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“A Bride Carries on a Tradition, Wearing Something Historic, Used Anew”

The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine
Fall 1998

The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine
Lifestyle & Entertainment
Thursday, September 10, 1998

“A bride carries on a tradition, wearing something historic, used anew” by Denise Cowie

jmc_scans001When Charlotte Peterson swept down the aisle of the Church of the Redeemer for her wedding in Bryn Mawr on Saturday, the train stretching 91/2 feet behind her was as light as silk. But it carried quite a weight of family history.

For more than a hundred years, the six yards of exquisite duchess and rose point lace stitched in a horseshoe shape around the train has been handed down from grandmother to granddaughter to play a role on wedding days.

Charlotte’s great-great-grandmother Hannah Nicholson Biddle, first wore the lace when she married Charles Williams in Haverford in 1877.

Half a century later, it was in the spotlight again. The year was 1932, and Eleanor Biddle Williams Wilbur –Hannah’s granddaughter who would become Charlotte’s grandmother –wore the lace as a veil, falling in a teardrop shape from a tiny cap when she wed J. Stanley Reeve of Haverford.

Saturday, as Charlotte walked toward her groom, lawyer Ronald William Fenstermacher Jr., her grandmother was in a pew to see the lace adorn another bride. (It was a birthday gift of sorts –she turned 88 the next day.)

“I’m very close to my grandmother, and we’re very alike,” she says, “so I always wanted to wear it.”

But doing so turned out to be no mean feat.

The lace was given to Charlotte about 10 years ago. By then it was suffering from the brownish discolorations of age and the humidity of Florida, where it had been stored.

Late last years, when Charlotte started thinking about a wedding gown, she began casting about for someone who could handle the antique lace and incorporate it into the traditional style she wanted.

At the same time, her mother –Eleanor Reeve Peterson of Haverford –also began asking friends and museum personnel if they knew of anyone who’d fill the bill.

Independently, both women came up with the name of Janice Martin, a Manayunk designer of bridal and evening wear who has made a specialty of heirloom gowns. Martin took one look at the lace and consulted with restoration experts, including Sara Reiter, the assistant conservator of costume and textile at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with whom she had worked on the restoration of Princess Grace’s wedding veil for the museum’s “Best Dressed” exhibit last year.

The lace, it was clear, had to be washed –a time consuming task with some potential for disaster. Charlotte, studying for a master’s degree in criminal-justice administration at Villanova, decided to take it on herself.

Following instructions, she laid out her grandmother’s veil on the living room floor of her Paoli home and made a pattern of the unusual shape so she’d know how it was supposed to dry. Then she began washing the lace in her bathtub, using only water and, once, a little of the Orvis horse soap that needleworkers use to take out brown discolorations.

At least six times the lace did a slow soak in the tub; until it was rinsed for the last time in gallons of distilled water.

“The washing and drying took over my living room for about two months,” Charlotte said a couple of weeks before the wedding. But it was worth it. “I think when my grandmother sees it, it will mean a tremendous amount to her.”

For Janice Martin, of course, the now-butter-colored lace was just the beginning. Together, she and Charlotte had to decide how to use it without cutting it, in a classic dress that would show off the bride’s size 4 figure.

Months of work later, the gown Charlotte wore down the aisle seemed inevitable: 25 yards of imported silk satin (plus 50 yards of silk lining) in a full circle skirt and a bodice with a modified sweetheart neckline and a basque waist. Over the shoulders and above the train at the back were 37 handmade silk roses. And on the train itself, matching the creamy silk and looking as if it had been made for the role, was the antique lace that started it all.

The bride’s verdict?

“Janice was wonderful,” Charlotte said on her wedding day. “I just love what she did.” With the train drawn into a bustle behind her, she danced all night.

The lace wasn’t the wedding’s only link with family history, though.

Last week, Charlotte and herm other, both Colonial Dames headed to Fairmount Park for a pre-wedding shoot at historic Lemon Hill Mansion which is run by the Colonial Dames of America.

On Saturday, she was married in the same church in which generations of Reeves, Biddles and Wilburs have been married; her six bridesmaids wore gowns of the same mint green her mother’s bridesmaids had worn several decades ago; and in her shoe was a luck gold piece worn by two generations of family brides before her.

Her new husband, who is in the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, provided another link to her past. Until she went away to college, horses had always been a big part of Charlotte’s life; she had ridden and competed on horseback since childhood.

