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New generation of Hong Kong brides tears up rules for wedding dresses

When Taiwanese actress Shu Qi married recently, news of her wedding dress made headlines, but not for the reasons you’d expect. Unlike fellow actress Angelababy, who got married in October 2015 in an elaborate, custom-made Dior gown that took five months to create, Shu Qi wore a simple white dress that came from high-street retailer HM.

Part of the chain’s “Conscious Exclusive” collection from two years ago, the “sustainable” gown featured a T-shirt body and three layers of ruffled lace with tulle underneath and cost only HK$3,990.

Shu is one of many brides to have forgone the traditional over-the-top-frothy wedding gown in favour of looks that are more stylish and understated. Admittedly she isn’t the first. Bianca Jagger wore a white Yves Saint Laurent Le Smoking jacket, bare chest exposed, when she married Mick Jagger in 1971.

Others, including Cindy Crawford, Jessica Biel and Kate Moss have followed over the years, proving that brides are willing to experiment with more unconventional looks for their big day.

“The traditional bridal gown is not everyone’s style. Many brides want their wedding dress to reflect their personality and style and the traditional gown may not achieve that. They want something different, which hasn’t been seen over and over again,” says Dana Trang, director of Hong Kong boutique Hitched! Bridal.

“Girls in Hong Kong have always followed fashion trends closely each season and I think this habit has extended to picking their wedding gown,” adds Carolyn Chow at Central Weddings, which stocks designers including Vera Wang.

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A quick flick through Instagram reveals plenty of Hong Kong brides whose dresses are chosen with style and personality in mind. For her recent wedding in Los Angeles, floral designer Gemma Blest hunted down a previous-season lace creation by Israeli designer Inbal Dror, featuring sheer long sleeves, a visible nude bodice and a thigh-high slit. Underneath she donned a pair of nude ballet flats.

“I didn’t want anything stagnant or stiff. I also didn’t want to change, so needed a dress I could dance in. It’s your one time to shine, so this dress was perfect because it was still glamorous and romantic with a modern edge,” she says.

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Also opting for something less traditional was Hong Kong-born hotel executive Kristina Snaith. She chose a playful, 1950s-inspired white dress with a fishtail midi skirt, which she found online.

“We did not plan a traditional wedding and I didn’t want a traditional dress either,” says Snaith.

Chef Helina Tesega, meanwhile, chose a Self Portrait dress she found on Instagram, with a high collar, sheer sleeves and a pleated skirt.

“There are no rules for brides any more, especially younger ones wanting to wear more fashion-forward styles. Younger brides can be less conservative and adopt a ‘why not’ approach, especially for less formal weddings with their close friends and family,” says Michele Li, wedding planner and founder of The Wedding Company.

“For example, one recent ‘cool’ bride wore high-top trainers with her gown, mainly for comfort but also as a fashion statement. Another wore a beautiful hand-embroidered Marchesa dress that was more fashionable than a traditional wedding gown,” she says.

Indeed, many of the wedding dresses we see today are from the seasonal catwalk collections of major designers. A glance at Net-a-Porter’s bridal section reveals edgy creations by a group of emerging designers such as Roksanda, Self Portrait, Needle Thread and Alice + Olivia. Also included are luxury houses such as Lanvin and Valentino, whose highly intricate, couture-like creations are ideal for the more contemporary bride.

More established bridal designers are also adopting this trend. Big names from Vera Wang to Jenny Packham have added experimental styles and colours to their collections. Wang, for example, recently modernised a Cinderella ballgown by adding a draped turtle-neck top.

“We are seeing hints of new colours in the gowns, including blush, mint and grey. Designers are also coming up with more daring designs as they are pairing slinky mermaid silhouettes with plunging necklines, low backs and sheer, lingerie-like designs. These all sound sexy, revealing and unconventional for brides, but actually they are done in a very tasteful and subtle way that only adds a touch of sensuality to the look,” says Chow.

When it comes to silhouettes, the fitted strapless gown is done and dusted. Instead women are experimenting with capes, skirts with high-low hems and removable overskirts. Illusion necklines with low backs or back details are also popular.

While choosing the right dress is paramount, accessories and other details can also help take a bride’s look from princess to catwalk-worthy. Hair accessories are popular, and range from crystal headbands to headpieces. Statement jewellery and body veils can also help transform a dress.

“Body veils are very long veils attached to the gowns, often extending from the shoulders to beyond the train. These are beautiful and still create a dramatic entrance from the back,” Chow says.

Dresses for a cause

A wedding dress may be the most important item of a clothing a woman ever buys, but what does she do with it when the wedding is over?

BridesdoGood.com is a newly launched e-commerce business founded by Chantal Khoueiry that gives women the opportunity to sell and buy designer wedding dresses while contributing to a greater cause. The London-based site features pre-owned designer and couture wedding dresses from brands like Amanda Wakeley and Carolina Herrera at a fraction of the retail price and ships internationally.

While a small portion of the sales go towards running the site, and to the seller, a third is donated directly to charities – including Plan International, which promotes the safeguarding of children around the world.