As a rule, Lisa Van Hattem’s clients are from Southern Ontario, with the exceptions coming from as far away as Vancouver, Puerto Rico, and Paris France.
“It’s amazing—women will travel when it comes to their wedding gown that’s for sure,” says Lisa.Lisa Van Hattem is a designer, pattern drafter, and seamstress. You can find her custom bridal boutique comfortably nestled in the Victorian Village of Waterdown, where she produces all of her gowns in-house.
“We start with a consultation, and I sit down with the bride to talk about her ideas,” says Lisa, “And look at any pictures she has sent me.” Lisa does some sketches, bringing everything together into a cohesive design, while taking into consideration any religious needs, colours they like that would suit the bride’s skin tone, as well as body shape and height.
“When they say ‘Oh it’s exactly what I was thinking of,’ it’s really fulfilling,” says Lisa. She shows them samples of laces and fabrics, and examples of her work to give them an idea of how the gown is going to look.
The next step, after taking measurements, is drafting the pattern—which Lisa makes from scratch; she never uses a commercial pattern, which is how the bride can get exactly what she wants.
Lisa then creates a mock-up of the (top of the) dress. “That way I can make sure we’re on the same page, and that they like the cut on them,” says Lisa, “And together we go through the neckline, where the waist will be, and all those important details.”
After the mock-up Lisa sews up the entire dress minus zipper or buttons and details like beading, and the bride comes in for the first fitting. Most often she is happy with the first fitting, but nevertheless it is done early enough that there is time to make changes if necessary.
There are usually 2 more fittings in the gown, with final fitting about 2 weeks before the wedding, although it is completed well before that.
“My whole thing is that I want you to love your dress, so we work together to make sure it is exactly your vision,” says Lisa.
Brides often follow the latest and greatest on Instagram, Pinterest, fashion magazines and the like. And naturally women who are getting married want to look fashionable and stylish for their wedding—which is exactly why Lisa’s perspective and insight can prove to be invaluable.
“While it’s important to have a modern look today, I do feel strongly that you want to emulate someone like Grace Kelly,” says Lisa, “Where you can look at photos of her wedding, and even though you can tell it’s not today, it doesn’t look dated.”
Sometimes when brides come to Lisa with design ideas that are really trendy, she will point out that they are probably going to look back and see that every other bride that year had a similar style. “You have to keep on top of the trends,” says Lisa, “But it’s also important to keep an elegant look to your gown, to make it a little more classic and timeless.”
Lisa orders from Canadian suppliers whenever possible for example for some of the basic fabrics including silks, but she points out that not a lot of fabrics are actually made here, so she also sources materials from around the world.
Her lace suppliers are in England and France. “When I get a new shipment of laces,” says Lisa, “Those are the ones who get me so excited about design.”
Lisa grew up in Burlington, and worked as a seamstress at a fabric store before graduating from the fashion design program at Sheridan.
“After college, I never thought I would go into bridal,” says Lisa, “I thought I would be more into high fashion, or even a line of dresses.”
Lisa started out working for a custom bridal gown designer in Oakville, finding that she loved making wedding gowns, and putting the skills she had learned in school to good use.
After a couple of years Lisa decided that she wanted to be self-employed, and so she started her own line of wholesale wedding gowns.
Looking to take on some extra work, she took orders for custom gowns at a bridal show in Burlington. “I sold enough custom gowns to do an entire years worth of work,” says Lisa, “And I wasn’t loving the wholesale business because you never meet the clients, so after that bridal show I decided to just do custom gowns.”
Lisa has been working exclusively in bridal for 25 years now.
Last Fall, she was talking to Corina Van Sluytman, a photographer in the industry that she has worked with before on photo shoots, and they decided it would be a good time to go to Paris, France.
Lisa made some gowns, packed them up and they went there for four days. “We went around the city with the model,” says Lisa, “It was exciting, it was like a dream come true to do a photo shoot in Paris.”
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