Saturday, not only did the couple leave the church under the crossed sabers of a First Troop honor guard, but four troopers provided amounted escort as they drove to the reception in a horse-drawn carriage –a burgundy and black country phaeton.

And if tradition holds, half a century from now Charlotte’s granddaughter may be fingering the duchess lace and wondering how she can fit it into her wedding plans.

The lace stitched to the train of Charlotte Peterson’s wedding dress has been handed down in her family since 1877.

 


“Lessons From Restoring Grace’s Wedding Veil”

The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine
Winter 1997

The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine
Lifestyle & Entertainment
Thursday, December 11, 1997

“Lessons from restoring Grace’s wedding veil” by Denise Cowie

A little more than 40 years after the wedding, Princess Grace’s wedding veil was all but disintegrating. Its condition was indicative of what time and the environment can do to the fabric of cherished garments.

So perhaps it was appropriate that the veil came into Janice Martin’s hands to be reconstructed for Best Dressed: 250 Years of Style, the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s grand costume exhibit that opened in October.

Because Martin, a couturier who makes one-of-a-kind bridal and evening gowns at her design studio in Manayunk, had long been interested in the conservation and storage of wedding gowns, she is often called upon to work on heirloom fabrics in gowns that have been handed down from mothers or grandmothers to this generation of brides. And she feels that some of the standard storage options available aren’t stringent enough.

Her work on the veil put her in touch with Sara Reiter, assistant conservator of costume and textile at the museum –who knows all about such things.

The museum initially wanted Martin to create a copy of the princess’ veil, because the tulle on which the original was built was discolored and crumbling so badly.

But Martin thought she would be better off rebuilding the original. “And that’s what we ended up doing,” she says.

The veil was actually a piece of silk tulle 100 inches in diameter, with about 30 appliques of antique handmade lace. Each appliqué was maybe 9inches by 4 inches, and featured a leafy vine pattern and flowers outlined with pearls, with more pearls beading the edges of the appliqué.

“It is a fairly traditional pattern for old lace,” says Martin. “There are two lovebirds at the bottom of the veil, which would sit over the end of the train when it’s on. And the front of the veil is a blusher almost down to the front waist. Ant that’s where most of the appliqué and beadwork is concentrated.”

Martin, who admits she was ”a little bit nervous” when the historic garment was delivered to her studio, laid new silk tulle on her cutting board, put the cracked and disintegrating veil on top of it, and stitched through the old tulle to attaché the appliqués and the pearl beading to the new tulle.

“That way, we maintained the original pattern of the lace without having to guess at anything,” she explains.

It sounds simple, but like all such reconstruction, it required excruciating attention to detail. Reiter provided Martin with thread so fine it’s called hair silk, and hair-like entomological pins normally used for mounting insects.

All told, the reconstruction took at least 80 hours. Did she enjoy it?

“Well, it’s beautiful, so yes,” says Martin, who has been to see her handiwork on exhibit at Best Dressed. “I love working on old things. But it’s sad to see something deteriorating.”

Which is why she’d like to see people take more care in conserving wedding gowns, christening robes and such for their children and grandchildren.

“So many of my brides buy expensive gowns” that they want to keep for future generations, Martin says, “and the [storage] boxes that are sold by some cleaners are not necessarily acid-free, museum quality boxes.”

What makes a storage box “museum quality”?

First, says Martin, it should be made of acid-free material, not regular cardboard, and it should be lined with acid-free paper. Size is a big factor. Boxes that are 60 inches long require that a gown be folded only at the waist, for instance, which reduces stress on the fabric. Some are extra wide –as much as 28 inches – to accommodate voluminous gowns or trains. And tissue used in the folds should be unbuffered and not blue (or any other color), since dyes may be unstable and bleed into the fabric.

“They are expensive boxes,” says Martin, who has decided to stock some herself now that, with Reiter’s help, she has tracked down the manufacturers, “but brides who are spending all this money on their wedding dresses want to make sure they are storing them properly.” She estimates the boxes will retail for $60 to $160 depending on the size.

Although garments should be dry-cleaned by a reputable cleaner before they are stored –stains and soil and even body oil on fabric can cause permanent damage –never store them in plastic bags, says Reiter. Over time, plastic can give off damaging fumes, trap moisture, or provide an environment for mildew to grow. Instead, use well-washed pure cotton muslin.

