By JACKIE HOERMANN
The Kansas City Star
Photographer JILL TOYOSHIBA | The Kansas City StarSara Hooser designs alternative wedding gowns, such as two-piece styles that let the bride wear a long, traditional skirt for the ceremony and switch into a cocktail skirt for the reception.
White’s all right for most wedding gown designers, but Sara Hooser of Overland Park dares to design differently.
Hooser, 26, is sketching and stitching her way into bridal couture with alternative options such as yellow gowns, black bodices and cocktail dresses. The first collection from her Ila Bean label debuted in March at Altar Bridal in Waldo, where Hooser works as a full-time manager.
What makes a bride “alternative”?
A girl who wants to stand out a little bit. In a sense, she wants to incorporate something different or unique. My dresses are classic shapes with a twist. They have a lot of personality, and they’re playful.
What inspires your designs?
I look at high-fashion runway designs, textures, bouquets, fabrics, architectural designs and shapes. I’m also inspired by the shape of the girl I’m designing for and what will flatter her.
So brides can come to you for custom looks?
Yes. Brides and bridesmaids can tell me their ideas, and I’ll sketch them out. Once, I made seven one-of-a-kind bridesmaids dresses, and it ended up looking more cohesive than I imagined. They had one-shoulder dresses, spaghetti-strap styles, tapering and pleats, but it worked because the dresses fit their bodies so well.
Do you create gowns for a lot of friends?
Yes. Last year, I made one of my best friend’s wedding dress and all four of her bridesmaids’ dresses. I also made a dress for one of my friends from college. Hers was pink with ivory lace. Having so many friends’ weddings has given me opportunities to work on different designs.
How does it feel watching your creations float down the aisle?
It’s touching and a little emotional, especially for my best friend’s wedding. You spend so much time making them perfect.
I’m sure it takes longer than we realize.
It does. There’s about a 12-week turn-around time for each dress. Pattern-making and draping take a long time, but for me, all the details at the end take the longest. I’m a perfectionist.
How did you get interested in fashion?
My mom. She sewed a lot of my prom and homecoming dresses, and we would work on different dresses together. She fueled my passion for design.
Why did you name your label Ila Bean?
Ila is actually the name of my great-grandmother, and Bean is a nickname my sister gave me. I think it’s quirky and fits my dresses’ personalities.
How do you name the gowns, such as Sadie, Penelope and Molly?
All my dresses are named after girls in Beatles songs, the lesser-known ones. I’ll probably mix it up in the future. I have three sisters, and they wanted me to name the dresses after them, so maybe I’ll do that for the next collection.
Are you married?
That’s a question a lot of brides ask me (laughs). I have a boyfriend.
How do you approach designing or talking to brides about wedding gowns if you’ve never spent a whole day in one?
I think it helps that I haven’t been married. I don’t have my wedding dress in mind to compare theirs to. I’m open-minded and supportive of whatever the bride wants.
Does the boyfriend find your proximity to the wedding industry intimidating?
No, no. He’s supportive and really sweet. He even bought me two sewing machines for my birthday last year and said, ‘I’ve given you what you need to get going — you can take it from here.’
Do you watch “Say Yes to the Dress” or any bridezilla shows?
Shows like that kind of stress me out. I watch them sometimes, but there’s so much added drama, and that never happens here. But movies like “The Wedding Planner” or “My Best Friend’s Wedding” never get old to me.
What’s your forecast for gown trends this fall?
You’ll still see so much texture, like ruffles, flowers and tiers. Also, expect some interesting, nontraditional lace patterns that were big before the royal wedding but have been amplified by it. For color, pink will be really popular, and I’m seeing light café or latte colors in gowns, sashes and cummerbunds.
Where can brides buy your designs?
It’s best to try them on in the store (Altar Bridal). If you live out of KC, you can find me on www.etsy.com or go to my website, www.ilabeandesigns.com.
SAVE THE DATE When: Friday and Saturday
Where: Altar Bridal, 332 W. 75th St., 816-926-0555, altarbridal.com
What: Meet Sara and Altar Bridal consultants at the Heidi Elnora trunk show. Elnora, a former “Project Runway” contestant, will preview her upcoming collection, and the store will offer discounts.