric choices, to lend a hand in bringing their vision to life.

Creating a custom piece for a client is also an invaluable learning tool. I love to discover what women want, which parts of their bodies they would like to celebrate, or maybe conceal. The biggest gift is when I receive photos from a bride or client; to see my dresses come to life as characters in someone else’s story can be heartwarming and encouraging.

CV: What three words best describe your work and/or the style of your gowns and dresses?

ADK: Whimsical, romantic, bohemian.

CV: How would you describe your ideal customer/the woman you design for?

ADK: The client I have in mind is a shameless romantic, an offbeat bride, a bohemian at heart.

Two Wedding Gowns by DAHL NYC

CV: What are some new/emerging trends you’re seeing in wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses?

ADK: Personalization. I think more people are taking the reins in terms of personalizing their wedding attire by adding color, a homespun touch or wearing a less traditional silhouette. I’ve had more requests for mismatched bridesmaids dresses in either color or style, or both. Many of us ladies want to be able to wear our bridesmaid dresses again, so when given a choice between ten different styles or colors, we are more apt to do so.

As for brides, Dahl clients are definitely looking for something less traditional and more laid back, but with a romantic or ethereal vibe. Ivory, champagne, nude and blush pink are my most popular wedding gown color requests. I don’t think anyone has ever even asked me for a true white dress!

CV: What advice do you have for brides who are choosing their wedding gown?

ADK: I would highly recommend making appointments at two or three bridal salons, for example, an upscale salon, a vintage or second hand salon, and an indie or smaller salon who carries some handpicked selections. Try on a few different silhouettes and see what you like. That strapless princess dress with boning and miles of gathered tulle may look stunning on the rack, but it may look very different on. I just did this with a friend, and every gown she put on reaffirmed her desire for a sheath gown with a train. And it’s fun!

I also recommend taking a look in your closet and studying your favorite garments–what is it about them you love? Keep that in mind when choosing your gown and go with what you feel your best in, not what you think is right.


{The Marni Bridesmaid Dress}

CV: Any advice for choosing bridesmaids’ attire?

ADK: I do think it’s important to have a color scheme in mind when choosing your bridesmaids dresses, and to base your decision on color palate, venue and the vibe which you’re going for. If you’re having a vintage-inspired wedding, you may look for retro dresses, or frocks made with vintage lace. For many brides, the first question from their maids is “what are your colors and what are we wearing?”

I am often approached by brides asking if they can mix and match my dress styles, and I’ll give them a list of which styles can all be made in mint green, or which styles can be made in a palate of pastels. They’ll send their maids to my website and let them choose which style they like best for themselves. I admire this approach and I think everyone wins in the end.

CV: What is one thing that every bride needs on her wedding day?

ADK: A bottle of good champagne while getting dressed with your maids!

CV: Do you create custom gowns and dresses?

ADK: Yes! I welcome custom design inquiries for both wedding gowns and bridesmaids dresses. Prices vary depending upon materials utilized and complication of design.

2 Bridesmaid Dresses

{The Posey & Anouk Bridesmaid Dresses}

CV: What is/are your favorite piece(s) you’ve created?

ADK: I still get emotional when I see my wedding party, the collection which ultimately led me to designing wedding attire.

CV: At IndieWed, we love small and/or alternative wedding businesses. Any fellow indie vendors you’d like to send a shout-out to?

ADK: Yes! I love Skip To My Lou, for it’s whimsical, print-inspired customizable wedding invitations & personalized stationery. I love the collection of handmade metallic chartreuse, gold and silver tassels by EverlyLane. Die for these flower crowns by RoguePony. Amazing millinery arts by Laura Kranitz.

CV: Thanks, Alison for spending some time with us! Be sure to check out Dahl NYC’s website, Etsy shop, and Facebook page!

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