What started as a little girl’s love of sewing grew into a dream to create beautiful and memorable bridal gowns as Gretchen Dawley, originally from Munich, is sewing her way into the bridal fashion world one exceptionally beautiful wedding gown at a time.
By Melissa Anderson
Dawley’s journey started when she attended NDSU in the fall of 2008, and while she had planned to stay at NDSU to finish her degree, an unplanned trip to L.A. in November of the 2008 fall semester presented an opportunity. Dawley made a life-changing decision that had her leaving North Dakota for a life in L.A. the day after Christmas in 2008.
“I had toured a school there, did the entrance design project, and was accepted to start fashion school for the winter 2009 quarter,” Dawley explained, ”It was a whirlwind. I passed down my crown as Miss Teen North Dakota, finished out the semester at NDSU, and two weeks later, I moved to LA.”
Dawley went on to get her associates in fashion design and her bachelor’s in business at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles.
While she was in her programs, Dawley garnered as much real world experience as she could, working various areas of sales in the fashion world. She also did freelance design work for a bridal designer out of Santa Barbara, California.
“My first job out of college was for a small e-commerce start-up,” Dawley shared, ”It was great learning a business from the ground up and having my hands in literally everything from buying to producing photo shoots.”
Dawley worked her way up in the fashion world through many great opportunities, gaining invaluable experience from both the business aspect of fashion design but also fashion design itself. Dawley worked in different areas of womens and juniors fashion for reputable brands such as Nasty Gal and also created designs for brands that sell in nationally known stores such as Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, and Anthropologie.
“It was wonderful to design with a higher price point, and I loved being a part of the planning team picking and choosing prints, color schemes, and concepts for the upcoming seasons,” Dawley shared.
During her time at all of those companies, Dawley had started the Gretchen Dawley custom brand creating one to two custom wedding gowns a year.
“I knew, ultimately, I wanted to do the Gretchen Dawley label full-time, but I had grown comfortable in working for someone else and making more than enough,” Dawley said.
By the fall of 2015, Dawley’s hard work was paying off and she had earned a huge promotion that should’ve felt exciting, but Dawley recalled knowing it wasn’t what she wanted.
“My grandpa Vin, who was like a second dad to me, died in the fall of 2015, and losing such a huge figure in my life, gave me a huge reality check and perspective change in what I thought “success” and a “livelihood” was,” Dawley shared.
When Dawley returned to L.A. following her grandfather’s funeral she put in her two weeks notice, turning down the promotion and deciding instead to take a chance.
Dawley focused her efforts on her brand and belongs to a small niche of Indie designers that strive to make sure that all garments and gowns are made responsibly in the United States. The gowns Dawley creates are made with pure fabrics of 100% silk.
“I work with all local fabric vendors and have hand-picked every cutter, sewer, and pattern maker to ensure that each garment is made authentically and with an added bit of love,” Dawley stated.
For Dawley, the idea of creating a garment for a woman to wear on one of the most memorable days of her life is a love affair.
“If it weren’t for wedding gowns, I think I’d have to choose a different profession,” Dawley shared, “That’s how passionate this love affair is for me.”
Dawley explained that clothing can hold memories of events, both fond and not so fond, and her ambition as a wedding gown designer is to give each and every bride who wears her gowns fond memories of her wedding day. Dawley doesn’t want to design just another wedding gown for her brides, she wants to design “the” wedding gown.
“I want it to be memorable, special, and one-of-a-kind, always,” Dawley stated.
“I can say with strong conviction that everything I have created has been with that mind set of truly thinking every detail through from concept to fabrication to silhouette to final creation. That is why I choose wedding gowns,” Dawley added.
Dawley’s first collection consists of six bridal gowns that have been inspired from 1950s Havana. Dawley related the story behind her inspiration for the time frame for her gowns
“While I was working at Sanctuary, I was feeling pretty lack luster and uncreative as far as my own projects went. I remember praying and praying for a breakthrough,” Dawley remembered.
“One night, I had a dream that I was walking the streets of Havana during the revolution seeing these crazy scenes of what the world was going through at that time, but I was walking through these scenes, draped in chiffon, completely untouched. I promise you this is no fabricated story.”
When Dawley awakened the next morning, she knew she wanted to create collections about real people in real settings around the world at influential times in history. Dawley’s purpose in crafting her collection around specific time frames and people was to bring those peoples hopes and prayers that those moments would never get trapped in time. That these unseen and unnoticed people would be seen for their vibrant lives, and their lives would mean something all these years later.
“So, in step with my dream and where the country of Cuba stood in history at that time, I felt it was the most inspirational and appropriate times to highlight,” Dawley stated.
Dawley’s vision for her gowns is simple – to not let beauty get trapped in time. Dawley wants to tell stories through her gowns by taking people to a different time in a different place, taking the beauty from that time and bringing it to the present.
“That the beauty of that day would carry into the marriage, no matter the circumstances or difficulty of everyday life,” Dawley added.
Dawley’s designs are uniquely her own, but all share consistent elements – the story, silhouette, and fabrication.
“I think what sets me apart is the vintage concept and story that is behind each gown. No matter what, when you step into a Gretchen Dawley gown, you will feel the buttery touch of silk, sense the romanticism of the story, and see the impeccable construction of a couture gown.”
She explained the importance, even if it’s a custom gown, that the story of the woman and concept shines through in the gown, whether she wanted to look like a princess, a Hollywood starlet, or woodland fairy-that anyone looking at her would understand the story being told.
“I also think that a woman’s body is the most beautiful thing ever created, and I want to showcase that in a beautiful, classy, sophisticated, and timeless way,” Dawley said.
Fabrication is also crucial for Dawley. She shared that she can be quite a snob about fabric, but when you have worked, sewn, and spent hours with 100 percent silks and French laces, it’s entirely understandable.
“I can see polyester from a mile away,” Dawley said.
If Dawley couldn’t ensure all of those things, she would not create her exceptional gowns and instead would still be working under a label and just picking up a paycheck.
“I wouldn’t go through the trouble if I didn’t care so much,” Dawley said,
“My prayer is that my brand would grow but always stay authentic.”
Dawley will be bringing her 1950s Havana collection to the bridal market in New York City in April with the hope that her eye catching designs will be picked up by a few boutiques.
Until then, eager brides can find the beautiful 1950s Havana collection at Dawley’s website, www.GretchenDawley.com where not only can the collection be viewed and ordered but examples of Dawley’s exquisite custom gowns can also be seen.
For further information or questions for Gretchen Dawley, she can be contacted vie email at firstname.lastname@example.org.