Here comes the bridal designer
Kate Bennett designs affordable couture in Detroit
Kate Bennett's couture bridal gowns range from $1,850 to $4,500, that's one-half of what they would be in a city like New York because she doesn’t have the high, big-city overhead. Bennett's gowns are sold at Bridal Couture in Birmingham and Plymouth.
Photo: Garrett MacLean
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Meet the designer and get the first look at Kate Bennett’s 2009 collection at a bridal trunk show on Feb. 28 at Bridal Couture in Birmingham. Discounts of 10 percent will be offered on her 12 designs. Here Bennett offers advice on finding the perfect dress.
How can I make shopping days more fruitful?
Brides often ask me: “Who should I bring with me when I go dress shopping?” I recommend bringing a few people who you are close to and whose opinions you trust. Don’t bring a big group to a bridal salon. It can be uncomfortable, and everyone is going to have an opinion, which may or may not be helpful.
I also recommend that you only go shopping when you’re in a good mood. If you’re stressed or tired, you won’t have a good experience. Shopping for your gown should be a happy memory you treasure your whole life.
What extras do I get from a local designer?
There are many reasons why buying “local” can be a good idea. It reduces your carbon footprint and speeds up order time. Brides who order Kate Bennett wedding gowns also have the option of altering the gown’s style to create something unique. As a bonus, our quality and service matches what you would get from any other high-end designer — but at a lower price point.
Why do gowns vary in price so much?
Many of the gowns that are made in Asian countries are mass-produced out of inexpensive materials. Instead of making one gown at a time just for the bride, they create thousands at once. The majority of the cost comes from importing the garment and the designer’s mark-up instead of quality and style.
Couture gowns, by contrast, are made either in the USA or Europe, and are made one at a time out of the finest materials available. This allows the bride to order her gown just the way she wants it. Usually these garments are hand finished by tailors with years of experience.
When should I order my dress?
Many bridal salons recommend six to nine months before the wedding. This allows time for the dress to be made, arrive and for alterations to be done without stress at the last minute.
Order time will vary from designer to designer, but it’s always best to plan ahead. If you don’t have much time, don’t worry; you can still have a fabulous dress.
Many designers offer rush services for an extra charge. Since Kate Bennett gowns are made in town, our turnaround time is fairly quick.
How do I pick the right style for my body?
Try on a few different gown styles. Even if you don’t like the way it looks on the rack, you might look fabulous in it. I can’t tell you how many times brides have changed their minds once they tried on a different style. Keep your body type in mind, too. Strapless is common, but it’s not always the best choice. V-neck, scoop, and off-the-shoulder looks are gorgeous on the right person, so be adventurous.
Are there any etiquette no-no’s?
If you decide to go with a traditional ceremony at your place of worship, you should follow their rules for a wedding. You don’t want to make a faux pas and seem disrespectful. There are straps, and shrugs that can be added to your dress which can easily come off for the reception.
Aside from that exception, the generally accepted etiquette is: whatever the bride wants. Your bridesmaids don’t have to match. Mom can wear a little black dress instead of a pastel satin suit. Your dress can be purple or red.
Many weddings include a mixture of cultures, which can be reflected beautifully in the ceremony, attire, music, even the dinner menu. So do what you feel is right and don’t forget to have fun. Wedding planning can be very overwhelming, so take a step back and relax.
— Elizabeth H. Voss
Kate Bennett sometimes feels like she's making it up as she goes along.
But after a series of bridal trunk shows in metro Detroit led to exclusive Michigan representation in two high-end bridal salons — and a Chicago trade show earned her a spot in a Pittsburgh salon — the 29-year-old Rochester Hills designer is optimistic despite the gloomy economic forecast.
“Generally, I feel this year will be really hard, but I have positive feelings about my future,” says the youthful-looking Bennett who has a razor-sharp wit and is definitely “the glass is half-full” type.
Her three-year goal is to be in 10 salons across the country. By the end of this year, she’d like to be in Chicago and New York.
“I get positive response from bridal suppliers, buyers and brides. If people like my product, that’s the important thing.”
Bennett, a petite brunette, brings high-end couture quality and service, plus a Detroit-made product to area brides. In Michigan, her dresses are available at Bridal Couture of Birmingham and Plymouth.
Every dress is made by hand using the finest Italian silk, French lace, and Swarovski crystal from Austria. Her signature is modern silhouettes with traditional details. Styles run from short and flirty to sophisticated, strapless mermaid or straight skirts. She even has a traditional ball gown. Prices, ranging from $1,850 to $4,500, are one-half of what they would be in New York because she doesn’t have the high, big-city overhead.
