BY JULIA BEESON
FOR NEARLY A DECADE, Allyson Simon has provided exquisite taste, impeccable style and classic bridal dress designs to fashion-forward women in San Diego and beyond. A fixture on the design vanguard, Allyson is a leading creative presence in the world of bridal couture and design. The Panamanian native’s charming, Paris-inspired showroom in the Gaslamp Quarter reflects the classic elegance of her designs, which incorporate luxurious materials such as handmade lace from Normandy and fine silks from Italy. Allyson connects with each bride by personally meeting and working hands-on with her during the entire dress selection process. Simple yet sexy, whimsical yet sophisticated, her designs capture the unique style and energy of the individual bride. Allyson shares with Exquisite Weddings the inspiration behind her current collection and offers brides-to-be tips for picking the perfect dress. (Hint: shop around.)
What inspires your designs? My current collection is inspired by fairytales and based on ball gowns. I think ball gowns are going to be big this year.
How did you get your start in bridal couture? I’ve been drawing since I was 5 years old and still have sketches of gowns I drew when I was 10. I don’t have formal training; I was a merchandising and pre-law student at Palomar College. I found I had a natural knack for designing, pattern-making and sketching. I never had anyone sit there and teach me, it’s just something that came naturally.
Take us through the entire process: from the initial meeting with the bride to presenting her with the dress she’ll wear on her wedding day. When she comes in, she usually picks a dress from my existing collection of about 30 dresses. Collection dresses range from $2,000 to $10,000; ball gowns start at $5,000. I rarely do custom-made dresses (those start at $5,000), because she usually finds something she likes in the collection. Once the bride picks her dress, I work with my pattern-maker in Los Angeles, and we cut the dress to her exact measurements. It goes through production (also in Los Angeles) and arrives to my showroom. Then we do a fitting. Everything is private; it’s not like other bridal shops, where there can be 20 other brides there at a time. During a fitting, I’ll sit with her for five hours if she wants. It’s a very relaxing, nonstressful environment. I style brides as well: we talk about hair, make-up, shoes. When she walks down that aisle, she has to be totally perfect.
How do you get to know your bride when helping her select the perfect dress? The minute they walk in, I usually know right away what will work for them. It’s in the way she handles herself—if she comes off confident, if she’s professional. If a woman doesn’t have confidence, she seems to be a little more confused when choosing a dress. When a women feels beautiful inside and out, I pick up on that; they’re going to have more confidence and know what they want in a dress.
What are the key questions you ask a bride? I usually don’t ask too many questions at first. I don’t want her to feel like I’m attacking her with a bunch of questions; I want her to come in, look around, get familiar and relax. I do like to know where she’s getting married. That way I can picture her in the context of her wedding.
What are the trademarks of your dresses? The quality of the materials I use in my dressmaking. My clients love the texture of the silk I use. I use the highest quality of silk—it’s the heaviest, best silk imported from Italy, France and Belgium. All of my lace is handmade from Normandy and Brussels.
Describe your typical customer. I get a little bit of every type. Typically, she’s professional—I get a lot of lawyers. She’s definitely stylish, very chic, demure, traveled, educated and very classic.
What should a bride research before coming to you? I think it’s best if a bride goes to a bridal dress shop before going to a designer. I want her to shop around, try on different dresses. It’s helpful, plus it’s just fun—it’s her wedding dress! I tell brides all the time to go to David’s Bridal, then come back and tell me what they like.
What inspired your fragrance line? I had many clients ask me what fragrance they should wear for their wedding, and I didn’t really know of any. So, I hired a perfumery to develop Allyson Simon fragrance, which came out in 2004. It has Spanish saffron, Mediterranean flowers, Russian amber and violet from France. It’s a very soft fragrance.
Is there such a thing as San Diego style? Do you see trends among San Diego brides? I design in San Diego and have a showroom here because I like the laid-back feel. I’ve had offers to go to New York and Los Angeles, but I like it here. The girls here are getting more stylish. Years ago, they played it very safe and now they’re going with designs that are more unique. So, that lets me design more ‘out there.’ A few years ago, girls wouldn’t wear low-back dresses. Now they aren’t afraid. But every girl is different. Most of the girls I get are fun—they’re a little safe, a little sexy. I think that’s why they like my dresses: they reflect their personal style. To me, every bride looks beautiful. Often, when she’s trying on dresses, she sees her flaws but I just see her beauty.
What sets your showroom apart? Brides come in to my showroom and aren’t used to that kind of bridal shop environment—the intimate showroom. I want to know my own client, I meet with every bride. They sometimes come in expecting to meet with a sales rep, but they always get me. Before they come in, I have them fill out a bridal application on my Web site (allysonsimonbrides.com). I like to have some information about them before they come in.
Popping the Question. How do you tell a bride a dress isn’t right for her? It’s a delicate situation. Most brides know what looks good on them. I am honest, though.