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How to get a custom wedding dress 

Whether you're going for cultural or couture, these local designers can fashion a gown all your own.

Not all women who have been planning their weddings since they were little girls have visions of poufy dresses in their heads. Some of us fear we'd burst into flame donning virginal white; others of us simply don't like the idea of an anonymous cake dress that could belong to anyone. We'd gladly trade sugar, spice and everything nice for a look a lot truer to ourselves — something with a little more edge.

In recent years, more women are stepping outside of the traditional dress for looks that suit their own personal style, and it's not just the steam punkers or Lolitas, either. My sister-in-law envisioned a lavish winter wedding — in white leather, to keep the chill away. Another friend, enamored of her chartreuse and grey color scheme, carried it right on down to a gorgeous vintage-inspired lace dress in the bright green color. And with the surging popularity of brands like Nakimuli, more brides are opting for Western cuts in traditional cultural patterns and fabrics. Yes, there are more ways than ever to make sure you walk down the aisle a more perfect version of yourself, but you won't find these designs in a shop. These unconventional gowns call for the most time-honored tradition of all: bespoke wedding designers.

And why not? You know your style, whether it's bohemian luxe or twisted classic, and once you find a dressmaker who understands and can execute your vision, the possibilities are near-endless for customizing Cake Day looks. The good news is, whether you want a gown to honor your heritage or your hobbies, Charlotte is chock-full of creative designers willing to take the plunge with you. Here are a few hometown designers we favor for creating one-of-a-kind wedding looks.

Designed by Kevin Vain - KQII PHOTOGRAPHY/KENNETH QUILLER; MODEL: BRIA JACKSON
  • KQII Photography/Kenneth Quiller; Model: Bria Jackson
  • Designed by Kevin Vain

Emerging Couture:

Kevin Vain (kevinvain1@gmail.com)

Kevin Carter, known to the fashion scene as Kevin Vain, has been making dreamlike creations fit for moody, complex brides since 2010. His collections feature exaggerated silhouettes and muted colors. One of his pieces exhibited at the Mint Museum for two years — a shocking feat for a 19-year-old — and he has been highlighted at Charlotte Fashion Week more times than one would expect for his young age. Utilizing yards of duchess satin, lace, French silk and chiffon, Vain creates pieces that surprise, like the mermaid dress with a veil that rises from neck to nose, or an Italian silk number with 15 layers of pleated organza, which Vain describes as "like wearing fog."

All Vain's designs are hand-sewn and hand-beaded, with literal blood, sweat and tears going into the creation — a shocking value for his $1,000-$2,500 price range. "I think I'm still too early to charge top dollar," he confides. "I just broke with doing stuff for free. But I like working with women who have an appreciation for fashion, and understand that this piece is one of a kind, and can talk about it and wear it in an interesting way."

Cultural and Funky:

Tamara Lytch (www.tshanell.com)

Charlotte-based Tamara Lytch is quietly building a national following with her T-Shanell designs, with stars like Fantasia Barrino and Alicia Keys sporting the looks at red-carpet events. Lytch, who has been working in the fashion industry for 14 years, makes frequent use of Ghanaian and Nigerian prints, infusing her playful pieces with a bright, geometric, strikingly modern element. These flirty designs definitely will be reworn by your bridesmaids.

Lytch is in the process of setting up a T-Shanell showroom, which will open in Charlotte early February. Clients will be able to browse her new Art Imitates Life collection, which features Picasso-inspired prints, as well as her Tribal and Basic collections, pick out fabrics and have items custom-crafted in one stop. Eventually, she's also planning to offer workshops to help aspiring young designers hone their craft. "It's so hard to get really strong mentors," Lytch says. "I've done retail, custom work, fashion shows, editorial — every aspect, and I want to help other people realize their goals earlier, so they don't get taken advantage of."

Ancient Tradition:

Amadou's Fashions (704-449-0533)

How did a former warehouse worker become one of the most in-demand dressmakers in Charlotte? The story starts long before 2001, when Amadou, who prefers to go by his given name, began creating custom wedding fashions for Charlotte's West African community. Hailing from the Ivory Coast, the designer learned his trade from his father, who was also a master clothesmaker. "When I dropped out of school, my father said I had to study something else, so I studied under him," he says in French-accented English. Amadou quit the day job to design full time in 2007, and opened Amadou's Fashions at 4108 N. Tryon St.

Depending on the material of choice, Amadou's bridal creations start at around $500. Many fabrics are shipped from New York, and often as far as Belgium. Summers are his busiest season, when he may commit to up to 10 bridal parties, so it's best to book him early.

Whatever you choose, you can be confident knowing on your big day, you won't be lost in a sea of white lace. White leather, on the other hand, is entirely up to you.

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