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Here Comes the Style

Fashion is finally handing bridesmaids a break. Vera Wang is the couture design genius who made it happen and Kerry Waterman (owner of The Bridal Path and The Paper Mill) is the local savvy retail source for women who say, "I do" to participating in a wedding party. Formerly, that meant wearing a fussy dress so unflattering that "bridesmaid gown" had become synonymous with stuff-in-the-closet-and-never-look-at-again. But no more.

The new look in bridesmaids' dresses isn't about dresses at all, it's all about the two-piece ensemble. It works this way. A bride selects the color, fabric and the style of a skirt -long, short, A-line, and so on. Then, each bridesmaid chooses a matching top that suits her body type and maximizes her best feature--shoulders, bust, gorgeous long neck, whatever. Each top is the same shade and material as the skirt, so all the attendants are uniform, but each looks slightly individual. And all of them feel pretty.

"Vera Wang is definitely at the top of her form with this idea," says Kerry Waterman. "I sell more of these two-piece outfits than any other type of gown for bridesmaids."

Waterman notes that 95 percent of women who come into her boutique end up with a strapless wedding dress: "Even when a bride tells me strapless is the last thing on her mind, that's what she'll ultimately select. Strapless is really in right now and Florida weddings make the choice ideal." What other trends does the wedding expert notice?

* The black-and-white wedding is over. It was on the way out but the events of 9/11 finished the concept. The aftermath of the September tragedy has had other ramifications: Big, family-type wedding celebrations are more common. Weddings are seen as a major celebration of life and family unity, a colorful reunion.

* Deeper, richer shades for bridesmaids' ensembles. Popular colors right now include purple, dark moss, tangerine, and ocean blue. Celadon and sky blue are always desirable and pink will always be in.

* More children in wedding parties.

* People are paying more attention to designer invitations. The ones by William Arthur and Anna Griffin are sought after and quite expensive, about $1,000 for 100 invitations (and that's before postage). Traditional in script, paper stock and wording, these invitations feature a modern but tasteful twist. For example, the inside of the envelope will be lightly brushed with a pearl finish or the envelope might be square instead of rectanglular.

Waterman got into the couture wedding dress business about six years ago when people coming into her Paper Mill boutique (established in 1982) to select upmarket wedding invitations complained about the selection of luxury wedding gowns in this part of Florida. Waterman, who has loved fashion since she was an English major at the University of Michigan and made her own clothes for her tiny size 4 frame, took off for New York and sat through a season of bridal shows. These big events occur every October and April in Manhattan, which is the world center for the bridal industry.

For the first round of shows, she just observed and said she was too overwhelmed to buy. On a second visit she ordered sample gowns from Christian Dior, Jim Helm and St. Pucci, selecting conservative styles more appropriate for the Southwest Florida market. The following year, Waterman met Vera Wang and decided that Wang creations would form the centerpiece of The Bridal Path. A Vera Wang wedding dress starts at about $4,000. The 40-year-old designer is credited with overhauling the wedding dress industry by offering women sophisticated and sexy gowns of impeccable tailoring made from only the finest materials, such as duchesse silk satin.

Impressed with the designs of Alvina Valenta (starting price about $2,800), Waterman immediately stocked them, too. Today, she has an inventory of about 30 different dresses during any one season. They are all in a size 8 or 10, even though 25 percent of her clients wear upwards of a size 12.

"All the dresses are samples," she explains. "A bride tries them on for color and style, and then once she has made a decision, the dress is sewn just for her, with regular fittings taking place during the five-month process." Waterman admits that in extreme cases (and only if the sample dress fits nearly perfectly) she will sell a sample. "If a bride is here visiting from another state or country, tries on the perfect gown and has major time constraints, I'll sell the sample," she says. " But that's rare."

Waterman's clients come from all over Florida and the world. She recently provided the wedding dresses for two DuPont sisters. "The parents were vacationing here with relatives in Sanibel," she says. "First one daughter came in and bought. She was married in Annapolis. Then the other daughter came in and selected a gown. Her wedding was at the Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande. Both young women went with Vera Wang gowns. My business is mostly through word of mouth. One bride's family tells another. My showroom is open only by appointment."

Equally as important as style is a wedding gown's color, which ranges from white to ivory and to darker shades of champagne and rum with a delicate blush undertone. "The difference in shading is so subtle that as a guest in the church, you'd never be able to tell the difference between white and ivory," Waterman says. "The color differences are meant to complement a bride's skin tones. For example, a blonde, blue-eyed, fair-skinned woman is shown to best advantage in an ivory gown. If she has raven hair, dark eyes, she's probably best in white. And the Irish good looks of black hair and blue eyes will want white."

