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Carine Krawiec on Finding Gowns For the Modern D.C. Bride

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[Photos: R. Lopez] After going to school for costume design, working in New York, and then returning to Washington, Carine Krawiec decided bridal retail was as close to costume as fashion gets. That led to work in bridal boutiques and a position managing a Saks Fifth Avenue bridal boutique. "They had told me they were going to close 16 of their stores and they wanted me to stay and run something else. No pun intended, but I'm married to bridal," Krawiec said. "I decided that opening my store was the best way to go."

So she opened Carine's Bridal Atelier, an elegant upstairs space tucked away in Georgetown that's filled with jaw-dropping wedding gowns that make a fashion statement. "Modern with a twist" is how Krawiec describes the store's style, outfitting brides with dresses that aren't exactly the same as what their friends are wearing or pinning to their Pinterest boards.

Read on for Krawiec's take on how D.C. is breaking out of that conservative mold, what bridal trends are here to stay, and what decisions you should never make before you start shopping for your wedding dress.

Why did you pick Georgetown for your shop's location?
Since I was raised here, Georgetown was the place you went shopping. If you didn't go to the malls, you went to Georgetown. It's fun to go brunching in the afternoon and then come try on dresses. And everyone knows Georgetown. In Europe, if I tell people over there, my store is in Georgetown, they say, "Oh, Washington."

How do you find this upstairs space?
I had another location that I was going to go for. The contract fell through. At that point it was the middle of the summer, and I was hoping to open in September. All my dresses were arriving, so my mom's house became a storage unit. We were going to start designing the other store. I had it all measured and everything.

I'd always wanted something you have to find, like a little treasure. I didn't want a main floor because when you first start you don't want people walking in and you are overwhelmed. [When I saw this space] it was orange. It was such a different look. It was a hair salon, and before that it was a pet grooming store, before that it had a famous deli downstairs. This building has gone through I don't even know how many warps of life. You know when you see good bones? You're like, I love it. Then we got it and my mom and I started to transform it.

It looks completely different. I adore interior design. We wanted to make it very cozy, warm, a place you don't have to leave. Make it look like a little home.

How is the D.C. bride different then the New York bride?
D.C. has a lot of conservative women here. A percentage of it is federal, and they're working in an environment that's very political. Their dress attire is very conservative and sometimes you fall into that trap of pencil skirts and tucked-in shirts. Some girls can let that go and become Legally Blonde and they don't care. But there are some that have to stay really conservative. From the time that I started bridal until now, it's starting to change.

New York is fashion forward. You have everyone from every part of the world coming there and dipping their toes in and shopping. Then they fly out with the dress. So you have every sort of bride walking in there.

When I was working at Saks, I used to lose a lot of my brides to New York. I started to change buying there. When I opened my store I don't have any restrictions, obviously, so I can pick whatever I want. I bought for what I thought the girls needed in the store. And they want unique, they want different. They don't want the same staple dresses that everyone has worn before. Especially now with Pinterest boards. Girls are looking and their eyes are a little more open with what they are looking for in a wedding dress and they want it to be different than their friends.

When we shop, we try to pick those things that are a little bit different. So it's a traditional dress with a modern twist. That's what we look for when we shop. When I do the buying for the store, I try not to do it by myself. I do the buying with all the girls, so it's not only my style, my specific look. I get Lauren's influence, Jessica's influence, the store manager, they all bring something to the table. That's how you get the eclectic look of our buying, it's not only one eye.

What designers fit with your "modern with a twist" theme?
Monique Lhuillier is really well-known for that. You can play with any type of bride. If a girl came in who she wanted the most conservative type of dress, she can find it there. Mira Zwillinger, a new designer from Israel, she has that very clean look. Like this dress: it's really clean and simple and elegant at the bottom, but the twist is that it's see-through at the top with lace appliques on it. The nude color that she uses for the corset, it's like a skin tone. You're never going to feel like you don't have anything on, people are going to think you have a lining on.

Another one is Rivini. They take this classic cut, but then they add an element that's just different enough. Where the embroidery starts at the top and wraps around your waist, or embroidery that's just cascading up one side so if you turn, turn, turn, each photograph is different.