Most fabrics are better stored flat, she says. And don’t store anything in bright light, against exterior walls, or where it’s too hot or cold. The rule of thumb, she adds, is “if you’re comfortable [in a particular environment], your textiles are comfortable.”

An article in the Collections Care Network newsletter, published by the Upper Midwest Conservation Association, offers these tips:

–Choose reputable dry cleaners, and discuss cleaning options with them.

–Be sure to specify you want a fresh or filtered solvent. Tell cleaners about water and sugar-based stains (which need special solvents). And be aware that some glues –and some beads or other trim –dissolve in solvents.

–Remove fabric-covered metal buttons, rubberized dress shields or foam padding before storage, if possible.

–Use crumpled tissue at folds and in bodice and sleeves, for shaping.

–Never seal storage boxes. In fact, slits to allow air circulation could be added.

–Check the condition of heirloom garments each year, and wash cotton sheeting.

But the article also points out that no special storage procedures guarantee against textile deterioration.

Princess Grace’s wedding gown and veil are part of the Best Dressed exhibit at the art museum through Jan 4.

 


“Designing a Dream”

Philadelphia Magazine
Fall/Winter 1997

Philadelphia Magazine
Elegant Wedding
Fall/winter 1997

“Designing a Dream” by Eileen Smith

Four prominent local designers help you fashion the gown of the year

It begins with a dream, the mist of an idea that might have been evolving since girlhood. The rest of a bridal gown is more tangible. Lines and lace. Cut and color. And most of all, fabulous fabrics.

This year’s brides have simple dreams, fantasies of lady-like A-line silhouettes, sleeveless frocks and trains that are more like neat cabooses than the Orient Express. Picture Audrey Hepburn. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Vogue patterns, circa 1954.

Even what is arguably the most gaped-at wedding dress of the decade –the slinky, floor-length slip dress in which Carolyn Bessette wed John F. Kennedy Jr. –reflects a simple elegance. (And some quick sewing –the gown, reportedly worth $40,000, was ordered only 15 days before the wedding.)

The inspirations for such fantastic frocks are as varied as the brides, and may range from a 1960s sitcom to a favorite pastime, or even Mom, say four top locally based designers of perhaps the most important article of apparel a woman will ever wear.

The methods by which these designers bring their creative magic to the public varies as well. One has parlayed her youthful, upbeat designs into a multi-million-dollar national enterprise. Another has had equal success in carrying on the family legacy of bringing forth distinctive gown designs to an appreciative national audience. The other two are custom designers whose every wedding creation is a signature original – one of a kind, right down, in some cases, to family heirloom materials sewn into the dress.

Stitching a Fantasy

Janice Martin produces original designs in her Victorian-era salon across the street from Miller’s store in Manayunk. Martin might sew only 50 gowns in a season, each an original. Her creations range from her own chic designs to funky collaborations with clients to meticulous reproductions of elaborate vintage dresses or family heirlooms.

Martin’s designs begin not with fabric but with fantasies. What kind of a gown does the bride dream of? “If it’s a wedding dress, chances are she has been thinking about it for a long time,” Martin says.

Tradition and sentimentality might play as big a role in the making of the dress as imported silk. One client presented a piece of lace, handed down through the family for four generations. It was 15 yards long – and could not be cut. Martin transformed the bolt into a 10-foot train. Another brides brought in the gown worn by her mother in the 1950s. The dress was in good condition, but there was one sizable glitch. The bride was five inches bigger around than the mother was,” Martin says.

She fashioned gussets for the side of the gown, covering the seams with the same lace that trims the rest of the dress. When the bride put on her gown, she appeared much as her mother did in her wedding photograph almost 40 years ago.

Yet another bride, who wanted a radical update of her mother’s gown, asked Martin to transform the bodice into a halter-top. And Martin created a precise copy of a 1950s Priscilla of Boston gown for another daughter. Painstakingly working from old photographs, she duplicated the gown –which had been destroyed – from the tiny pearl buttons to the hem of the Watteau train. “What I hate more than anything else is to hear a woman say, ‘I really didn’t like my gown but I couldn’t find anything I wanted,’” Martin says.

Martin made her own wedding dress, a pink mini-skirted frock with a perky peplum. For a bride marrying in the Southwest, she designed a jack in lace the color of desert sand, cut with a V-yoke like a cowboy’s jacket. “Whatever it is,” she says, “it should be fun.”

A wedding dress should also be fashioned from the finest fabrics possible, Martin says. Many of the laces she uses are imported from Europe. One dazzling example, luminous with tiny seed pearls, sells for $1,500 per yard –wholesale. Prices on dresses crafted from less-costly fabrics begin at about $2,200.

