The way Ella Pritsker and Ivona Schapiro tell it, their meeting was something of a Cinderella story — but designer Pritsker was less Prince Charming and more fairy godmother.
“I had designed a dress for a former Miss Maryland who had a 22-inch waistline, and no one had been able to fit it since,” says Pritsker, smiling fondly at Schapiro and gesturing to the sparkling white gown on a mannequin nearby. “We brought it with us to a fashion show, thinking that if we could find a model to wear it, we would show it.”
A parade of women tried her creation, but no one could fit … until Schapiro, a Baltimore transplant from Vilnius, Lithuania, appeared on the scene.
“We zipped it up and the rest is history,” Pritsker says.
After wearing Pritsker’s gown down the runway, Schapiro asked her if she would design her wedding dress, though she was not yet engaged at the time. When the happy day came, the pair got right down to business.
As Schapiro would learn, however, deciding on a design for a dress is not as seamless as slipping into one.
“Ella and I had a few meetings, but I just didn’t know what I wanted,” she says. Her initial instinct, a full-skirted princess dress, didn’t mesh too well with the actual princess dress she wanted, too: Kate Middleton’s slimmer-silhouetted satin gown.
But after four meetings and a flash of inspiration from a different gown of Pritsker’s, something clicked. The result? A close-fitting dress with a trumpet bottom, complemented by a full organza overskirt that was taken off for the reception.
From that point on, it was all in the details: stunning lace sleeves, hand-sewn flowers to match an heirloom necklace that had once belonged to the groom’s mother, and the problem of footwear (Schapiro wanted to wear embellished Louboutin sneakers, a nod to her love of running and involvement with volunteer organization Back on My Feet; Pritsker hoped for heels — and won).
Six months and plenty of silk, lace and Swarovski crystals later, the dress was done.
“I was so calm,” Schapiro says. “I wasn’t worried about the dress. I was worried about napkins and forks.”
When the big day came, Schapiro experienced the moment every bride dreams of: a collective gasp when she entered the room.
“I haven’t heard a sound like that,” she says, beaming at the memory. “I was feeling like a queen, not a princess.”
“That’s just what I want to hear,” Pritsker says, kissing Schapiro’s cheek. “Once we get to know each other, that’s when the magic happens. For custom [design], it takes a little bit of magic. My goal is always to design a dress that’s a reflection of the bride’s personality and her dream. In the case of Ivona, she’s an elegant and sophisticated lady but with a little bit of whimsy, a little bit of sparkle, a little bit of bling.”
Though Schapiro has no immediate plans for her dress now that the wedding has happened, Pritsker says she hopes Ivona will model the dress in future shows.
The bride smiles again. “Well, I can’t say no to Ella.”
“The idea of going shopping for a wedding dress just made me feel queasy,” says Rachel Hirsch of her 2005 nuptials. “It was a crazy year. My car had been stolen, my mom’s health took a turn, I was starting a new career. We were trying to put this wedding together on the cheap.”
That tight budget didn’t lend itself well to a pricey gown, much less a couture creation found on the pages of a fashion magazine. But, as luck would have it, that’s where Hirsch found her dream dress: the now-iconic “Domestic Bliss” photo shoot in “W,” starring a newly coupled-up Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.
“There were two photos of her wearing this pink feather dress,” she recalls. “It was strapless, and it had this long black velvet sash, and there was something about it that I loved.”
It turned out to be a Giambattista Valli design, made of ostrich feathers and silk — and way over budget. But Hirsch couldn’t get it out of her head.
“I showed it to my mom and she was like, ‘Oh yeah, I can make that,’” she says, laughing. “I said, ‘You’re going to have to, because that one’s $6,000.’”
Her mother had made prom dresses for her in high school but certainly not something of this scope. And yet Hirsch was without hesitation.
“I Googled ‘ostrich feathers’ and came to ostrich.com of all things,” she says. Soon, she had a dozen 6-foot lengths of ostrich-feather fringe in her mother’s living room. “I remember asking the ostrich.com woman who usually buys [the feathers] and she was like, ‘Oh, you know, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Key West.’”
Feathers in hand, Hirsch and her mother were off to the fabric shop, where they
acquired some Spandex to make the base.
“It turned into this huge joke: The bride wore Spandex,” Hirsch says, laughing. “A product of the ’80s wearing a Spandex dress was just so White Snake.”
She would go to her mother’s house a few times a week, where she’d stand still in the stretchy tube while her mother affixed feathers to be hand-sewn on after she left (and that would later find themselves strewn about Baltimore during the wedding photos).
“She was always drinking red wine while she made it. I was like, ‘Get the wine off the table, Mom!’”
All jokes aside, though, Hirsch remembers the time fondly.
“It was just fun, a really nice way to get ready for the wedding with her,” she says, “and it was this frothy, fun dress to wear. It was the perfect anti-wedding dress.”
Nearly 13 years later, the ostrich-feather fringe has become an annual staple on Hirsch’s Christmas tree, and her mother suffers from dementia.
Talking about it, her eyes fill with tears.
“She’s getting pretty forgetful, but she remembers [the dress],” she says. “It was never going to be perfect, but I didn’t care. It was exactly what I wanted to wear.”