24 Minutes with bridal designer Celest Thoi
Say yes to the dress
Your label has been established for 14 years now. How did your career in the bridal industry start?
Like many brides, the journey of preparing for the "I do" moment was a stressful and satisfyingly special time. I enjoyed this journey so much—the creative process of creating my gown, in particular—that the "high" never left after my wedding. Back then I wasn't experienced at all but I was able to envision exactly what I wanted, and bringing it to life was such a joyous feeling. That's what really drove me to jump into the industry.
Tell us more about the Celest Thoi Bridal philosophy.
Simply, elegant and timeless—that is my mantra. My client is my muse during the creative process and it's my responsibility to ensure she oozes confidence and beauty, and still looks good in her wedding photos 10 or 20 years on.
Walk us through the design process of a bespoke wedding gown.
First and foremost, we try to understand the bride-to-be's likes, dislikes, wedding venue, time of reception, theme and most importantly her personality. The gown is an extension of not just her but the entire room that she occupies thus we need every little detail. The whole look has to be practical and cohesive at the same time. After understanding all the above, we will create sketches based on all the information in mind, and once that's good to go, we will take a thorough measurement when she is ready (some brides will let us know that she's not in her ideal size yet). We will then create a calico for fitting to make sure the fit is perfected before making the actual gown.
How long does one piece take to finish, on average?
It will normally take three to six months depending on the design and details. If the gown requires a lot of handcrafted details like embroidery, beadings and appliques, it will take about six months.
Can you describe the favourite dress that you've made so far?
It was a simple lace gown with a touch of blush. The client, Meredith, was one of my very first brides from New Zealand so that is special in itself. She made it extra meaningful (and nearly made me tear) when she posted an Instagram photo years later of her daughter Dita saying she wants to wear her dress when she grows up. I hope Dita will let me fit that gown for her special day!
What are the wedding trends to take note of in 2018?
Traditional and regal styles will always be in demand but I have been seeing many Malaysian couples opting for destination weddings these days. As a result, dresses are steering towards more vintage and boho designs to complement these settings. We will also have to wait for the 'Meghan Markle effect' after May 2018. Kate Middleton's iconic bridal gown was the inspiration behind many of my client's wedding dress after the royal wedding back in 2011.
Who are some of your favourite bridal designers?
I admire designers such as Ashi Studio for his dramatic feel, Viktor & Rolf for the simplicity and structure, and Monique Lhuillier for her very elegant and pretty gowns.
As a designer who offers both rental and bespoke services, where do you stand when it comes to buying vs. renting a wedding dress?
There is no right or wrong, but I believe that you should not spend beyond your means. We cater to a bride's comfort by offering rental gowns that make them look and feel equally as elegant and beautiful. The key point comes down to the material, fitting and service. For us, we would not rent out the same gown to brides whose dates are too close together because the second bride may end up receiving a badly returned gown.
What do you think are some of the important things a bride should consider when it comes to making the perfect dress?
First and foremost, trust your designer. You've decided on him or her after meeting so many other designers so take the advice you're paying for. Consider the kind of style each designer is strong at and pick one closest to the style you have envisioned. Secondly, choose your "advisors" wisely. I've noticed that some bridesmaids and family members can really influence the final design of the gown that doesn't really reflect the bride-to-be.
Any tips for brides-to-be who are going for their first fitting after they've locked down a designer?
It's important to come for fitting in your preferred shoe height and the right knickers you'll want to wear on your big day. These items are essential for the first fitting.
You launched your first Chinese New Year collection this year. Tell us more about it.
Our first Chinese New Year collection was incredibly satisfying. We loved the whole process especially creating unique family coordinated pieces using Japanese materials and prints. The Takashima Chijimi material is used by traditional Japanese summer-wear so the fabric was perfect for our humidity. We're the first to work with them and will continue to grow this original idea.
What's next for the Celest Thoi brand?
We're working on a new shoe collection in collaboration with Royal Selangor Pewter. It's still work in progress but hopefully, we'll have something to show before Christmas.
Any advice for aspiring bridal designers out there?
Aside from being creative—which should be embedded in you, and having the true passion to make brides-to-be beautiful, here are a few things that one should know before starting in the industry. Firstly, don't enter the industry thinking it's all glitz and glam—there will be sweat, tears, eye bags and wrinkles (laughs); secondly, you must be able to stomach pressure from all directions; thirdly, you have to understand the business or find a trusted partner with business acumen when you start; and finally, watch 'House of Z' on Netflix to see how the pains apply even to someone like Zac Posen.
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- Image: Celest Thoi
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