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Paris Opera Dress: From Couture Dream to Reality

The long and joyful road to creating a custom special-occasion garment
Threads #220, Winter 2022

My gifted mom taught me to sew, but I do not recall when. I also do not remember when I began dreaming of creating the beautiful dresses I found in magazines and movies. I lacked the skills and confidence to make those coveted dresses—until I met Susan Khalje and Kenneth D. King. With their couture expertise and enthusiasm for teaching, I hoped to fashion a dress I had been yearning for, as a birthday present to myself. In April 2022, I wore my dress in Paris for my 50th birthday (well, 50-34 with COVID-19 delaying everything). This is the story of how I made my dream dress a wonderful reality. 

Paris Opera Dress

Haute Inspiration

Giambattista Valli Spring 2013 Haute Couture
Giambattista Valli Spring 2013 Haute Couture

The inspiration for the piece was a photo I found on Pinterest of a look from the Giambattista Valli Spring 2013 Haute Couture show. The dress immediately captured my imagination: It featured the legendary couture characteristics of exceptional design, fabric, and fit. The coat-style dress was made of jacquard with large-scale vertical leaf and vine motifs, and featured a dramatic capelike Watteau back. Images showing the dress from many angles confirmed this was a work created by haute couture masters-—whose skills I did not possess. But that concern did not stop my dreaming. I had taken Susan’s in-depth couture sewing classes for a few years and, in 2020, I mentioned the dress and my milestone birthday. With her encouragement, I embarked on the project of creating this dress. 

Printouts from online photos of the inspiration garment were the first step in research. Katherine highlighted seamlines and contours to better understand the dress’s construction.
Printouts from online photos of the inspiration garment were the first step in research. Katherine highlighted seamlines and contours to better understand the dress’s construction.

Patternwork and fabric

Susan’s suggestion for getting started was that I attend a Sit and Sew session of personalized instruction with Kenneth. Her comment that Kenneth loves a patternmaking…

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  1. User avater
    jencar25 | | #1

    The gown is stunning, as are you. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful journey!!!

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