Martin’s dresses feature such amenities as feather-light linings of pure silk. The seam down the back, which conceals an invisible zipper, is further camouflaged with fabric-covered buttons and handmade loops. Gowns in stores, she explains are over-constructed so that any size 12 dress can be filled by five different body types. This makes the gowns heavy. If a dress is fitted and custom-made, she says, there is no extra fabric. As a result, the gown is very light. “You should be able to pick up a good dress with two fingers.”


“Stitching a Fantasy”

Philadelphia Magazine
Fall/Winter 1997

Philadelphia Magazine
Elegant Wedding
Fall/winter 1997

“Stitching a Fantasy” by Eileen Smith

Janice Martin produces original designs in her Victorian-era salon across the street from Miller’s store in Manayunk. Martin might sew only 50 gowns in a season, each an original. Her creations range from her own chic designs to funky collaborations with clients to meticulous reproductions of elaborate vintage dresses or family heirlooms.

Martin’s designs begin not with fabric but with fantasies. What kind of a gown does the bride dream of? “If it’s a wedding dress, chances are she has been thinking about it for a long time,” Martin says.

Tradition and sentimentality might play as big a role in the making of the dress as imported silk. One client presented a piece of lace, handed down through the family for four generations. It was 15 yards long – and could not be cut. Martin transformed the bolt into a 10-foot train. Another brides brought in the gown worn by her mother in the 1950s. The dress was in good condition, but there was one sizable glitch. The bride was five inches bigger around than the mother was,” Martin says.

She fashioned gussets for the side of the gown, covering the seams with the same lace that trims the rest of the dress. When the bride put on her gown, she appeared much as her mother did in her wedding photograph almost 40 years ago.

Yet another bride, who wanted a radical update of her mother’s gown, asked Martin to transform the bodice into a halter-top. And Martin created a precise copy of a 1950s Priscilla of Boston gown for another daughter. Painstakingly working from old photographs, she duplicated the gown –which had been destroyed – from the tiny pearl buttons to the hem of the Watteau train. “What I hate more than anything else is to hear a woman say, ‘I really didn’t like my gown but I couldn’t find anything I wanted,’” Martin says.

Martin made her own wedding dress, a pink mini-skirted frock with a perky peplum. For a bride marrying in the Southwest, she designed a jack in lace the color of desert sand, cut with a V-yoke like a cowboy’s jacket. “Whatever it is,” she says, “it should be fun.”

A wedding dress should also be fashioned from the finest fabrics possible, Martin says. Many of the laces she uses are imported from Europe. One dazzling example, luminous with tiny seed pearls, sells for $1,500 per yard –wholesale. Prices on dresses crafted from less-costly fabrics begin at about $2,200.

Martin’s dresses feature such amenities as feather-light linings of pure silk. The seam down the back, which conceals an invisible zipper, is further camouflaged with fabric-covered buttons and handmade loops. Gowns in stores, she explains are over-constructed so that any size 12 dress can be filled by five different body types. This makes the gowns heavy. If a dress is fitted and custom-made, she says, there is no extra fabric. As a result, the gown is very light. “You should be able to pick up a good dress with two fingers.”


“Beyond Boutiques”

Philadelphia Magazine
Fall/Winter 1996

Philadelphia Magazine
Elegant wedding
Fall/winter 1996

“Beyond Boutiques” by Elizabeth Segal

What to do when you’ve searched every boutique from here to Kleinfelds’, and still cannot find the gown of your dreams? Custom couturier Janice Martin has made a successful practice of pleasing even the most discriminating brides, whether they arrive with a fistful of pages torn from magazines or only a vague image of their dream dress. In her Manayunk studio, a second-floor Victorian salon, romantic fantasies flourish.

Martin has built a reputation in the world of custom bridal couture by intuiting her customers’ desires and turning them into reality. Her adept needlework ensures that her gowns compliment brides’ figures as well as their personalities.

Some signature Janice Martin elements are her discerning eye for shape and her uncompromising selection of materials. She imports her silks and laces from the same small mills that cater to the likes of Armani, Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent.

Martin also specializes in reworking heirloom bridal gowns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Under the photo)
Janice Martin adds her own crowning touches to her gowns, sewn in luxurious fabrics such as creamy European silks and sumptuous French taffetas.

