I first became intrigued with Alicia Rueda, a wedding dress designer based in Bilbao, Spain, when I was browsing through instagram photos of wedding dresses. The dresses that she posted up on her instagram account were beautiful, of course, but what really drew me to her was the love and passion that came through in the words that she wrote in the caption. Just by reading between the lines you can tell how much she enjoys her work, and how every single one of her dresses has a small piece of her soul in it. This week I was fortunate enough to have her to myself for a few hours, and got to know her and her work a bit better.
Alicia Rueda comes from a long line of women dedicated to the world of fashion; as far back as her great-great-grandmother, the women of her family were seamstresses, lovingly designing and crafting articles of clothing for others. Little did Alicia know, however, that she was going to follow in their footsteps.
At 13, Alicia was tired of the classic, conservative styles that her mother always dressed her in. She wanted something different, something masculine yet feminine, something “alternative”. She asked her mother to make her a fitted denim jacket and a denim skirt (these clothes were very “daring” in the early 80’s, when Spain was still very conservative, having very recently come out of an oppressive dictatorship lasting almost 40 years…) so when she asked her mother, her mom said “No”. What did Alicia do? Like any other 13-year-old, she didn’t take no for an answer! She told her mom that she would make it herself. So, at that young age Alicia found herself taking a summer course in pattern and sowing, and that fall she was decked out in her denim outfit.
That was when it all began. Her love for fashion grew, and at 16 she enrolled in fashion school. Her first creations after obtaining her degree were in couture design, including Bridalwear, but she slowly shifted into pret-a-porter. And she did that for 15 years, designing beautiful pret-a-porter collections for a very loyal Clientele…until the recession hit in 2007. With the recession, people stopped purchasing higher-priced pret-a-porter pieces and instead turned to more affordable fashionwear. So Alicia decided to turn this downfall into an opportunity and 10 years ago Alicia Rueda Atelier was born, specialized in Bridal fashion.
With that change, she faced one of the most challenging designs of her life: a Bride asked her to create an “architectural dress, with 2 spheres; 1 inside the dress and 1 outside the dress. She had to be able to sit, stand, dance…it was one of the most challenging jobs I ever had and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it!” Yet she knew this was the best decision she had made: to go back to the couture Bride, designing for a woman who has a very unique essence, a woman who wants something different. As Alicia says, “the Brides come to me with an idea, or with no idea at all, and together we create that dress. When I have the Bride in front of me, I can see what she has inside of her, her uniqueness and I find the way to bring that uniqueness out on her wedding day via the wedding dress.”
Her designs have a mix of masculinity and femininity, yet they are still sensual. She designs for a sexy, attractive woman without making her look “vulgar” or, on the contrary, too “serious”. A delicate balance must be struck between sexy and mysterious. As Alicia states “every Bride wants to look different. But for a wedding dress designer it is very difficult to be innovative, because Bridalwear has very little room for innovation – the dresses are either white, cream, long sleeve, short sleeve, open back, closed back, etc… – the basis of the dresses are always the same. I don’t design a wedding dress with 3 sleeves to be innovative, for example. Innovation in Bridalwear isn’t about the dress itself, it’s about the Bride. The Bride’s unique personality is what truly helps to create that unique design.” Alicia’s challenge is to look into the Bride’s eyes, get to know her better, learn about her life, her future and design a dress that will heighten each Bride’s individual beauty. “I love my job because I can make them look beautiful, perhaps in a way that they have never seen before…” Alicia says.
This is more than just a job for her; each dress has a bit of her soul and lots of love, because her dresses are not a number. Each dress is unique, each dress has a name and a life story. Designing a dress is more than just adapting a style to a body. It is finding that essence in the Bride, digging deep to find her essence and then bringing it to light.
Alicia understands that perfectly well, as she was a Bride herself this past summer. Although she understood Brides perfectly and knew how important their wedding was, it wasn’t until she found the perfect person to share her life with that she decided to take that important step into marriage. And when she did, she knew that she wouldn’t have a traditional white wedding dress or even a traditional wedding ring – she has her husband’s name tattooed on her ring finger! “I wanted something to show what I have inside of my soul, something to convey both my feminine side and my masculine side, something informal but at the same time formal…” and the result was a stunningly beautiful pantsuit/dress with a long train in an elegant pattern and lovely details. And although she initially wanted to stay away from a white wedding dress “I ended up wearing a white wedding dress for the party. I guess I wanted it all, like every Bride!” she laughingly admits.
Her Brides truly cherish all of the love and passion that she puts into her designs, as many of her Brides still keep in touch with her after the wedding. The one-to-one relationship that she maintains with Brides during the designing stage flourishes into a true friendship. “I am lucky enough to have these Brides stay in my life. I love that it doesn’t finish after giving them their dress; seeing that they are so happy and still want me to be a part of their lives is truly rewarding”.
Which is one of the reasons why Alicia wants to stay true to her essence, and not launch her brand internationally. And she has had many opportunities presented to her! “I want to dedicate myself to my Brides and continue to have that one-to-one relationship with them. If I start travelling or doing fashion shows, I will lose my essence. I want to be here in Bilbao, close to my family, close to my friends, leading my atelier, working with my family (and with my team who have become like a part of my family…) This is what truly makes me happy.” Alicia says that she is open to growing but that “when I decide to grow, it will be because I have studied it in detail and have ensured that I don’t lose my essence.”
What does Alicia advise all Brides looking for their perfect dress?
“Cover your ears, don’t listen to anyone and look inside of yourself”. Be honest with what you have inside, with what is unique to you, and don’t be influenced by others. Although they mean well, they don’t know you as well as you know yourself. You have to be true to yourself. “When I see these Brides, Brides that are a bit undecided or hesitant, I ask to be alone with them during the first meeting. That’s the only way to truly uncover what’s inside of each Bride, without anyone around, so they can express their ideas openly.”
Would you love to have Alicia Rueda design your wedding dress? She will be thrilled to meet you face-to-face at her atelier in Bilbao, Spain. Click here for more information!
Enjoy dreaming about your wedding dress and click here for more inspiration.
Photo credits: Carolina Sainz
All wedding and Brides’ photos are courtesy of Alicia Rueda