Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dissecting a Dress: Atelier Versace Gown

Yesterday I got an e-mail from Charlotte, who is making her own prom dress and needs some sewing advice. I confess that I love getting this type of e-mail; it makes me feel like the prom dress fairy godmother. (Wouldn't it be fun to teach a prom dress class over a semester or two? What times we'd have--fitting, sewing, talking about boys! But I digress.)

Charlotte wants to replicate details from the Atelier Versace gown seen on Anne Hathaway (above), making it a knee-length look. She's feeling confident on the strapless bodice but doesn't know how to construct the ruffles. Here's a detail shot of the dress on the lovely Emma Watson. (Click to supersize.)
Here's my theory: I think the ruffles appear to be a series of cascading flounces. This type of flounce is cut in a spiral. Like below, but the line would continue around as large as you want in a spiral.

{source: Threads Magazine #112}

And then when sewn in vertical lines, they "cascade" or zigzag down the length of a skirt. The Versace looks to be a dramatic take on the ruffle pencil skirts that were everywhere last year.

Here they are on a gown, but sewn in straight lines rather than grouped together like the Versace gown.

It looks like Versace used a combination of fabrics and colors to create the wave-like effect of the gown. I'm seeing some tulle, organza, and perhaps some crepe and chiffon? in shades of ivory, pale greyish lavender, and seafoam. Some of the flounces look like they have a narrow rolled hem, others appear to be self-faced (like the organza), and the tulle is simply trimmed and left raw.

On the other side of the gown, it looks like the flounces are arranged into pseudo-rosette shapes.

I think Charlotte could replicate the effect by making several casades in three different fabrics and colors, finishing the edges if needed, and then stacking them on top of each other in sets. Then they would be hand-stitched to the skirt of her dress, making a zigzag line down to the hem. I think the fun in designing the dress would be deciding how to group the cascades and where to position them.

Readers, what do you make of my dress diagnosis? Do you agree? Any other ideas or tips to give Charlotte?

P.S. Any other readers out there working on your prom dresses? Drop Aunt Gertie a line!


  1. I think the voluminous effect the dress has is accomplished by mixing several techniques, spiral ruffles being one of them. I browsed through the internet seeking for some detailed photos of the dress, and it looks like the dress has some sort of "petal"-look-alike embellishment too.

    Take a look at this sketch as a reference:


    I think some of the volume was accomplished by sewing circles of fabric to the dress. The circles were sewed along their diameters, thus forming petal effect. Combine this with layers of various fabrics (as you've named them), and you'll get a similar effect.

    Also, I think I see some rosettes too, which are made by sewing to the dress strips of bias (or spiral) cut fabric in spirals.

  2. Charlotte's gown sounds like it is going to be just lovely! I hope that she shares a picture.
    I took sewing all through high school (even though I learned from my mom and aunts when I was in Barbie phase!) so that I could make my prom gown in the advanced class senior year. It was a fantastic experience! I bet it would have been even more fun with "Aunt Gertie" as my teacher!
    xo, a.

  3. How nice that this is created by something as easy to deal with as a flounce!

    I do think that a prom dress class would be fun, I remember making my baby sister's prom dress and working with satin for the first time. Had I used underlining, I wouldn't have been so flummoxed on how to do an invisible hem on satin!

  4. Hi There.
    I took sewing in high school and we had to make our own prom dresses. The field trip to the fabric store was so fun.
    Now in my forties I have made my daughter both her prom dresses. I just finished up her senior prom dress last week. I am both relieved to not have to make another prom dress (it stresses me out) and sad at the same time. My daughter keeps reminding me that I will be making her wedding gown. gulp.

  5. Charlotte should be cautious about strapless and then adding somewhat asymetrical weight to the skirt. This flowy dress likely has some serious underpinings to hold it in place. One of my most vivid memories of my prom is looking over to see one of the guys I knew hiking up his girlfriend's bodice that was heading a bit too far south. :) Even organza and tulle add weight. Good luck and happy sewing. k.

  6. What a beautiful project to undertake! I'm sure she will pull it off splendidly. Charlotte - please please please post a finished picture and any tricks you learn along the way!
    I would love to do some experimentation with those cascading ruffles - I am a model and enjoy designing my own dresses for photoshoots.
    A prom dress class would be so much fun. I'll be designing my prom dress next year and would really enjoy taking a class and sewing a perfect dress alongside other girls. This summer I'll be making seven silk dupioni silk bridesmaid dresses, a honeymoon dress, a rehearsal dinner dress, and the bridal veil for my sister's wedding. After that I'll be clear to start prom dress designing!

  7. I have no clue how that would be done, but I would love to see how her dress comes out! Can we get an update?

  8. Sounds like a lovely idea for a prom dress! I actually made mine as well - back in 1999 when corset + full skirt was in full swing. Many tears were shed in the making, and by the end i was just relieved to have something to wear. It looked good! With some help from my own Aunty Kathleen and a family friend. Zippers still flummox me at times...

