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“A simpler radiance” Cover Feature

Philadelphia Inquirer
Bridal Issue
Summer 2011

Selection from “A simple radiance” by Elizabeth Wellington
featured in The Philadelphia InquirerJune 1, 2011

Bridal fashion is de-poufing, going tailored. And sleeves and straps, seen on Princess Kate and the red carpet, are on their way.

The image of the perfect fairy-tale bride is in the midst of a makeover. And fashion has everything to do with it.

The shift may be slow, but it’s far from subtle: Lacy bracelet-length sleeves are popping up within a dress market once dominated by strapless styles. Sparkling tiaras paired with fingertip-length veils mean baby’s breath and cathedral-length headpieces have some competition.

Slimmer A-line bias cuts are featured alongside the pretty poufiness essential in the early millennium. Sashes and lace overlays are besting boring bateau necklines and faux diamond crystals.

All of this pushes the style pendulum more toward medieval maiden than the cookie-cutter, Barbie-gets-married look that is all too familiar.

“It’s a simple elegance,” explained Kimberly Lee Minor, chief fashion strategist for the New York-based Priscilla of Boston Group. “For about 15 years, being a princess bride included very over-the-top, full-of-satin skirts and big, heavy ball gowns. Everything had to be strapless. Now we are evolving; she is much more demure and classic.”

We would like to point to the Duchess of Cambridge’s tailored sense of style and choice of a modest, long-sleeve gown with a sexy sweetheart neckline as the catalyst for the new era of bridal fashion. (Her choice to wear a second gown for the reception might start another trend.)

But it’s more accurate to say that Sarah Burton, the creative director for Alexander McQueen, took cues from the red carpet to come up with the on-its-way-to-iconic silhouette. After all, a May David’s Bridal survey of 1,200 brides showed 70 percent were inspired by red carpet looks.

Maybe armchair fashionistas thought Kate Middleton’s ensemble didn’t have enough oomph, but it’s likely the Chantilly lace gown just didn’t look like what they were used to.

In any case, whether your preference is sleeved or strapless, Middleton’s choice is symbolic of a larger fashion evolution.

It turns out the royal wedding was the culmination of emerging eveningwear trends that included a comeback for teardrop earrings and soft shoulder-length tresses. You might recall that at this year’s Golden Globe Awards, Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway, and Leighton Meester all wore long-sleeve gowns by fashion-forward labels Atelier Versace, Armani Prive, and Burberry Prorsum.

Continue reading article here

View the Spring 2011 Bridal Fashion photo album at

Photo: Custom headpiece by Janice Martin Couture

“Where and How to Find ‘The Dress”

Philadelphia Style Magazine
Summer 2011

Selection from “Where and How to Find ‘The Dress'”
by Madalyn Rothman in Philadelphia Style Magazine

This season witnesses the return of romance, thanks in no small part to the latest fashion (and bridal) icon, the Duchess of Cambridge Catherine Middleton—and her Grace Kellyesque long-sleeve lace gown by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. Janice Martin of Janice Martin Couture (41 Cricket Ave., Ardmore; janicemartin. net), who specializes in custom-designed dresses, says brides have come in looking for this exact type of gown. “To have two brides in the past six months who want dresses that look like Grace Kelly’s, I’d say that yes, there is something royal in the air,” observes Martin.

Continue reading the full article at Philadelphia Style

Photography by Zander Taketomo

“Say ‘Ken’ To The Dress”

The Jewish Exponent
Summer 2011

Selection from “Say ‘Ken’ To The Dress” by Mimi James
featured in The Jewish ExponentJune 23, 2011

How three brides found three perfect gowns…

Selby started the dress quest at a bridal boutique’s trunk show – but quit after five dresses. Her mother came to the rescue by suggesting Janice Martin, the Ardmore dressmaker. “At that first meeting with Janice, we talked about what I like and don’t like, and the reality of my body. Janice looked at me – but not just my chest. She watched how I sit, stand and walk to get an idea of my body. Then, she pulled out amazing fabrics. Did I like the high sheen of this? The matte of that? Did I like lace? Modern lace, antique lace or French lace? Then, she did a sketch of what kind of dress she thought would be great for my body”

