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"I've started making more Western wedding dresses, using a lot of French lace and Italian silk," said Jin, who was trained at the Luxun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang and now employs four seamstresses. Jin continues to make traditional Chinese wedding gowns of thick, heavy satin Chinese brocade.
Except for a few local bridal boutiques — which don't sell San Francisco designer gowns — there was little competition in the city of 800,000 people to outfit area brides. However, a year ago, Neiman Marcus on Union Square opened a couture bridal salon after not having one since the Eighties, and Saks Fifth Avenue nearby branched out by offering designers beyond Vera Wang.
"We tend to get a lot of the daughters of loyal Saks customers," said Tina Kearney, manager of the bridal and couture salons at Saks' Union Square store. New designers to Saks include Ulla Maija, Kenneth Poole for Amsale and Oscar de la Renta. Kearney, like others, said the local bridal gown market is competitive and local designers are clearly part of the mix.
While Saks doesn't carry bridal gowns from local designers, it does sell long-time San Francisco designer Lily Samii's mother-of-the-bride gowns, in addition to her eveningwear. Independently, Samii's clients have asked her to design one-of-a-kind wedding gowns. "Brides come to us when they have something in mind," said Samii, who has a salon on Union Square.
Another designer, Christina Hurvis, has found many brides through word-of-mouth recommendations and Google advertising. Her 4,000-square-foot rented loft in SoMa is located above a cash-and-carry store and is large enough for fashion shows with audiences of 200. The slightly sloping cement floor is painted chartreuse — a reflection of her nontraditional style.
"I'm so in love with what I'm doing right now," said Hurvis, who started making bridal gowns four years ago after tiring of doing her signature jersey sportswear collection in New York. Hurvis designs 30 to 50 wedding gowns a year, about 75 percent of her total business, and uses two seamstresses.
Her gowns can go as high as $6,500, but the average Hurvis design is $3,500 and includes six fittings. One recent style is a slim-fitting, sleeveless, bias-cut champagne-colored silk gown with a soft pink vent "you can see when the bride twirls," said Hurvis, who honed her skills fitting models for Paris runway shows. Accenting a side of the bodice is a large bright red-and-pink embroidered flower that Hurvis had made in Oaxaca, Mexico.