  9. I love the circle ruffles/flounces. I have better luck making them, if I cut the circle open along the weave line at a point where it intersects the side of the center hole. The seams do not stretch and are at an angle to the attaching seam as opposed to straight out from it, so are more disguised/hidden in the final garment. Think of sparks shooting off a spinning wheel--a line to the side from the edge of the center circle that follows the grainline.

  10. Could people who want to make a wedding dress join your class too? I'm just a sewing novice but I have a shirt with some ruffles like this on the front and I was trying to figure out how the pieces were cut. Which wouldn't have been weird if I wasn't currently wearing the shirt at work... now I know how it was probably done.

  11. I think that some of the circles are cut with a tiny center opening or 'dounut hole', so that it flares in a round petal shape when opened. This would make for pointed ends that are easier to sew in place.
    I agree that it is best to cut from outside edge into circle along a grain line, then it will open nicely.
    also--I have seen many of these with the cut edges that are not finished. This requires testing the fabric first to be sure it is stable enough to last the evening without shredding.
    strapless--As K. has mentioned, the strapless needs to be structured. I would mount that on top of a purchased bridal corset that is waist or hip length, so that the dress is held up from there, and won't slip down the body.

  12. Wow - Just looking at that frock would strike fear into my heart ... I'd love to see how Charlotte's turns out.

  13. Gertie,
    I love the dress and love your taking the time to show the different techniques that make dresses so beautiful. If I may ask if this it the same way to create a full but soft ruffle collar on a blouse that would continue down the front. I what to make a sheer, soft blouse with a camisole underneath but do not want the bulk of gathering around the neckline. Any ideas would be appreciated and I cannot wait for your book! Jean

  14. Like AnaJan, I was thinking of spiral ruffles! It's an amazing dress, I must try some of these techniques soon!

  15. I would agree w/ K and AnaJan about the ruffles and the construction. I would also like to add that making this dress knee-length alone might require toning done the rosettes a bit. This dress works w/ all these rosettes precisely because of it's long flowing style. Cutting it shorter will affect it's look quite a bit and personally i would cut down on the rosettes on a shorter version to avoid ending up with a big poofy bottom to the dress which would make it look heavier. Arrange the rosettes so that the overall affect of flowing lines is not lost. Maybe reducing the overall volume of the resettes will be necessary.

  16. This sounds fabulous, and I have only one piece of advice for her. Get more fabric than you ever think you will need. Circle cascades are a very expensive design detail because it eats up fabric. To make a small mermaid tail I used 6 yards of fabric, and that was not even close to the amount needed to pull off this dress. So just be ready to possibly get more fabric, and good luck!

  17. Thank you Gertie - my favorite fitted shift dress (Calvin Klein) is one that has flouces and I always wondered how to deconstruct it. It is so flattering. . Another great post!

  18. I think the chiffon layers could be replicated by ripping the fabric on hem side and gathering it to make the ruffles.

    I tried on some wedding dresses with similar skirts and they all had raw edges, one that I really loved was an organza skirt made entirely of overlapping 5 inch wide bias cut strips.

    Charlotte should go look at some high end bridal shops to look at how the dresses are put together.

  19. I'm not making my prom dress until next year, but I have been planning it for a year haha. I've been trying out a couple techniques on different dresses so that I become familiar with the construction of the dress I'll be attempting... I'm pretty set on using ruching... It's just a bit daunting to think about.

    I hope Charlotte will be entering her dress into the Joann's Prom Dress Contest!! I also hope that you would be okay with me emailing you for help as well... I'm going to need it!

  20. I think your diagnosis is great! I do that kind of thing alot (people bring me pictures and I replicate the dress)

    I could not add to your description!

  21. Fun post! And so informative! I can see loads of fun applications for those flouncy flounces beyond a fancy party dress.

    Hope we get to see the final result! It will be gorgeous!

  22. Totally off topic, but did you see the NYT article today on clothing fit frustrations?

  23. Ohh I hope we can see a picture of the dress when its complete!
    I wish I had the skill to do such a dress, alas I am but a beginner :P

  24. I have a different theory. I see three elements:

    1. Bias rosettes (football shape fabric, cut on bias, folded in half, gathered and rolled into motif)Placed to control the drape of #2, as well as to camouflage where the opening/split of #2 is.
    2. Flyaway overskirt, front "pleat" flow is controlled by the placement of the rosettes and element #3
    3. Tricked out interpretation of traditional flamenco skirt (A la Folkwear.com #140). The main difference I see is the number of ruffles, and that the high/low hemline is placed off to the side instead of centered. I went on the web and looked at some other views of the same dress to come to this conclusion.

    I wonder if you could "Frankenstein" the underskirt by using the Folkwear pattern....I love a design challenge! I also bet you could use the yardage for this pattern as a good starting estimate for how much fabric will be used in the skirt too....

  25. I love this style of "ruffling". I first learned how it was done when I saw the movie "Valentino: the last emperor". Beautiful to watch the red dresses go from start to the runway.

  26. ... Congratulations to our site ... Are exelentes information ...
    And I'm going to graduate and wanted the sewing of dress from Anne, who wanted to take advantage of the model is beautiful.
    If possible, would send via email (dayannemutum@homail.com).
    I thank!

  27. the dress can make you sexy and beautiful.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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