Waterman observes that darker shades are usually selected by older, independent women who want to make a fashion statement. These women are buying their own gowns and don't come to the showroom with their mothers. The average age of her brides runs between 25 and28. Sometimes, young women bring photos of dresses from bridal magazines. Sometimes they come in with pre-conceived notions about what they think they need based on self-perception.

"Full-figured women will always tell me they want a simple, straight gown," says Waterman. "I listen, then I bring out what I think they should have, and they are amazed. A column dress just calls attention to the fact that a bride is full figured. What that woman needs is a gown that flatters her best features. And today's luxury gowns are made to do that. It's just a matter of being willing to try on several to tell what's going on."

Not all of Waterman's clients are brides or members of a wedding party. Many buyers are local gala-goers who call and make an appointment to try on party shoes from the Italian house of Fenaroli. These beauties sell for $185 to $285 and can be dyed to match a gown or left white. Many styles feature crystal and faux jewels. "My necklaces are another good buy at $200 to $300, and lots of local women will stop in to buy them for themselves or as gifts," Waterman says.

The bridal expert's daughter, Julie Magardino (now an attorney with two sons), became one of mom's first clients six years ago. Daughter ultimately selected an ivory modified A-line Alvina Valenta dress designed by Victoria McMillan. It had a full skirt with silk roses and off-the-shoulder top. Waterman says she has noticed over the years that Alvina Valenta does a particularly good job with gowns for the petite bride. "If you're five-foot-two or under, I always bring out the Valenta samples," she says. "The cut of her gowns really flatter a petite bride. Alternatively, the Vera Wangs seem to have a longer torso and most of them, but certainly not all, work better on a taller woman."

When Waterman isn't in her bridal salon or in The Paper Mill helping people select wedding invitations, gift items, or cards, she can be tracked down on horseback. "The Bridal Path name is actually double entendre," explains the equestrian. "I'm a student of dressage and have been training with Joan Humphry for two years and competing. My life today has me back and forth on two roads, bridal path and bridle path. I love them both."

The Bridal Path and The Paper Mill

Cypress Square, 13451 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers


The Paper Mill

The Promenade, U.S 41 in front of Bonita Bay


* * *

A California art glass designer and expert on creative entertaining, Annie Morhauser, came to the Naples area earlier this month for a trunk show at DuFrane Jewelers at the Promenade in Bonita Springs. She introduced several new lines of high-end gift and tableware from her Annieglass collection, signed pieces with her diamond-tip Dremel tool, and shared her insights on how to give a party with genuine pizzazz. One of her tips is to use palm leaves as table runners. Another is to fill a banana-shaped bowl (she makes one) with small shells, clear glass pebbles, or pearls, nestling votive candles in the stabilizing filler.

Most Annieglass pieces are contemporary, with minimal surface decoration, since the designer believes that containers for food should never overpower the cuisine. One of her most popular designs, called Roman Antique, is a simple transparent plate with a hand-painted and fluted 24K gold edge. It's also available in platinum.

Morhauser makes her glass by a process called slumping. Shapes are cut from sheets of flat window glass. The edges are burnished and hand-painted. Color is applied and the pieces are heated in a kiln over a mold. The flat glass melts into the mold and takes shape. Then some of the pieces are given a frosted appearance by being sandblasted by hand. Each piece of Annieglass is signed and dated. Prices range from about $43 for a dessert plate up to about $300 for a cone vase rimmed in platinum. Big stars such as Barbra Steisand, Robin Williams, Gloria Estefan, and Oprah Winfrey own Annieglass.

Annieglass isn't the only upscale tabletop line at DuFrane Jewelers. When Barbara DuFrane opened her luxury jewelry shop in 1994 (after a 25-year career in the business in Minneapolis), she quickly learned that Naples shoppers and international seasonal visitors wanted more than wearable art for their bodies. They needed jewelry for their homes. When she teamed up with Bobbie Daniels (who had her own store for 15 years), DuFrane became the source for luxury plateware, crystal stemware, linens, giftware, even fabulous faux flowers in elegant metal or china cachepots.

"The flowers illustrate how our clients want one-stop-shopping down to the details," saiys Daniels. "They come in here and totally outfit their second or third homes all at one time. We even go to their homes to arrange the flowers on the table."