 


“Delaware Weddings Magazine” Cover Feature

Delaware Wedding Magazine
Spring/Summer 1996

Delaware Weddings Magazine
Spring/Summer 1996

“Delaware Weddings Magazine” Cover

About the Cover:
Aglow with spring accents, this feminine silk crepe gown by Janice Martin blossoms with an off-the-shoulder floral and silk organza motif which is repeated on the detachable train (or headpiece).


“The Wedding Section” Cover Feature

The Jewish Exponent
Summer 1995

The Wedding Section
A supplement to the Jewish Exponent
June 9, 1995

“The Wedding Section” Feature Cover

Halter style hand beaded French lace gown lined with pink silk organza and accented with dramatic pink organza bow and train.


“The Runaway Bride”

“The Runaway Bride” by Patricia McLaughlin

Seen on the aisle: Sleek and slinky looks

There’s always been the occasional bride appalled at the prospect of advancing surreally down the aisle in the guise of a giant cotton candy. She’s “that rare girl who has a sense of herself and knows what she wants and most of all knows what she doesn’t want,” says Jane Carton, fashion direction of Saks Fifth Avenue, Bala Cynwyd. Carton offers tow examples of brides who “didn’t want to be fluffly and ruffly.” One got married in a pale platinum Pamela Dennis evening dress, the other in a pale buttery yellow Carolina Herrera, both sleeveless, both with fishtail trains. “They wanted to be svelte and sleek and they were,” Carton says.

Lately, more brides seem to share those aspirations. “Hell is a big white dress,” as one conscientious objector put it in the London Times a couple of years ago.

Stores like Barneys have been turning to unfluffy designers like Geoffrey Beene to adapt architectural evening dresses for weddings.

“I like the romance and the fairy-tale quality of all the tulle and innocence,” Beene says. “But I’m not sure that women are really that way anymore or expect that sort of mystical thing about marriage. Maybe we’re moving so quickly that suddenly that seems dated.” The dresses he’s done for Barneys have been “much simpler, with less yardage and less bulk,” he says, ranging from a “really very monastic” white satin tent dress to some he describes as “slinky.” They were “not in the traditional mode at all” -none had trains and all were meant to be worn again after the wedding. “It’s sort of a shame,” Beene thinks, “to spend a lot of money on a wedding dress and that’s the end of it.”

Maria Romia of Maria Romia Bridal Couture on Walnut Street says, “Most of the brides I’m getting don’t want the big puffy-puffy dress because they’re getting married older now. Your taste changes after 25, 26. A lot of them want a slimmer silhouette, something sophisticated, something modern.” (She’s also noticed that more brides insist on a dress that’s comfortable enough to dance all night in. What’s the world coming to when even brides aren’t willing to suffer to be beautiful?)

Custom designer Janice Martin, who works out of a studio in Manayunk, finds that there are still “an awful lot of women who go out shopping with the Carolyn Bessette Kennedy idea of something absolutely unadorned.” Martin, an old hand at adornment -she managed the delicate restoration of Princess Grace’s wedding veil for the Art Museum -thinks that’s sort of a shame.

And this bridal thirst for simplicity and plainness is a little startling at a time when clothes for other occasions are embroidered, beaded and applique’d within an inch of their lives. Maybe, as Romia says, it’s age: Maybe the older you get, and the better you know who you are, the less likely you are to want to dress up as somebody else -e.g., wedding-dress Barbie. Or maybe it’s that more marriages are remarriages. Beene finds that “women who dress for a second wedding are always more realistic.”

On the other hand, some of it’s probably the famous fickleness of fashion. Maybe next year or the year after brides will be longing for layers and layers of tulle all over again.


Philadelphia Academy of Music

141st Anniversary Program

Philadelphia Academy of Music
141st Anniversary Concert & Ball Program Book

Glowing ‘Bride’ Jennifer MacNeish Potteiger is attended by Kathryn M. Bajus, wife of Wayne Hotel owner Stephen W. Bajus, and their daughter Lauren Fay. Dazzling in their exquisite custom gowns, skillfully handmade by Janice Martin, these lovely women mirror the enduring elegance of the Wayne Hotel, renovated by Van Potteiger Architects of Bryn Mawr. Mr. Potteiger’s restoration of the turn of the century landmark beautifully reflects the historic fabric of the hotel. With designs equally detailed and unique from her Victorian salon on Main Street, Manayunk, Janice Martin’s creations are one-of-a-kind masterpieces.


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