Toronto wedding-dress designer Kim Ironmonger used to shutter her Valencienne Bridal boutique every year following Thanksgiving and wouldn't open again until January, taking advantage of the seasonal lull in her business to go on vacation.
"I can't do that any more," Ironmonger says. "For the last three years, I have had so much business in the winter that I no longer close up shop. Winter brides are preventing me from taking my holidays!"
When Ironmonger opened her store 25 years ago, the focus was squarely on the June bride. And though the summer remains extremely popular for weddings, more couples are walking down the aisle during colder months, injecting new energy, experts say, into the Canadian wedding trade, a $4-billion-a-year industry.
"There is no high season for weddings any more," says London, Ont. native Romona Keveza, an internationally acclaimed bridal designer based in New York. "More and more couples tend to choose a date and a location that reflect their taste or what feels significant to them. We have seen a large increase in holiday-based weddings, [held on dates]like New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day or even Halloween. We are also seeing a large increase in couples wanting to get married on a unique date like Nov. 11, 2011. That's a cold time of year, but brides today don't care."
The reasons are as varied as snowflakes. "Winter weddings are trending because it's less expensive to book venues off-season and, with the current state of the economy, every little bit helps," observes Angie Cox, founder of style website youlookfab.com. On the other hand, says Ashley Brady, style editor of TheLuxurySpot.com, off-season weddings can also be chalked up to a growing rejection of tradition, especially among older brides who have a firm sense of style. "Winter weddings provide an added quirk to an otherwise traditional ceremony," Brady says.
And then there's the beauty and romance of a snow-draped ceremony. "It's the inherent romanticism of winter that I think is making winter weddings trendy," says Catherine Lash, founder of the Wedding Co. and producer of the Wedding Show, the yearly industry showcase that marked its 10th-anniversary edition earlier this month in Toronto.
Denise Tomkins, a bride embracing winter in a big way this year, couldn't agree more. When she ties the knot in February, she'll be wearing long, ivory leather gloves and a pair of fur boots that once belonged to her fiancé's mother. The wedding is taking place at the Ice Hotel in Sweden. "We contemplated going south for our wedding, but that was too predictable," says the 46-year-old, a native of England who lives in Toronto. "The idea of ice sculptures and the Northern Lights was just too romantic to resist."
As cold-weather ceremonies gain in popularity, warming accoutrements such as fur, feathers, capes and muffs are naturally and increasingly being incorporated into gown designs. Vintage dresses are also popular, as "many of them have sleeves and cover-ups, which makes them ideal to wear in cooler temperatures," Cox says.
Of course, many of this year's bridal trends can be applied to nuptials throughout the year. Among them are the newest non-traditional colours for gowns, including blush, slate and charcoal for wedding dresses and navy blue for bridesmaids. "Blush is flattering for all skin types," Keveza says.
Another is volume, from ballgown-style designs to the return of weightier fabrics (organza, heavy silk) to the use of lots of tulle. Even many form-fitting gowns, which still vie with puffier styles in the esteem of many brides, feature skirts embellished with 3-D eruptions of sculpted fabric these days.
Across the board, subtle sparkle in the form of beading, crystals, rhinestones and other appliqués is also big, whether it's found at the neckline, waist or cuffs. "Beading is more prominent on the dresses, but mostly as embellishment," says wedding-gown designer Eunice Yoo, proprietor of Vogue Sposa boutique in Toronto.
Some of that twinkle is spilling over into wedding venues, which are increasingly being decorated with shimmering monochromatic palettes and "lots of white, silver and crystal" accents, says Canadian wedding-dress and event designer Mariana Leung, whose studio is in New York.
"Flowers are no longer the staple decor element," adds veteran New York event planner Irene St. Onge, director of sales at 212-EVENTS, a Manhattan firm that has worked with Canadian couples. "I have seen a big spike in the use of branches, ferns and candles to decorate [wedding]spaces."
Whether the reception is held in January or June, however, the custom that limited brides to accoutrements old, new, borrowed and blue appears to have given way to a cross pollination of colours, styles, fabrics and motifs reflective of time of year but mostly of a bride's tastes, however eclectic.
A case in point: Ironmonger's own recent bridal outfit, which took its cue from her clients. After a quarter-century of creating custom gowns for others, the designer walked down the aisle wearing a sparkling lavender wrap over her sleeveless peau de soie gown with beaded décolletage: "If you can't beat them, join them, I always say."