Interview with Sarah LaPadula on Launching Vega Couture
Forty yards of draped organza form the skirt of one of Sarah LaPadula’s couture creations. The skirt floats out from under what first appears to be a peplum corset. The peplum is actually attached to this outer skirt, which can be removed to reveal an elegant fit and flair gown in blush satin. The gown features a beaded lace overlay bustier with long sleeves and a silk organza trumpet skirt.
With this clever two-in-one approach, the young American designer — who launched her label, Vega Couture, in the Fall of 2016 — is hoping to conquer the hearts of contemporary brides, who like to surprise their guests and get some extra mileage from their once-in-a-lifetime purchase, allowing them to have a formal bridal gown for the ceremony, and a lighter dress for the reception.
While the two-in-one concept is not new, LaPadula says she offers a more cohesive approach than is often found in the market: “You can often tell when there are two different looks because the detachable skirts often don’t match. I use a lot of hidden constructions (i.e. snaps, zippers, hook-and-eye closures) and am meticulous about fabric selection and the placement of the embellishments to make sure the transition is really a surprise.”
The exquisite top of this particular dress features hand-beaded French lace with rhinestones and pearls. The gown was constructed in New York and took several weeks to complete.
LaPadula says she’d always wanted to be a fashion designer. As a little girl, she loved to page through fairytale books, looking at the pictures of princess dresses: “I think my interest in fashion dates from back then; for me fashion represents fantasy, especially the extraordinary nature of wedding dresses.”
To better understand the business side of the industry, she decided to study Fashion Merchandising at Southern New Hampshire University. During her enrollment she gained hands-on experience by interning at a local bridal boutique.
“The most important thing I learned was how to interact with brides, women who are making a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. There is a lot of build up to that moment, a lot of emotion. It’s an incredibly special experience because the bride usually has anticipated it for so long. As a consultant, I learned how to listen to brides but also intuitively sense what they were looking for,” she recalls. “It can be difficult for some brides to articulate the image they want to evoke because they have no previous experience buying a wedding gown; my job was (and is) to interpret their ideas, which perhaps they cannot say outright but feel.”
While she had considered launching a bridal collection following the completion of her Fashion Merchandising degree, she soon realized “how huge of an undertaking it would be.” LaPadula decided instead that she needed to further her understanding of the business and put her entrepreneurial aspirations on hold. She moved to New York and took a position in the marketing department of the world's largest bridal brand, Pronovias, managing three hundred wholesale accounts. “The company is quite expansive, and my job was strictly in operations, so you wouldn’t know walking into the office that we were selling wedding dresses. It was all about logistics, operations, and inventory control. It was a great experience to see how a company ultimately functions. I also had the opportunity to travel to bridal markets. That was so helpful because I could observe how buyers make their selections and how designers market themselves in the wholesale environment.”
After two years, and with her supervisor’s encouragement, LaPadula returned to school to complete a second degree in Marketing.
After working for several years in the financial sector as an administrative assistant, she finally felt the time was right for her launch. She achieved the first milestone of her dream last year by launching Vega Couture — “Vega means ‘star’ in Latin, which was one of the names my parents had first considered for me because I was born on Christmas” — positioning her creations at the higher end of the market, using lustrous fabrics, hand-embroidered French laces and hand-beaded accents.
“I want to create bold, yet classic dresses that are still very feminine and flattering to a woman’s figure. Something that I’ve carried with me since my retail experience is that a great fit can really make a woman feel extraordinary. You can see this effect immediately when she finds the right dress. It’s a physical and psychological reaction: she stands taller, speaks louder, and is altogether more confident.”
LaPadula says historical fashion has the biggest influence on her designs, from the delicate beadwork and embroideries used during Edwardian fashion to the ball gown silhouettes of the 1950s, which she describes as the “most glamourous recent historical decade for couture.”
While Vega Couture started with a few wedding dress designs, LaPadula is adding evening wear creations, encouraged by the reaction of potential retail buyers during the New York Bridal Week last April. “A Harvey Nichols buyer, who was looking for evening wear rather than bridal, came to my show. She was very enthusiastic about the line and saw a great deal of potential (in it) for evening wear.”
“Brides tend to be traditional in their gown selections; it is still very much about the classic bridal look, which I do love. However, evening wear will allow me to be bolder. I want to create high-end red carpet gowns, fashion statement pieces that are less commercially oriented, yet remain very feminine and easy to wear.”
“Evening wear offers a lot more opportunities to be creative in terms of design as well as the use of colors; and while I want to stay with bridal, I’m also looking to innovate,” she explains. “I want to push myself as a designer. Bridal is about two people – the husband and wife – and it’s romantic and beautifully sentimental. My evening wear pieces, however, will be about the woman as an individual - a woman who is a strong and complex protagonist in her own life story.”