What Would They Know? Lisa Merton of Culture Bridal Couture

by | What Would They Know?, Wisdom


Polka Dot Bride

Lisa Merton of Culture Bridal Couture is one of those amazingly talented people you wish you had just a whisper of their talent for yourself. She’s based in Sydney and comes up with the most amazing gown designs using inspiration, fabrics and ideas from all over the world. On the eve of taking a year off to study, Lisa joins us on Polka Dot Wisdom to share her tricks of the trade.

Tell us about yourself. Were you always a creative person, even when growing up?

I always knew I’d be a fashion designer – I have memories from around 6 or 7 years old, posing in the bathroom mirror draped in bath towels of various colours, creating “gowns” from the towels and admiring myself – haa haa!! Then I started sewing on my Mum’s domestic sewing machine at age 11, and was making my own clothes, and groovy outfits for my school friends from age 14. I loved drawing, painting and anything craft-related from as young as I can remember, and always loved dress-up’s and playing with clothing. So I ended up leaving school at the end of Year 10, going to TAFE and then working in the Sydney fashion industry full-time by the age of 18. Still love it now, after all these years of hard work!

“Juliette” Beaded Lace & Tulle Couture Gown by Culture Bridal Couture, Photo by Dario Gardiman

Your wedding dresses are stunning and each one so unique. Some are ornate, and some seemingly very simple. What inspires the thought /design processes that makes each gown so different?

For me, Couture bridal design is all about the BRIDE – so I meet all these beautiful and very individual brides, and after talking with them about what they love, and discussing what sort of event their wedding day will be, I then come up with designs that I think will not only look amazing on them, but will also represent who they are, and capture their spirit, their love of life, their individuality, etc. I want each bride to wear a truly gorgeous gown that is totally THEM – not just another “cookie-cutter” white meringue!

Where do you find your inspiration?

My inspiration starts with FABRIC and COLOUR – I love designing wedding gowns that are slightly unexpected or alternative, completely unique and visually beautiful. I also love embracing different cultures (hence my business name) and using fabrics that I source from various cultures to give each design a really special “one-off” feel. The main cultures I draw inspiration from are ASIA – especially Japan, and India. I travel to Japan as often as I can, buy gorgeous vintage silk kimonos and obis, then deconstruct them and mix them with plain silks to create one-off gowns with an East meets West feel. It can be subtle, like just an obi waistband on a really simple ivory silk dress, or it can be more dramatic – it’s up to each bride! Similarly, I adore the beautiful silk sari fabrics from India, their vivid colours and the fabulous metallic brocades and patterns that make them so unique. Saris are excellent for using in Couture wedding dresses –again it can be a subtle hint, or an explosion of Bollywood glamour!

“Juliette” Beaded Lace & Tulle Couture Gown by Culture Bridal Couture, Photo by Dario Gardiman

What is the design process? What steps does a bride go through when she enters your salon, to have her dress designed by you?

Firstly we chat about her wedding day, the time of day the ceremony will be, the location, the season, the level of formality, the number of guests – all these little details help me to formulate an idea of what I imagine would work on this particular bride. Then once we start talking about dress shapes, necklines, colours, fabrics and embellishments, I suggest styles I think would suit, and we try on a few sample gowns, and take it from there. Sometimes I sketch up new Couture gown designs, based on what we’ve discussed, but sometimes brides cannot imagine a design just from a sketch, so then I show them photos of my previous work on ‘real brides’ I have worked with, and view the fabrics they like draped on their body in the mirror, to show the bride what it would look like. Often we need more than just one meeting to decide on a Couture design – it’s a huge decision and arguably the most expensive gown they will ever own, so they certainly shouldn’t be rushed!

Do you have a ‘design philosophy’?

My design philosophy is:- Your couture wedding dress should be a celebration of who you are, and what you love in life… the perfect reflection of your individuality, natural beauty, lifestyle and passions.

“Juliette” Beaded Lace & Tulle Couture Gown by Culture Bridal Couture, Photo by Dario Gardiman

What made you decide to pursue this creative endeavour, rather than pursue a more ‘conventional’ career?