And Carolina Herrera — she has an art deco dress that's three different colors. It's so clean in the front, that when you fan out the train, there's a softer ivory and a gray tone. It's amazing that she would think to do that and people love it. If you ask different states, do you do well with that dress? My friends who have stores across the U.S., they say no. But D.C. wants something just a little bit different and they'll go for that look. Because it's so clean in the front but the twist is in the back.

What is the experience like? What should people expect when they walk in the door?
What we are really well-known for and we thrive for is our customer service. We want the girls to feel like they are walking into your house. If you think about it, this is your home for 8-9 hours a day, six days a week, and you want everybody that walks in to feel like they are entering your home and to treat them that way. That's number one: when you walk in, you feel welcomed and excited.

Do people know what they want when they walk in?
It depends. I think there are three types of brides. There's the girl who knows, 100%.

Then you have the girl who's like "I think I kind of know what I want" and she'll hand you papers or give you a description of it. And you put her in something else and she's willing to try other stuff. She's like "I think I want embroidery," and she falls in love with lace.

Then you have the girl who has no idea. She walks in and she's like helpless. And you're like, "Come here, I'll take you under my wing." Then you guide her. When you first try on wedding dresses, the most important thing is to try on dresses with the cut that's going to be important for your body. Your body is your silhouette. If you're picking something because you liked it in a magazine, but it doesn't look flattering on your body, it's not going to look good in photographs. At the end of the day, your body picks the dress for you.

What are new trends in bridal? Is color one of those trends?
I think we are going to keep on seeing color. I think it's going to be softly added into the elements of bridal. The nude tones are what you're seeing, nude tones of blushes of champagnes, blue, lavender. Girls aren't scared of that anymore. It really depends on your skin tone. I always tell a bride, don't pick the color of your dress until you pick your wedding dress. Every ivory is different for every designer. Once you fall in love with a dress, pick the color that matches your skin. If it's a blush and it looks beautiful, get it. Why not? It just depends on what complements your skin tone. You don't want the dress to wear you, you want to wear it.

Another trend that you're seeing is very small flowers. Little teeny teeny flowers. Tulle is becoming really big. It's exciting because you think of tulle and you think of like huge, poofy dresses. But they're not anymore. They're so soft and silky and they fall right.

Another trend that I think is really kind of fun is the idea of having two looks with one gown. So walking down the aisle with your dress with a skirt on top of it, or a sort of layer, or a different sash, then removing it and changing the look for the reception.

What about the price point? What are your customers willing to spend?
It depends, everybody has a budget. We always like to tell our first-time shoppers in our store that the average in our store is about $5,000 to $5,500. We average from $3,000 and above. We always like brides to know that before they come in. We have the Bliss by Monique Lhuillier line and that one ranges from $2,700 to $4,000, and then we have a few dresses by Liancarlo that have that price point too. There are a few that are in the lower bracket. Each designer has their bracket.

Do you have any plans for the future?
We are using our square footage like we have more. We're storing stuff in places you wouldn't think. We've run out of room. We have more clients that want to come in and we're trying to accommodate the amount of people that want to come into our store.

It's tricky. It's tricky when you don't have enough room in the store anymore. We need more fitting rooms. We're trying to expand into a bigger location. And we're looking. Hopefully we can find something. We definitely want to stay in Georgetown.

Time for the lightning round! 8 a.m. or 8 p.m.?
8 p.m.

Beer or wine?

Whiskey or tequila?
Oh, don't give me tequila. Whiskey.

Cats or dogs?
Cats. I know, I'm sorry.

Favorite vacation destination?

Neighborhood lunch time spot?
Bistro Lepic. Patisserie Poupon.

Happy hour spot?
I don't really get to do HH. Someone had to tell me what HH is because I never get to go. My girlfriend texted me, so do you want to do HH? I was like "Who is that? What are you talking about? Is it like a new thing in dermatology?" She was like happy hour. Oh dear, honey, I never get out in time. So I can't really tell you.

OK, dinner spot?
I love Palena on Connecticut Avenue. That's one of my favorite restaurants. They have the best burgers. Who doesn't want truffled cheese?

Rap or country?

Borrowed or blue?

Scandal or Homeland?
Wow, that's dangerous. Scandal. I love Kerry Washington but I love Claire Danes. I'd say Scandal.
· Carine's Bridal Atelier [Official Site]
Hair: Hair by Giselle; Make-up: Isabelle of Red Door Spa