So far, she has produced a collection of five or six styles every spring since 2007. The 2009 collection includes five figure-flattering, long gowns: two strapless, a halter, a deep V-neck with optional lace sleeves and one with light straps. Details include satin buttons all the way down the back, multiple layers of tulle and lace with Swarovski crystal beading, and blush pink buttons on ivory silk duchess satin.
The couture experience emphasizes giving the bride as much choice as possible, Bennett says.
In the salon, the customer tries on sample gowns. When she selects a dress, she can ask for changes in color and some alterations in style. Then the dress is made especially for her by hand. Bennett, a people-pleaser, says she enjoys making brides happy. Even her tabby cat, Oscar de la Renta, looks fat and pampered, resting under a sparkling Christmas tree.
At the beginning of 2008, Bennett took her show on the road, bringing her collection to four bridal trunk shows in metro Detroit. From there, she moved her gowns to the Bridal Couture shops. Bridal Couture offers high-end gowns from about 15 designers, including newcomers like Jane Wang and Matthew Christopher, both of New York, as well as big labels like Provonvias of Barcelona, Spain; Lazaro of New York; and St. Pucchi of Dallas.
For her first two years in the biz, Bennett sold her gowns at Elegant Lady in Oak Park. The new salons are a better fit for her high-end market, she says.
Bennett’s Detroit roots gave her an edge at the National Bridal Market in Chicago in October.
“When I say my dresses are made in Detroit, people stop and do a double take,” says Bennett, whose legal name is Abraham. She uses her maiden name for her three-year-old business. “I feel like the ambassador for Detroit when I’m away from Detroit. People are surprised what Detroiters can do. I like that. I want to keep surprising people.”
At the Chicago trade show, another high-end bridal salon, Anne Gregory for the Bride in Pittsburgh, purchased Bennett’s collection. In January, she’ll share retail space with designers like Monique Lhuillier of Los Angeles; Stephen Yearick of New York.
Bennett says she may attend a bridal trade show in New York in October, but she’s considering hiring a sales representative to help her find new out-of-state locations.
Bennett tries to keep the business as local as possible. In February, she began leasing a 700-square-foot studio at 4731, an artist studio building named for its address, 4731 Grand River Ave., Detroit.
She and a contracted seamstress sew every gown there. She also uses a local pattern drafter, a local photographer and two local models. Her graphic and Web designer is her husband Ron Abraham, owner of Universal Sewing Center, which sells sewing machines in Haberman Fabrics in Royal Oak. Creative like his wife, Abraham is also a keyboard player for the Mega 80’s, and gives vocal and keyboard lessons at The Detroit School of Rock and Pop Music in Royal Oak.
Despite her success, Bennett isn’t making a profit yet. Last year, she sold about 20 dresses, but the intensive labor (every dress takes about three weeks just to sew), expensive materials, and other costs make it an expensive business.
“I’m able to pay the bills,” she says. “The business is slowly growing. I’m not creating a lot of debt. It’s a comfortable place to be. I’m learning every month and making mistakes, but my mistakes don’t cost so much. The fact we’ve been able to do what we do in a city where no one else does it, makes me feel pretty good.”
If she started making enough to pay herself a salary, she thinks she would opt to expand instead, she says.
After she establishes her brand, she plans to develop a lower-priced eveningwear line and find an American manufacturer to produce it.
Most new fashion designers work for an established designer for 10 to 15 years before starting their own labels, she explains. Working in Michigan where there are very few designers, didn’t leave her with that option. Bennett says she stayed in Michigan because she has affection for Detroit, and because her husband has a business here.
“It’s never been my goal to make it so big we have to move the manufacturing away. I want to be very hands-on. I need to know the quality of the thread isn’t getting switched and the stitch length isn’t being altered.”
This year, Bennett got back to her roots: costume design. After earning a bachelor’s degree in costume design and a minor in fashion from Wayne State University, she started out trying to make it in costuming. That proved impossible. There weren’t any jobs that paid anything. However, the Michigan film incentives brought movies to Detroit, creating new opportunities for Bennett.
In September, she worked as a seamstress and set costume-maker, sewing all the gowns for Christina Ricci in a film with the working title, “All’s Faire in Love.” It was shot at the Michigan Renaissance Festival in Holly. Then in November, she was a costumes production assistant in a Rob Schneider film with the working title, “Virgin on Bourbon Street,” filmed in Greektown.
“I was trying to balance the bridal design and movie work,” she says, adding that she, of course, loved the movie paycheck. “The tax incentives won’t last forever. The circus will pick up and leave town, but until they do, I’m going to enjoy it.”