Selby and her mother loved the sketch, and the dress that resulted from it. It has several unique features. The white silk cotton is lined with baby blue silk organza, which is invisible to the eye but gives the outer white depth and a silvery sheen. It has pockets, which Selby requested. The dress is sleeveless and has a sash under the bustline. On that sash, Martin placed a brooch belonging to Selby’s grandmother.

On June 4, Selby and Feigenson were married near his family’s home in Maryland. “I had a fair amount of anxiety about the dress before I started shopping,” Selby says, “but I put myself in Janice Martin’s hands, and she put me in the dress. And I absolutely love it.”

“Best of Philly”

Philadelphia Magazine

bestofphillycoverbest_of_phillyFrom Philadelphia Magazine

Best of Philly 2010 – Dressmaker Janice Martin

When the exhibit featuring Princess Grace’s wedding came to town in 2006, the Art Museum called on Martin to restore Grace’s famous cathedral-length veil. So you can go ahead and trust her to get your grandmother’s gown into ready-to-wear shape –or, if you’d like, have her design one from scratch. She’ll sketch, do fittings in muslin, and then source fine fabrics from Europe. How delightfully retro is that?

“Love of a Lifetime” on Talk Philly

Talk Philly
"Love of a Lifetime" Philadelphia Inquirer Wedding Contest
Spring 2010

Janice Martin appeared on Talk Philly to discuss Faye Allard’s custom couture gown that she won as part of Philadelphia Inquirer’s “Love of a Lifetime” contest.

Lifetime Real Women

Lifetime Real Women
Spring 2010

“Something Old, Something Older”

Main Line Today
Winter 2006

Selection from “Something Old, Something Older”
by Ruth Weisberg in Main Line Today

JaniceMartin001When Christine Beardsley get married at her mother’s home in Raymond, N.H., in May, it will be her first time walking down the aisle. But her wedding gown – a sheer muslin, boat-neck, empire-waist dress with eyelets – will be making the latest of several trips to the altar. Beardsley’s mother, Barbara, wore the dress in 1971; her grandmother Ruth wore it in 1936; her great-grandmother Louise wore it to her nuptials in 1899; and her great-great-grandmother Louise wore it to her nuptials in 1899; and her great-great-great grandmother Olive was first to wear it at her wedding in 1827.

“It’s nice to carry on a family tradition,” says the 26-year-old fundraising and development coordinator for the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. “Nothing you can buy in a store has the same sentimental value as something passed through the family.”

Janice Martin of Janice Martin Couture in Ardmore is the sartorial wunderkind who altered and updated Beardsley’s cherished dress. A large portion of her high-end design work involves restoring and redesigning heirloom wedding gowns, vintage christening gowns, antique veils and other rare textiles.

“More brides are choosing to wear an heirloom wedding gown because of its sentimental value and to preserve a family memory,” says Martin. “They’re also in love with the gown’s original fabric and lace, which you don’t see in contemporary bridal gowns.”

Martin observes that today’s brides are more buff, bustier and built bigger than brides of previous generations, all but guaranteeing that an heirloom gown will require extensive tailoring. In some instances, the wedding dress may even need to be entirely reconstructed.

“Creating Your Custom Gown”
Spring/Summer 2004

Selection from “Creating Your Custom Gown” originally featured on
Spring/Summer 2004

0497If buying a car for a man is an emotional, exciting and sometimes expensive purchase for him, then the correlating purchase for a woman must be the purchase of her wedding gown. To help take some of the mystery out of the the search for the perfect gown, following are some suggestions…


Look at magazines. Current magazines will indicate the latest available styles. Determine your likes/dislikes in terms of silhouettes; keep your eyes open for special details. Consider that the gowns you see in magazines may be the catalyst for designing something even more creative and beautiful!


