By Julia Eskins
Photography by Tara West
You hear it time and time again, “It’s supposed to be the best day of your life.” Ask any woman: the perfect wedding dress is a big part of the equation. But when the pressure is on, Val Stefani delivers.
For designer duo Valerie and Stephanie Chin, the process involves sketching, stitching, beading and, of course, a healthy handful of Swarovski crystals. No one said catering to the apparel needs of brides was easy, but working with your sister and loving what you do helps. Together, the two have become the go-to girls for picture-perfect gowns. Known for their bridal trunk shows throughout the United States and their sunny, southern California demeanors, the two have made a name for themselves in Hollywood circles.
Along with gearing up for the award season and dressing celebrities like Cheryl Burke for the Red Carpet, Val Stefani is expanding their line to include prom and eveningwear.
FAJO Magazine caught up with Stephanie Chin to talk about wedding dress trends for 2013 and making bridal dreams come true.
JULIA ESKINS: What is the process like designing together? Does one of you take the lead in a certain area?
STEPHANIE CHIN: We both meet with the clients and Val does all the sketching. When we create, we do it together. Our personalities are polar opposites: we’re a good balance and are always pushing each other. When we get together to design, one person will want to streamline things, while the other will want to add them.
Our parents always encouraged us to be very creative. We played piano, violin and viola, and took a lot of art classes.
Why bridal gowns?
Bridal gowns are the ultimate dress and the ultimate fantasy. When you think of a style icon, the dress that they’re most remembered for is their wedding gown. And everyday we get to play dress up! It’s the gown for the most memorable day of your life.
Have you encountered any bridezillas or crazy requests in all of your years of designing?
Of course! The whole bridal process can be very stressful and we totally understand that. We do a lot of in-store appearances for our trunk shows.
We meet brides and help them choose gowns for their special day. We’ve met the whole gamut: for the most part, brides are very nice, polite and excited to see us. But, sometimes, you’ll get that girl who’s a real bridezilla. We always tell them to take a step back and realize that they don’t want to be going through the process extremely stressed out or have bad memories – be it fighting with their Mom or having tension with the bridesmaids. You want to have a memorable and happy experience.
I’m sure in the end, they’re happy when they look in the mirror and are wearing a stunning gown.
Absolutely, it’s like a therapy session!
Do you remember the first dress that you designed together?
That was a very, very long time ago. It was a dress for one of the Barbie dolls: a ball gown with lace detailing on the bodice.
You have designed gowns for some well-known celebrities. Who was the most memorable of them all?
We most recently designed a couple of cocktail dresses that were worn by Cheryl Burke. It was exciting because she’s on Dancing with the Stars. She’s very influential and has opened up about her life story. She tells people that her life does have some struggles. It’s nice to dress inspirational figures!
You do sketches of celebrity wedding gowns for various magazines. For example, Miley Cyrus and Jennifer Aniston. What do you base these sketches on?
We design based on what we feel the bride would want. Miley Cyrus has grown up a lot and has a more sexy and sophisticated style than she used to have. That’s what really inspired the design. She likes more streamlined silhouettes, with detailing that’s different than something she used to wear. She wants to be considered a woman now, as opposed to a little girl. She’s changed her image a lot and is now going for more daring things, like cutouts and 3D detailing.
Jennifer Aniston’s style is very classic and elegant. She doesn’t usually wear things that are too over-the-top. She wears clothes that show off her figure, but not in a revealing kind of way.
Your followers often turn to you for advice on wedding trends. What would you say are the biggest wedding gown trends for 2013?
Wedding trends for the upcoming year include a lot of lace and a lot of detailing on the back. Brides are realizing now that you spend the majority of the ceremony with your back to your guests. Bridal trends this year include shoulder detailing, cutouts, keyhole detailing or a Queen Anne build-up.
What has been the most elaborate dress that you have designed to date?
We did this one elaborate piece that had a lot of hand detailing. The whole bodice was made of Swarovski crystals and beading in an interesting leaf pattern. The bottom of the skirt had a lot of rosettes, leaves and silver embroidery on the train. It had a big, ball gown taffeta skirt. It was a showstopper, for sure! All of it was done by hand and it took about three weeks to complete.
You’re originally from Chicago, but now you’re based in California. How has living in both of these locations affected your design aesthetic?
Where we’re from says a lot. Val lived in New York City for a while, too. In New York City, everything is very fast-paced and “go, go, go”, whereas in California, it’s a bit more laid back. In the Midwest, it’s more low-key. All these things influenced our designs and you can see it in our wide range of gowns – we don’t design just one type of look.
Can you describe the woman who would most likely wear a Val Stefani gown?
Someone who’s confident and someone who wants to show off their silhouette, because we do a lot of curve-enhancing designs.
What’s the best part of working on this line?
Every dress is like having a baby. From beginning to end, you spend time sketching, choosing the details, picking the fabrics and deciding how you’re going to embellish the dress. Getting feedback from the bride and being able to be a part of their special day is definitely the most rewarding part.
What’s next for Val Stefani?
We’re going to expand the collection and concentrate more on our eveningwear. We are gearing up for award season. It’s always chaos, but then it will calm down and be worth it in the end!
L.A. photoshoot with the designers