We are aware you want to have a pick behind the scenes; you want to get to know the creative minds that make your wedding day shine with originality and brilliance. And we love to unlock these gates for you.
Laura Portia Brady-Grehan is the owner of TheodoraJames, located in Pennsylvania, United States. Portia (as she likes to be called) designs exclusive dresses for brides and bridesmaids. She is here today to tell us more about her creations and her sources of inspiration.
What kind of dresses do you make? Where does your inspiration come from?
I take inspiration from so many places, but vintage inspiration really gets my heart racing. I love timeless pieces that you can wear now and for decades to come.
I also come from Ireland originally so I think a lot of my pieces have a slightly ‘European’ aesthetic - from ancient Greece, to the south of France, to modern Danish street style.
I love to use traditional formalwear fabrics (like satin, chiffon and taffeta) in a different way to give them new life and modernity, with a nod to the past.
How did you get started with your business?
I was always artistic and interested in fashion in my youth, but then I ended up in medical school! A few years in, I realized it was not the right fit for me, dropped out and started my first fashion brand.
It started out in casual-wear, but after several custom commissions for formalwear and making a gown for the Grammy’s, it just seemed as though formalwear was calling!
I really fell in love with bridal, in particular, vintage styles, and kept expanding and evolving from there. I’m self-taught in fashion, which I used to think of as a downside, but after so many years in business now, I realize that it may give me a unique way of approaching things.
What is the basic process you go through to make a dress?
I am constantly sketching. I sketch every idea I have, though less than 1% actually goes on to be produced! When it comes time to make a collection, the ideas that have really stuck with me make the cut for the collection.
But my own collections are just a part of the work I do, and the real beauty of my work is that I offer the same opportunity to other people to bring their ideas for a dream dress to life.
Usually, a woman will come to me with an idea of what she wants that she can’t find elsewhere, or is beyond her price range. Together we talk through all aspects of her design - the shape, structure, fabric, flow, color, closure, ease of mobility, bust support, etc. I sketch it all up, make a list of our decisions, and she gives me the go-ahead to proceed when she is ready. Then it usually takes me 1-2 months to make it for her, and then (hopefully!) she has her dream dress to last a lifetime and beyond.
What styles do you offer, and what are the benefits of each?
The ‘Helena’ was one of my first bridal designs, and it remains a favorite to this day, both for me and our clients. It works through the years because it is so timeless and transcends trends. It is inspired by ancient Greek draping, but it has some structure and long sleeves for a modern twist. The draping makes it so flattering, especially over the tummy and hips.
The ‘Bianca’ gown is a more recent favorite. It’s so simple but really breath-taking, featuring a slinky silhouette, plunging neckline, and unique fluttering sleevelets. It’s so light and comfortable that it’s perfect for outdoor weddings. (Photo credit M2 Photography).
The ‘Bella’ skirts have become a bestseller for bridesmaids. Their simple, flattering shape makes them so versatile and I love seeing how different bridal parties style them to suit all different kinds of themes.
The ‘Tia’ skirt is another piece that is the perfect blend of classic and modern. It has a traditional ball gown shape, but the fact that it’s a skirt really allows you to play around with different styles of tops. This looks great in so many colors.
What advice would you give to someone on choosing the right size and style?
Try on as many dress styles, in person, as you can! It’s very tough to visualize how something online may look (and feel) on you, especially something like a bridal gown that we typically don’t have much experience of wearing!
I know when I was planning my own wedding, I thought I knew the exact dress style that would suit me, but when it came down to it, I actually made about twelve dresses for myself before I found one that felt right for me, and it was completely different to what I had started out envisioning.
Shopping online is best for value and variety but you serve yourself best by knowing exactly what you want going into it.
What tips can you offer when buying a bridal dress online?
Apart from trying on styles in person, there are a few key things to do:
The first is to take accurate measurements. If you’re spending a lot of money, and someone will be spending weeks or months making your dress, it makes sense to spend a few minutes first getting your measurements right. Ask your dressmaker if they recommend going to a professional seamstress to have them taken, or if you should do them at home. I personally recommend my clients do their own measurements, as we’ve developed a really thorough self-measurement guide to get them right. Your dressmaker may have their own particular way of doing things so ask them before you submit your sizing.
Get fabric swatches before you order your dress. It can be hard to see colors accurately online due to different lighting and even screen settings. Most good bridal stores will allow you to order swatches of your fabrics so you can be sure of the color before you order your dress.
Ask so so many questions! Lots of brides apologize to me as our messages back and forth run into triple digits, but it’s so important to feel comfortable with the process. If there is anything that is important to you, be sure to ask the person who is making your dress, so you’re on the same page about it. If you want to stretch, or a particular zipper placement, or pockets, or a certain length of the train, I recommend you don’t assume they automatically understand your vision and really spell it out!
Don’t feel pressured by anyone. Sometimes there is a lack of personal touch when buying online, but if you feel as though someone is just trying to secure a sale but doesn’t really care, I recommend looking elsewhere. Even in rush order scenarios, where we have to act fast, I tell my brides not to order until they’ve asked every question and got every answer they need. What may be totally normal and every day to the dressmaker is one of the biggest and most important purchases the client will ever make, so I always try to respect that.
Any other advice you’d add?
Don’t rely solely on reviews to see if you trust a shop. In our industry, the majority of happy clients don’t leave reviews (because they’re busy with wedding planning, forget, and then when they come back after the wedding to add a review with photos, the timeframe for reviews has expired!)
I recommend asking your dressmaker if they can share photos they have of other clients in your chosen style or similar. Even a brand’s social media tagged images may be informative to show your style on different body types and skin tones.
If you get friendly with your dressmaker (as I like to do with my clients) they may also be able to put you in touch with previous clients of theirs whom you can chat to about their experience and pick up vital pointers without any filtering or censoring of information. In addition, lots of sales and reviews can be a good sign, but it can also mean a less personal touch in big business.
Consider giving your business to a smaller shop where you can get really personal service and their full attention. It will mean the world to them and they will pour their heart and soul into making it perfect for you. :)
Talented, caring and knowledgeable, Portia might be just the right designer to create the dresses for your wedding party.
Make sure to check out Weddings By Laremi Blog for more wedding inspiration and advice.
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