Pay attention to fabric, cut, fit – learn why one is a $700 dress vs. a $7000 gown. Be open minded, do try on a variety of gowns. Do NOT get talked into buying a dress (by the salesperson, your mother or best friend) if it’s not absolutely perfect. After all, you can have EXACTLY what you want, if you have it designed for you.


If you HAVE to have the $7000 gown that your budget forbids, maybe you can rearrange your budget, i.e., get less expensive flowers, music, food…often with a custom gown, you can have the perfect gown while you control the cost.

Remember, of everything from the wedding, your gown, ring and photos are generally the only items you take home (along, of course, with your groom!) So keep in mind that whether your gown is $500 or $15000, it should be one you are excited about.

Frey-001One way to be truly excited about your gown is to have it custom designed – a couture gown will fit and flatter your figure and personality in the way an off-the-rack gown can only dream about! If you are going to consider couture, again, do your research.

Go to the internet, ask for referrals, visit studios/shops. Inspect the quality of the work and fabrics presented. Find out if you must provide your own fabrics or whether you may purchase it under the auspices of the shop. Is the work done on site or off premises? Ask questions. Determine if you are comfortable with the person you will be working with… do you prefer a designer/collaborator or designer/dictator? Do ask for an estimate. Does it include fittings? Fabric? Trims? Pressing? Taxes? Shipping?

Discuss costs. Be honest/realistic about your budget. Most designers require a deposit with final payment due prior to delivery. If your budget is generous allow the designer some creativity; if stringent, be honest and let him or her know so that they will present you with realistic ideas for your gown. There are many ways to increase or decrease the cost of a gown depending upon the fabrics, trims and styles chosen, so don’t assume that the estimate you receive is unalterable. Remember that the gown being designed for you is one-ofa-kind and so may not be less expensive than that found off-therack (although it could be)… but it will certainly be more perfect for you!


Designing is a very logical process which produces the most magical of gowns… during the consultation you will choose fabric, discuss silhouettes, ideas, details (your figure, personality, the location and date of the event will all influence the design of your gown). Measurements are taken and a muslin (fabric pattern) is made from which necklines are cut and waistlines determined. The muslin fabric dress allows you to draw in design lines so that you know exactly where each dart, tuck and pleat will go. You become part of the process as you see/try on/alter and change the muslin before it gets cut in silk… you influence the design of it even as it evolves from sketch to muslin to finished perfection!


1. They hate to shop or don’t want to waste their time shopping.
2. They want better design and quality than that found off-the-rack
3. Their time is too limited – they need the dress in three months or three days. OR
4. They have already been to 32 stores in three states, tried on 75 dresses and none of them were “quite right.”

“For Her Alone”

The Philadelphia Inquirer
Fall 2002

The Philadelphia Inquirer
Posted on Saturday, September 14, 2002

“For Her Alone” by Denise Cowie

press pics about 010Two artists created the jacket and a third will wear it, secure in the knowledge that she will never see its like on anyone else.

The search for clothes that are interesting and different has taken Barbara Mungall to secondhand shops and vintage-clothing stores.

It has led her to a high-end design studio overlooking Main Street in Manayunk. She wants a new jacket that’s really special, something she can wear almost any time of year. She’s opted to have it custom-made and hand-painted at Janice Martin Designs, though she knows that for what it will cost, she could buy a wardrobe of jackets from a department store.

“I’d rather have one special thing than many ordinary things,” Mungall says. “And this way I get to pick the fabric and the style and everything about it, rather than thinking, ‘Oh, that would be nice if it were in a different pattern,’ or, ‘That would be great if the style were different.'”

It’s not the first time she has patronized the studio. In winter a couple of years ago, she had an unusual suit made in brown Italian tweed that was similar to one she’d seen at a social event on designer Janice Martin herself.

