The old carriage house in the alley behind the Capitol Hill Supermarket isn’t the prettiest building in town, but it houses the stuff of fairy tales.
That is, if you like your fairy tales with a bit of an edge.
Since the fall, bridal designer Stephanie Ward has housed her studio, Punk Rock Bride, in a loft-style space in the old building nestled in the alley behind 320 Third St. NE. Also home to an eclectic mix of artists — visitors must traverse through a ceramics studio before reaching Ward’s space — the house is not the typical spot for a bridal shop, but then again, Ward’s style isn’t typical.
No bridezilla-esque, super princess-like gowns here; Ward’s designs are edgy yet elegant, crafted from light, nontraditional fabrics.
“It’s fun,” Ward says of her studio. “I think a lot of places can be intimidating, and that’s something I try not to do.”
A Florida native who graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, Ward didn’t think about bridal work until a friend from high school asked her to create her wedding dress. Soon after, another friend asked Ward to design the gown for her big day.
“Eventually, I just decided to do a collection of dresses that I liked,” Ward says.
Ward released her first batch of wedding gowns in 2008; she recently unveiled her third. And her work has gotten noticed, featured in wedding mainstays such as Brides Magazine and other publications.
While Punk Rock Bride is situated just a few blocks from the Capitol, Ward says a wide range of people have come into the shop. As expected, some clients are Hill aides, but some come from other cities, including New York, which she says “is really great because most people go to New York for this stuff.”
What is most important for any bride, Ward says, is to find a dress that she loves — brides shouldn’t ever sacrifice their own style to please others.
“A lot of people have this image in their mind of what a bride is supposed to look like,” Ward says. “Supposed to’ based on what our mothers wore, or what magazines tell us to wear, or what brides have traditionally worn. But there are no rules anymore. You don’t have to adhere to this traditional image anymore; there are other options out there now that you might actually love simply because it looks like you.”
Many of the brides who visit her shop are hosting destination weddings, looking for a more laid-back style made from material that they can easily wear on a beach, Ward says. Others are looking for something a little less traditional than the pieces typically found in bridal shops.
She says her work is rewarding because her pieces could stay in the bride’s family for decades — her own mother often made her sister try on her 1960s-era gown before she got married, Ward says.
“I really think there’s something special about designing a wedding dress,” she adds. “Girls will, hopefully, only wear it once.”
Ward offers brides a personal experience that they might not receive at bigger shops, as she does most of the work herself. After she helps a bride pick out her gown (and adds some unique touches, if necessary), she takes measurements, personally draws up the pattern and sends it to a manufacturer in Virginia, “which is amazing because I can go there anytime and see what they’re working on,” she says.
Ward’s creations mix simplicity with girly touches such as ruffles and jewels, and the designer uses a range of fabrics that aren’t stereotypically “bridal,” although they tend to be white or off-white. Her most popular gown, she says, is called Lauren, an off-white piece made from layered silk with a top silk chiffon ruffle detail.
Other creations range in variety — Sara is an off-white, a-line gown made from silk charmeuse with a French chantilly lace overlay, while Becky is made from three pieces: a ribbed cotton jersey tank, a silk charmeuse skirt with a silk chiffon pleated overlay and a silk organza beaded belt.
“When you’re limited by color, I think texture is one of the ways to keep things interesting,” Ward says.