Something New

Something New

When she was still living in Melbourne, Australia, Callie Tein designed her own wedding dress, but she had a friend construct it. “It’s bad luck to make your own wedding dress,” she explains. The gown had embroidered sleeves, a sweetheart neckline and a low back filled with sheer silk chiffon. “It sounds quite modern, like something a bride would wear today,” Tein says. “I should probably start making it again.”

While she didn’t thread a needle for her own dress, Tein’s created thousands of wedding dresses for others as the founder/owner of Modern Trousseau, a couture bridal design house. She’s recalling her own wedding from her workplace in Woodbridge, nestled against West Rock, which she shares with a team of seamstresses. Although Modern Trousseau’s self-branded stores dot the eastern half of the country—including a new one here in New Haven, on Chapel Street near College—and the company has nationwide distribution, each dress is still made by hand in this building.

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Tein worked in bridal in her native Australia before she and her family moved to the States, where she was struck by the differences in bridal culture. In Australia, designers tend to work on a smaller scale, making dresses for individual clients out of their own storefronts. In America, on the other hand, “you could wholesale, you could do a collection, you could show in New York.”

In 2004, she launched Modern Trousseau. “I started in the basement of my house, which is fine. Steve Jobs and a whole lot of other people started in the basement… So I feel like I’m in good company,” she says. “I started with one seamstress and myself, and then got a second seamstress. Then the basement got a little small.”

Tein walks me through the large set of rooms where the dresses are now made. She’s working on a dress in a pearled mesh fabric, while across the space seamstresses sit at sewing machines, stand alongside mannequins and crouch to pin lace to the hems of trains. Half-made dresses and skillfully draped fabric suggest the final products to come. The gowns are created here, but Tein says they import the materials, including Indian beading, French lace, Italian fabrics and Japanese ribbons and linings. It’s not all white like you might expect—blue tulle and pink satin pop up here and there. “Brides are experimenting more with color,” Tein notes.

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Modern Trousseau dresses start at $2,500 and go up from there. “What we’re trying to do is make couture affordable for people,” Tein says. “We custom make all the measurements, so if you came to me for a dress, we would probably take about 20 measurements before we get started.”

After the first round of measurements, they make a toile—a cotton version of the final product to test the fit before the real deal is sewn up. “The true nature of couture… is having something fitted properly and being able to make changes to it,” Tein says. “If you’re going to a store… and you buy a dress off the rack and they won’t make changes, it’s not couture.”

Only a few miles from where the dresses are sewn, inside the chic, new second-floor shop on Chapel Street, a long line of dresses sports different textures and silhouettes. Lace and tulle and feathers and sparkling crystals, all in shades of white and blush, make the store look like the inside of some magic cloud.

“I see people become so happy when they put on a gown that fits them perfectly… They feel amazing, like they could conquer the world,” Tein says. She doesn’t, however, subscribe to the idea, often pushed by the bridal industry, that a wedding dress is the most important outfit a woman will ever wear. “I think the most important outfit depends on an occasion. It might be the outfit you wore when you got your first job.”

But that’s not to say wedding dresses aren’t important. “It becomes part of your family history,” Tein says. “It’s part of the fabric of your life.”

Modern Trousseau
1020 Chapel St, 2nd Floor, New Haven (map)
Appointments accepted Tues-Sun.
(203) 393-8936

Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.

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