“Janice wears a lot of the things she makes, and it’s exciting to see them on her,” Mungall says. “It’s her unique flair, I guess — you become aware of the possibilities.”

But the new jacket is something else again. Not only is it an original design decided on by Mungall and Martin — its princess lines, slightly flared in back, are vaguely reminiscent of an Edwardian riding jacket — but it also will be custom-made in a white imported silk fabric so that Mount Airy fabric artist Kathy Robinson can use it as a blank canvas, painting stylized flowers on it in colors she will mix by hand.

At first glance, Mungall seems an unlikely client. The women who stare out from elegant portraits on the mantel over the fireplace in Martin’s studio are mostly upper-crust brides. Mungall is an artist and the mother of Marian, who’s just graduated from college, and Winslow, who’s just starting.

She is dark-haired, slender and quietly self-possessed, a representational painter who became a full-time teacher about 10 years ago “because it’s hard work to be self-employed.” Now, she is head of the art department at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, where she has worked since moving here from Albany, N.Y., four years ago.

At work, where she spends her days among students flinging paint around, she wears simple pants and tops that she might pick up at the Gap. “I can’t be worrying about my clothes,” she says. But she attends a lot of art-show openings, and this jacket, teamed with slacks or a skirt, will take her to the best of them.

Besides, she likes the idea of supporting other artists.

So here she stands, wearing a basic muslin pattern while Martin sketches in a princess seam here and an armhole there, using Mungall’s body as a template so that the pattern will take into account every physical quirk.

“Barbara has one shoulder a little higher than the other,” Martin says, deftly allowing for a little extra padding on the right shoulder to compensate, “and her right arm is two inches longer than the left.”

It’s the kind of thing that makes shopping in stores frustrating, Mungall says. But for Martin, it’s just a tweak of the pattern.

“There are so many things you can do at this stage of the garment,” Martin says. “You can disguise flaws such as a bowed spine, or change the lines to make a design more attractive on someone who wouldn’t usually be able to wear that style.”

That’s what custom fitting is all about. But it is a complex process. On a big cutting table in her third-floor workroom, upstairs from the salon that clients see, Martin cuts the basic muslin into pieces and traces it onto paper, marking it up in what look like indecipherable scribbles that only she understands, allowing for seams, overlaps, and the flare Mungall wants. This is the real pattern, more accurate than muslin.

“Paper is stable,” Martin explains. “Fabric changes — it stretches, it shrinks, it does weird things.”

From the paper pattern she cuts another muslin garment she calls a “fit pattern,” because it will be tried on Mungall to see if the paper pattern is a good fit. This is the real beginning of the jacket.

Mungall looks at herself in the mirror. “Is it a little too full at the hips?” she asks tentatively. “And too flared at the back?” Martin pins in the sides, and marks a kick pleat over the rear. Then she makes these adjustments on the paper pattern.

“There are not that many people who do this anymore,” Martin says as she cuts. It’s similar to what a production pattern-maker would do — usually fitting a size 8 model who’s a stand-in for the female population — except that such a pattern would be used to produce thousands of garments in a variety of sizes.

Mungall’s pattern is hers alone. And from her adjusted paper pattern Martin will, finally, cut out the actual jacket in the white, linen-weave silk called silk dupione.

For most of her nearly two decades in the custom-clothing business, Martin’s focus has been bridal gowns and evening wear. Not only does she create new gowns — often from 20 yards or more of imported fabric — but she has earned a reputation for restoring antique gowns and veils, too, so that family keepsakes can be worn by today’s brides. When Philadelphia’s Museum of Art mounted a major costume exhibit, “Best Dressed: 250 Years of Style,” nearly five years ago, it was Martin who reconstructed the veil once worn by Princess Grace of Monaco for a royal-wedding scene that was a highlight of the show.

A few years ago, Martin began branching out, making suits and separates for businesswomen and offering a handful of upscale accessories. And more recently she teamed with Robinson — who uses an ancient batik process to make her own line of wearable art pieces featuring her signature florals — to produce custom-made, hand-painted silk suits and jackets. These cost $1,200 to $1,500 for jackets and $1,800 to $2,200 for suits, or maybe more, depending on the work involved.

