By Katia Ostapets
Photography by Kareen Mallon
Sarah Houston is a coveted couture wedding dress designer, who is greatly admired in the fashion industry.
She realized her love for fashion when she was still a child and often spent a lot of time dressing Barbie dolls in new designs. Houston continued sewing into adulthood, first making graduation dresses for herself and her friends, and later creating custom-made wedding gowns.
She often sent the latter overseas without ever meeting the brides in person. This proved to be very time-consuming, considering that she was still an accountant by day. But her husband suggested, “Why don’t you launch your own collection of dresses?” And so, five years ago, Houston completely changed her career and hasn’t looked back since.
When asked why she chose bridal design, Houston says that picking a wedding dress is like no other experience in life and she is honoured to be able to share it with her brides.
“Girls think of their wedding from the time they were very little; they grow up imagining what this day will be like and what they’ll wear. To be part of that is very special,” she says.
Currently, Houston’s team primarily consists of her immediate family. Her daughters help run the store, and her husband (along with a small sales and accounting team) manages “the back-of-the-house,” while Houston focuses on designing.
The process of creating a new wedding dress used to take her up to six months – Houston is a perfectionist and she would change various aspects of the gown until she felt it was completed.
The first Sarah Houston Bridal Boutique was recently opened at 24 Hazelton Ave. in Yorkville, Toronto. Since then, the designer says she has had to become much more decisive in her creative process, because of the amount of time she spends in the store in order to study ”what Canadian girls are looking for.”
For Houston, inspiration can come from anything.
For example, she imagined one gown while listening to a Jesse Crook song – “the way he played the music the dress just came to life in front of me” – another was inspired by a bride whose story she found to be exceptionally moving.
But one source of inspiration Houston always comes back to is Paris. “It is a feast for the eyes,” she explains.
The designer is very creative and draws ideas from multiple sources. One dress, called Vineyard, was inspired by a beach in the south of France. The river motivated Houston to make a dress that would move like the waves as the bride walked down the aisle. A brand new type of fabric had to be created to accomplish this and the original skirt took three months to construct. It was a true piece of art.
Not only is Houston a real devotee to her work, but she is also very focused on quality. For example, every dress is lined with silk, which makes it much more comfortable and lighter, allowing a bride to actually move and dance on her special day. Even the thread is silk. That is why her brides describe the experience of wearing a Sarah Houston gown similar to being “immersed in liquid gold.”
Houston says that her favourite gowns are the 1940s backless vintage Hillary frock with a ruffled bottom, as well as one of her latest creations – River, which is an opulent gown with intricate detailing on the princess skirt. “It took me a year to finish. I wanted it to look like the meandering of a river, so I applied pieces of different fabrics to represent the tributaries, and then I beaded it. I love its movement, texture, and that it looks so rich and opulent.”
She also cannot stay away from her first love – lace. Having chosen it as the material for both her wedding and vow-renewal dresses, she is drawn to its romantic feel.
And what is Houston’s advice on choosing that special dress? Focus on the venue, be open-minded, try on different styles but stick to the shape that looks best on your body and, most importantly, stop looking once you’ve found The Dress.
“If you wanted to keep looking, you could find another groom too,” she laughs.
Some pieces from Houston’s 2012 collection
Photos: Stephen M. Loban