Searching the rails at a bridal boutique was never planned for Laura McLaw’s Helms when she got engaged. McLaws Helms, a fashion historian and curator who literally wrote the book about bohemian chic (her study on Thea Porter includes a foreword by legendary designer daughter Venetia from the 1970s), had always known she was down the aisle with vintage would go.
“In general, I like to wear things that other people don’t,” says the longtime collector, who already had “a couple of wedding white dresses” in her closet at home in New York when her partner Bryan Lindner suggested it. “When I got engaged, I thought I was going to wear one of these,” she says. “I had a white Thea dress and an Ossie Clark that I’ve had for about 18 years … But then I thought, maybe I’ll just see if I can find an Emanuel.”
Bride Laura styled her vintage 80s wedding dress with Terry de Havilland plateaus and a 1940s flower crown she found on Etsy, and dressed up with vintage pink ribbons from New York’s clothing district.
© Somewhere wild
Best known as the designers behind the voluminous silk taffeta dress that Princess Diana wore to marry Prince Charles in St. Paul’s Cathedral, it was the dresses Elizabeth and David Emanuel created for ex-Bond girl Jane Seymour, the McLaws Helms ‘Love relationship with the ex-husband and ex-wife sparked the team’s unique 80s romance. “They made a lot of clothes for her, with heart-shaped necklines, tight bustiers, large skirts, and lots of ribbons and embroidery,” says McLaw’s Helms. “I always loved those old photos of Jane in the 80s, at the Golden Globes, or at Fashion Aid with Freddie Mercury. First of all, she is incredibly beautiful. But those very romantic, slightly OTT dresses made her look even more … like someone standing in front of a romance novel. “
Jane Seymour in an Emanuel dress at the Fashion Aid benefit in 1985.
© Dave Hogan
The bride-to-be was still quietly looking for a dress that would allow the image that takes shape in her head to become a reality when fate came. “I looked, but I didn’t tell anyone what I wanted,” she says. In the meantime, news of her engagement had reached the vintage dealer Cherie Balch, who had recently come into possession of a fairytale Emanuel dress. “I knew it wasn’t going to be for everyone, but I also knew it would be pure magic if I found the right person for it,” says the founder of Shrimpton Couture, the archive pieces for clients like Rihanna, Kaitlyn Dever and Tracee Ellis Ross. “When I heard Laura was engaged, I reached out and told her I had something she needed to see. I knew in my heart that it was her dress. “
Laura’s Emanuel dress, which she was finally allowed to wear in October, with a sweetheart neckline and dramatic sleeves, adorned with a pink ribbon.
© Somewhere wild
“I’ve known Cherie for a long time,” says McLaws Helms now. “She knows my taste and my body. When I saw pictures of the dress I was like, oh my god! She sent it to me and it was a perfect fit. It felt like a fate, like I somehow manifested this dream. “
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t all come together so smoothly. Laura and Bryan were originally scheduled to exchange vows in April 2020. “A lot of my family is in Europe, so we kept a close eye on everything that was going on with Covid – especially in Italy – and got more and more nervous,” he says of McLaw’s Helms. About five weeks before their big day, the couple emailed their guests explaining that they were forced to postpone the time. “At that point, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I was just grateful that we had made a decision.”
When she and Bryan broke through in June after postponing their April wedding due to Covid, the bride wore a Gina Fratini dress she bought on Etsy when she was quarantined in New York state.
Three months later, a celebration for 160 that looked no more realistic than in April, the bride’s father came up with a proposal: an escape. “I’ve always wanted to go to this old West Virginia resort, the Greenbrier,” Laura explains. “Dorothy Draper redesigned it in the 1940’s and it’s just amazing. My father checked it and it opened again. He said, “How about two Saturdays in now?” We were sure! We haven’t planned anything else. “When the bride checked the date on her calendar, she found it was her own parents’ wedding day – another fateful moment. “It somehow worked perfectly to get married on this special day for my family.”
The bride with her “flower boy”, her parents’ dog.
The low-key affair called for a different dress, and luckily Laura already had just the thing: a flowing Gina Fratini (another Princess Diana’s favorite) gown she found online while quarantining herself in the backcountry and waiting for it to continue their deadlocked wedding plans. “I saw it on Etsy by chance,” she says. “At the time, I thought if I got married in a courthouse I would be able to wear this dress sooner than my princess Emanuel dress.” Instead, she wore it to exchange vows in the resort’s picturesque 18th-century grounds as the couple’s parents and the bride’s family dog (“he was my flower boy”) watched. “The moment my father suggested we flee, I knew this was what I was going to wear. I especially like clothes that are romantic with an element of fantasy and Gina Fratini is one of my favorite designers. ”
When the wedding took place in October, Laura was again wearing her popular Terry de Haviland platforms.
© Somewhere wild
Laura added a 1940s orange blossom crown that she had also found on Etsy, and a precious pair of heels from her boyfriend, the late Terry de Haviland. “He always said he would make me a pair of shoes for my wedding,” she says of the “rock and roll cobbler” who kept Bianca Jagger on platforms. De Haviland died in November 2019 and the bride eventually wore a pair of his shoes, which she has been wearing in his honor for about 15 years. “I had it fixed and dissolved and perfected,” she says. “It was really sweet and lovely,” says the bride of the couple’s tiny wedding in West Virginia. “Although it was sad that my brother and other really important people couldn’t be there, I’m lucky that it was so intimate and special.”
“I always felt that the Emanuels deserved to be discussed and appreciated for more than Princess Diana’s wedding,” says Laura McLaws Helms.
© Somewhere wild
The other bonus, she says, was that she and her groom were “super relaxed” when their postponed ceremony was held in the Bethesda Academy grounds in Savannah, Georgia in October 2020. But Laura’s romantic Emanuel dress with its beaded top and delicate pink rosebud trimmings had its long overdue moment in the sun. Her orange blossom corolla, which she had adorned with a vintage pink ribbon from the New York clothing district, rounded off the finishing touches again.
The bride dressed in a vintage Ossie Clark gown for the evening celebrations after the couple’s postponed wedding in Savannah, Georgia.
© Somewhere wild
For the evening celebrations, the bride turned into another vintage treasure – the Ossie Clark dress from the original stock of white dresses on the back of her closet. “I can’t even remember how I got it or when I got it,” she says of the icon of Swinging London’s ivory damask silk dress, which has short sleeves, a dramatic open neckline and a ribbon belt. “I know I found it on eBay. It felt so good to wear – the first designer I ever collected was Ossie. “
The bride at her wedding reception in October in a vintage Ossie Clark dress that she has worn for 18 years.
© Somewhere wild
“Aside from having to reschedule, I was pretty relaxed,” says McLaws Helms of their honeymoon. “I thought it was fun to pull it all together and make it as pretty as possible.” Choosing the vintage for your wedding day is “really wonderful,” says Laura, who has a Masters degree in fashion history from the Fashion Institute of Technology and buys almost nothing new, “except maybe sports bras”. “You’re getting something that probably no one else will,” she says. “I love the story and the romance of the vintage. In addition, most clothing is not as good today as it was 50 years ago. You can get so much more for your money. ”
Laura’s three very different, equally special wedding dresses all had different lives before she found them, but for the moment “they stay with me. Even though someone sent me a message to ask if they could buy one! If I ever have a daughter, she will have one. “And of course there is always the possibility that she might want to wear them again. “I’m definitely not averse to this – not all of my best friends have seen them. You still need a trip. “
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