Their affiliation began the season that gray wasthe fashion color. Martin wanted a jacket in gray silk decorated with big pink peonies, but the only way to get what she wanted was to design it herself and have it hand-painted.

“I wore it like a uniform, almost, for a while,” she says. “I just loved it.”

She wasn’t the only one. On a trip to Chicago in June two years ago, Martin wore her jacket into a ritzy antiques store on Armitage Street.

“The owner said, ‘I love that jacket,’ and my husband, John, said, ‘She’s a designer, she made it.’ Well, one thing led to another and the woman said, ‘Can I try it on? Can I order one?’ ” And she did.

It was reminiscent of how Martin got into the clothing business in the first place. Although she has been sewing “since I was a kid,” she didn’t do it professionally when she moved to Philadelphia from North Carolina more than 20 years ago. An arts lover, she came here to work on the Luciano Pavarotti voice competition, then switched to public relations for Altman’s stores, both of which meant attending many black-tie events.

Women would ask where she got her gowns, which she made herself, and before long a lawyer called and asked her to make a wedding dress.

“So I thought I’d do this until I got another real job,” she recalls. Then one day, she saw a mention of her work in a newspaper story on fashion. “That’s when I realized I was in business.”

But what is that business, exactly? Martin still finds it hard to define.

“If I say I am a dressmaker, there is this sense that what I do can’t be sophisticated,” she says. “There is part of me that says, yes, I make dresses, this is not brain surgery. On the other hand, if I want to keep my clientele walking in the door, I’m a designer, because the public’s perception of a dressmaker is not what we are — it’s grandmom who made their dresses for the prom.”

She finds it frustrating when potential customers first shop the stores for what they think they want, then ask her to make it for less.

“Why do they think it will cost less?” she asks. “And why be tunnel-visioned on what is in the stores when you can have whatever you want, whatever will do the most for you?”

By Webster’s Dictionary definition, Martin and others like her could be called couturiers — designers of women’s fashions who make and sell the clothes. But couture has an exalted history in places like Paris, and a mystique that defies mere definition.

Emil De John, a designer himself and for years chairman of the fashion-design department at Moore College of Art and Design, believes that there are no more than a handful of designers in the world who should get that title — and very few customers who can afford the lofty prices for the painstakingly detailed, hand-stitched and decorated garments they produce.

Studios such as Martin’s, he says, are more like the ateliers that blossomed in Paris in the early part of the 20th century, “where a rich French woman could have one dress made specifically for her.”

When she has visited designers’ workrooms in Europe, Martin says, she has found that what they do is very similar to what her seamstresses do here.

“I walked into Christian Lacroix’s studio a few years ago, and there in his workroom was the same lace we were working with in Philadelphia,” says Martin, who buys her fabrics — some of which cost up to $500 a yard — from the same small specialty mills that sell to Ungaro, Chloe, and Armani. She has seen, but resisted, laces that cost $1,500 a yard.

Which is about the same as the price of one of her custom-made, hand-painted jackets.

“It’s very low-tech, kind of primitive, the process,” Kathy Robinson says as she gets ready to start painting with wax on the blank canvas that is Mungall’s jacket. “But ever since I started working with batik, I’ve loved it. There’s a flow to it, the wax.”

She has already dyed the jacket — and all the spare scraps of the same fabric, just in case — a unique teal under-color by mixing green and blue dyes, and stuffed it with wax paper so nothing can bleed through. Now, she fills an ancient Indonesian tool called a tjanting with liquid wax and starts sketching with it directly onto the material.

“You work quickly with the tjanting because it drips — you learn to work in your mistakes if you have them.”

The wax with which she refills the tjanting‘s tiny reservoir stays hot and fluid in a coffee can set in a saucepan of bubbling water on an old electric hot plate.