The brand names are bound to impress--Versace, Mottahedeh, Philippe Deshouliers, J.L. Coquet, Herend, Ralph Lauren, Pickard, Alain Saint-Joanis, Lynn Chase, Moser, Baccarat, Waterford, Heritage Wedgwood and many more. More than the haute inventory, the personal servicehelps clients put together an individual look when budget isn't a primary concern. There are place settings in the store for $1,600 each. What are some of the trends in the luxury tabletop category? Daniels gives a few:

* The charger is important. Use under a dinner plate or, in some cases, have the charger function as an oversized dinner plate or platter. Chargers are versatile and help set a glamorous table.

* Wine glasses are bigger than ever and stems taller.

* Beaded place mats.

* Homebuyers want bigger, European-sized silverware. The traditiona- sized American teaspoon is gone from the place setting and only makes an appearance on a saucer when coffee is served after dinner.

* Tangerine is a popular color in plateware.

* Luxury is definitely the quest du jour. China and stemware rimmed with gold and platinum are prized. But remember, any china pattern featuring cobalt or red is bound to be expensive. Those two colors are pricey and hard to do. The wider the band of cobalt or red, the more expensive the plate.

* Barbara Barry (furniture designer for Baker Furniture) has created a line of crystal for Baccarat that is hugely popular with clients who already have her furniture. The pattern, called Tranquillity, comes in clear and green. The clear outsells the color two to one.

* One of the new Versace patterns called Jungle is a hot seller. The blue-and-green leafy motif references a dress designed by Donatella Versace for Britney Spears to wear to the Grammy Awards two years ago. The dress inspired the dish.

DuFrane Jewelers


U.S. 41 in front of Bonita Bay


* * *

Twice a year the intrepid furniture buyers and design professionals from Robb & Stucky in Fort Myers and Naples put on their comfortable shoes, pack their black slacks, and trudge off to High Point, North Carolina, to evaluate the latest and best in industry design trends at the International Furniture Market and to select new collections for the five Robb & Stucky stores in Florida. Their track record is nearly impeccable, partly because design director Kris Kolar, ASID, and her team understand how people in Southwest Florida want to live. It's as much about accurately defining the Southwest Florida lifestyle as it is about selecting objects to furnish a home, because the former dictates the latter.

Kolar reports that two collections the team identified last October at Market have been particularly prized by local homeowners. One is Lane Venture's Kingsman Reef collection and the other is E.J. Victor's Budji line. Both collections have a warm, sophisticated tropical feel and can be used to replace white or natural wicker when homeowners want to maintain a relaxed ambience but desire something richer and more international.

Kingsman Reef pieces are crafted of crushed bamboo and stained coffee-bean brown. The style is somewhat British Colonial-West Indies. Not oversized, the furniture isideal for a condominium with low ceilings or for a small room. One of the most popular and versatile pieces is the curved-front armoire that can be easily adapted to a home entertainment center. The six-drawer dresser is another big seller at $1,600.

The E.J. Victor Budji line pairs dark wood and coconut fiber with woven leather in a slightly Asian context. The pieces impart a Far East whisper to a room that is already contemporary or traditional. The entertainment center ($7,000) looks like three boxes stacked one atop the other. It has sliding doors, ornamental hardware and presents as Asian with a custom flair. "It's a lot of style for the price," says Kolar. "We've had to reorder both the Budji line and the Kingsman Reef since our initial purchase at Market. People in this part of Florida find both lines have the right blend of high style, casual sophistication, and just enough comfort for that vacation mentality.

"Most people here are furnishing a second or third home. They want a comfortable tropical or a casual Mediterranean look, and they don't want to spend a lot of time selecting pieces or waiting for delivery. They want to play golf or be out on the boat, not furniture shopping. That's where we really excel. Our designers are experts at zeroing in on just what our clients need to support the way they intend to live. Everything displayed on the floor at a Robb & Stucky showroom is in stock and can be delivered to a client's door within a week. We've dressed 7,000-square-foot homes in a weekend." Kolar and her fellow designers can also spot furniture and design trends in full bloom. Want to update? Then consider:

* Warmer, richer wood tones in furniture. Lots of coffee-bean brown.

* Deeper wall colors. Cinnamon is popular right now and so are gold and dark sage. Good-bye to peach, mauve, pastels. However, robin's egg blue is coming back and looks great with dark brown.

* Metallics remain strong for walls, ceilings, and furniture accents. Burnished or gleaming, they work in nearly any setting, from cool contemporary to warm traditional.

* Asian accents in the form of occasional furniture, art work, accessories such as lamps, vases, pillows, or rugs.

* Touches of black and red in a room for drama and sophistication

* Matte or distressed finishes on furniture. An Old World patina of age seems to be the most inviting. High shine for wood furniture is out.

Robb & Stucky

2777 Tamiami Trail N., Naples


Robb & Stucky

13170 S. Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers


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