I started off working in mainstream fashion in 1988, and did so for the first 13 years of my fashion career. When I reached the age of around 27-30, my sisters and many of my friends were getting married, so I was being asked by them to create their wedding dresses (on weekends, in my spare time). They all had a similar complaint – there is NOTHING out there in the bridal market for a bride who wants something bold, with a little colour or just different – all the gowns being sold at that time looked the same, very traditional, very white, very repetitive! So I decided there was an opening in the Sydney bridal industry for a label who offered a unique alternative to the big white dress – one-off Couture gowns, well made in quality fabrics, perfectly fitted, and featuring colour and unexpected themes or cultures. That’s how I came to set up my label, originally called “Culture Shock”, in 2001. I updated the label name to “Culture Bridal Couture” a few years back, and the label has grown and evolved over the past 10 years, to what it is today.

How do you keep on learning? What keeps you ‘fresh’ and wanting to go to work every day?

Meeting so many lovely brides is definitely what keeps me going – I have been so lucky and have remained friends with many of my brides over the years, especially the women who truly “get” my mission of thinking outside the square when it comes to bridal design. I’m proud of my work, and I am blessed with a fantastic team of talented people who work with me to create quality Australian-Made gowns, I am constantly learning from them as we experiment with new fabrics, and new ways of making gowns every day. And I love the feeling of seeing a bride wearing one of my designs on her wedding day and looking (and feeling) totally amazing – it’s worth all the hard work to get that wonderful warm and fuzzy feeling!

‘“Estella” French Lace & Ruffled Silk Couture Gown by Culture Bridal Couture, Photo by Dario Gardiman

What do you love about creating these pieces for brides?

As above, the feeling I get when I see a bride looking and feeling great in one of my designs – it makes the hard work and long hours all worthwhile! And I love the fact that in my own little way, I may have helped change the way brides view wedding gowns – 10 years ago I encouraged brides to add a bit of colour, boldness and individuality into their gowns, and these days it’s now been embraced by even the more mainstream bride – so that’s a great feeling and a nice little achievement for me, too.

What is your number one tip for brides?

BE YOURSELF – make choices that are really “You” and not what you think other people will like, or what the family thinks you should do. In ten years time, a bride should look at her wedding photos and say to herself – Wow, I look fabulous!!

What are your favourite wedding ideas?

Ooohh, so many different ideas I have seen over the past 10 years – so hard to choose! I think a wedding should be FUN, because it is a celebration, so therefore not too formal, too stiff or too boring! So when I see brides and grooms incorporating fun aspects into their wedding, it’s great. I love “vintage” and especially the 1950’s and 1960’s era – fun fashions, fun music, fun drinks – think Mad Men but without the male chauvanism!

‘“Estella” French Lace & Ruffled Silk Couture Gown by Culture Bridal Couture, Photo by Dario Gardiman

What are the biggest mistakes you see brides making?

Definitely choosing a wedding gown style that is NOT them, and doesn’t flatter their figure. For example, just because the “Mermaid” silhouette is fashionable, doesn’t mean it will suit everyone. You need to choose a silhouette that shows off your assets, and hides your not-so-good bits. A bride needs to feel confident in her gown, as well as comfortable – if she does, she will carry the gown off beautifully and look amazing!

5 things a bride must get right? (In terms of fashion)

1) The right gown silhouette for her figure and height.
2) The right fabric for her chosen design – fabric can make or break a style, so choose the best quality fabric you can, to ensure your gown looks and feels beautiful.
3) The right colour – colour is so important, you don’t want to look too washed out.
4) The right “feel” – the “personality” of the gown must match the bride’s personality, otherwise it will overwhelm her and we’ll lose her amongst it all!
5) Comfort and Fit – the gown must be beautifully constructed and perfectly fitted to the brides own body, so that you hardly feel it. Comfort is sooooo important when you are wearing a gown all day, (and perhaps partying all night!)

Thank you for joining us today on Polka Dot Wisdom Lisa! Lisa Merton and her label Culture Bridal Couture will be taking some time off to travel and study from the end of September 2011, and relaunching in mid 2013.  She is holding a huge Sample Sale right now, till the end of September, by appointment only. This will be your last chance to own a Culture Bridal Couture gown until 2013, so see the website or contact Lisa to arrange an appointment.

  • TEARNE says:
    September 13, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    I just came across this blog and so excited to read your interview with Lisa as she is a great designer currently making my wedding gown… the stunning Juliette featured above with a few minor tweaks to suit my body and personality. Would totally recommend Lisa as she is friendly and profession which is what you want when you are getting your dream gown made 🙂

  • Australian Wedding Weekly News | Polka Dot Bride says:
    November 25, 2011 at 3:55 am

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