“I’m known for my florals, a kind of stylized floral,” says Robinson, who majored in fashion design at Drexel University and was also a painter of watercolors. Her hand-painted, unstructured tops and scarves are sold in galleries nationally, including Artisans on the Avenue in Chestnut Hill. But for Mungall’s jacket, she’s doing something a little more abstract — the body will be crosshatched in a bamboo pattern, with stylized flowers toward the top. Although she’s had input from Martin and Mungall, the artistic interpretation is hers.

The process Robinson uses to paint the jacket is a combination of the wax-resist method of batik and watercolor. Where she draws on the fabric with wax, the original teal under-color will be retained. Next, she mixes her own silk paints, so all the colors are unique, and paints the rest of the design like a watercolor. Cherry red and golden yellow mixed together, for instance, give her the tangerine she wants for the flower petals at the neckline.

“You need something bright to stand out, because the background color is dark,” she says. Then she paints over those colors with wax, to hold them.

The wax is smooth, locally grown beeswax that comes in big blocks she breaks with a hammer, then mixes with paraffin to get more “crackle” — actual cracks in the wax that allow color to seep into other parts of the design, to get more of what Robinson calls “over-dyeing.”

Then the jacket, stiff with wax, is dyed in a custom-mixed blend of silk acid dyes to get the final background color, a steely blue that cannot be replicated. Only the fabric not covered by wax will absorb the color.

“Mixing the colors is a bit like cooking . . . or dyeing Easter eggs,” says Robinson, as she dons a mask and rubber gloves to mix a teaspoon of this color, a pinch of that. When she’s through, all the bits and pieces of fabric are sent to a commercial dry cleaner to get out the last of the wax.

“Oh, that really is beautiful!” Mungall exclaims, as if she hadn’t been quite sure what it would look like until now, when Martin produces the finished jacket with a flourish.

“I’m just so tickled,” says Martin, obviously delighted with how it has turned out. “Where will you wear it?”

“I’d love to wear it a lot, but I’m not sure what that means,” Mungall says. “Out to dinner or things like that.”

She turns this way and that, admiring the jacket’s lines in the mirror, and decides she needs a skirt to go with it.

So there’s more one-of-a-kind clothing on the agenda?

Mungall smiles.

“One of a kind, once in a while,” she says.

Janice Martin Designs is at 41 Cricket Avenue, Ardmore, PA 19003, (610) 645-4540 or .Kathy Robinson can be reached at Artisans on the Avenue, 8428 Germantown Ave., Chestnut Hill, 215-381-0582.

“In Store”

The Philadelphia Inquirer
Spring 2001

The Philadelphia Inquirer
Today Magazine
Sunday, Spring 2001

“in store” by Patricia McLaughlin

“Strapless, strapless, strapless!” Bob Mackie said in mock shock when somebody asked him about wedding gowns at a recent Moore College of Art and Design confab. The man who dressed Cher in sequins and precious little else recalled a time when a woman who showed up at the altar in a strapless dress would have been stoned. With actual rocks, he meant.

Which is not to say we’ve lost all sense of modesty and decorum. Dressmaker Janice Martin reports that some clients resort to custom dress because the strapless gowns they find in stores don’t come up high enough under their arms to suit them. A popular Jessica McClintock dress comes with its own shrug. And the Alfred Angelo dress that graced the cover of the blockbuster spring issue of Bride’s magazine comes with optional spaghetti straps and an organza shawl.

Meanwhile, the bustle, that 130-year-old Victorian survival, is also very big. And the real news is color, but usually not much of it: Imagine a pale mauve underlining, or clear glass beads applied with pale pink thread, or a touch of pastel embroidery. Next trend: Two-piece wedding dresses. (Will this mean bare-midriff brides?)






(Under the sketch)
Silk crepe dress lined in pink silk organza, overlaid with silver and mauve Chantilly lace and beaded in pale pink, $4,200 from Janice Martin Couture.



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