When was the last time you felt genuinely excited about wearing a bridesmaid dress? For me, it was 2002, and the ivory dress was from the now-defunct British Home Stores; so keen was I to wear it on the day that I willingly passed over custody of The Sims to my younger sister while getting dressed up for my duties. In case you hadn’t guessed, I was about 10 years old.
Fast forward fifteen or so years, and bridesmaiding can all too often involve spending a long day decked out in a dress that, in real life, you’d steer well clear of – something you might grin and bear for the sake of a valued friendship, then consign to wardrobe oblivion. One brand that’s seeking to change this perception for the better is Les Heroïnes, the new ready-to-wear label for bridesmaids designed by stylist Vanessa Cocchiaro.
‘The idea for Les Héroïnes started when a good friend asked me to be her bridesmaid,’ Vanessa explains. ‘The bride asked me what I wanted to wear, and I said a suit. I was quickly shut down, so I started thinking: “Is this such a ridiculous idea?” There must be other women out there who have a more contemporary view of dressing, and have had enough of the usual dresses that we have to choose from. Not everyone likes to wear dresses, so why force them to do so? I decided then and there I wanted to redefine the ideas around the bridal party.’
Vanessa’s mission statement – to create pieces that are ‘modern, subtle and chic but most of all pieces that you can wear again’ – will come as (tasteful, wedding appropriate) music to the ears of anyone who has ever been faced with a distinctly ‘blah’ – or outright frumpy – dress in flammable materials, or spent the ceremony drowning in acres of pastel fabric. ‘I decided to start with a simple colour palette for the first collection,’ she explains. ‘White is a big trend for bridesmaids at the moment, and it looks good on everyone. As we grow, I’d like to develop more colours.’ The collection is designed to celebrate the mix and match approach, one that’s become a hallmark of modern bridesmaid dressing. ‘Each style is created in the same fabric and colour, so one bridesmaid can wear a dress and the others can wear a jumpsuit or a top and skirt,’ Vanessa tells us. Prices for the dresses and separates range from £140 up to £420.
Her 11 years of fashion experience, in cities like London, Sydney, Milan and Paris, means that Vanessa has a stylist’s eye for shapes and cuts that feel both classic and contemporary. Her biggest influence, though, has been the friendships she’s forged with women around the world: ‘How my friends with different backgrounds, cultures, language, like to dress; which styles they find flattering for their hips, for their breasts. When exposed to diversity, you want to celebrate it,’ she says. ‘My aim for Les Héroines is to celebrate female friendship and women as they are, with their different personalities and body shapes.’
The dresses and separates from Les Héroïnes’ debut drop are fluid and easy-to-wear, ranging from bias-cut slips (favourable comparisons with Kate Moss’s Galliano wedding dress spring to mind) to shorter dresses and jumpsuits with flared sleeves to a tailored suit jacket. It’s named ‘the Antoinetta’ after Vanessa’s mother, and is a sartorial tribute to her mother: ‘Her strength, work ethic and love for her family has shaped me into who I am today,’ she explains.
Each piece is named after an influential woman: a ‘heroine.’ There’s the ‘Josephine’ for Jazz Age star Josephine Baker, a halter-style dress with detachable sleeves; the ‘Emmeline,’ a sleek wrap skirt named after the suffragette and the strapless ‘Simone’ dress in tribute to French feminist writer De Beauvoir. Who said bridesmaid dressing can’t be cerebral? ‘These philosophers, activists and journalists are true heroines to me, not fictional characters from a movie,’ Vanessa adds.
Scroll through the brand’s Instagram account and you’ll see wedding candids from some of the first Les Heroïnes bridesmaids. For the designer, ‘knowing that women have included [the brand] in such a special moment of their lives, and that they will look back on photos in years to come, is a truly wonderful feeling.’
Les Heroïnes launches online at the end of November. Lesheroines.com
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