Bridalwear battle lines were being drawn up in Spain earlier this month when major shows for the sector took place simultaneously in both Barcelona and Madrid. Sonia Roberts reports on the latest aisle styles.

Moda Barcelona is the longer established and larger of the two events. But in its second season the Puerta de Europa Madrid fair had virtually doubled in size since the initial event last year, and with ample space to grow within the giant Feria de Madrid exhibition complex, presented a very real challenge to its older rival.

Proof of its increasing importance could be found in the fact that more than 20 Barcelona based suppliers had either defected to the capital or opted for the added expense of being in two places at once.

None of this would matter to the outside world if Spanish manufacturers were seeking only to service their home market. But even in still devoutly Catholic Spain the growth of secularism is shrinking the traditionally based wedding wear market.
Manufacturers' answers are to look for custom beyond their own borders.

Already there are Spanish manufacturers exporting to markets as far away as Korea (Esponsal of Barcelona) to Scandinavia, Russia and the Czech Republic as well as to the Spanish speaking nations of central and southern America who have always looked to Spain as a principal source of special occasion fashion trends.

Spanish specialists in this sector of the children's wear market, like Lola Ortin, are also finding that their miniaturised versions of traditional bridalwear are popular in the Middle East as decorative daywear for the young daughters of the affluent, oil rich citizens of states like UAE.

Circus of events
For overseas buyers the fact that the Madrid fairground site is just ten minutes' drive time from an international airport has obvious advantages. Madrid's equally rapidly expanding airport also offers regular domestic flight connections to Barcelona for those overseas buyers who want to combine visits to both events in one trip.

Bridal wear buyers will, however, already have begun their travels at the Netherlands' Sposatex at the beginning of June and will, like many of the exhibitors, move on from Spain directly to Milan and then to Paris, finishing their tour in Düsseldorf where the "white hall" of the giant CPD ready-to-wear event has always been one of its major attractions.

For the British contribution to the global market in wedding garments they will have to wait until September when the "circus" reassembles in the northern town of Harrogate.

Globalisation is already a fact of life in the wedding trade. For instance, e Sincerity's crimson trimmed wedding gown, sold with the option of a co-ordinating, full length crimson satin cloak, has proved a best seller in every location where the manufacturers' caravan has rested this summer season.

Similarly with its base in Los Angeles and strong sales across the whole of North America including Canada, the Venus brand delivers the dash and glitter of sequinned and beaded gowns at "affordable" prices which are the typical American dream. The secret of offering a hand-finished look cheaply frequently lies in the extensive use of Far Eastern manufacturing facilities but linked to affluent world design and internationally recognised brand names.

From Milan, Demetrios offers a similarly elaborate but more romantic look. Grooms and young pageboy attendants can also be attired in white linen suits or more spectacularly in tailored shot silk taffeta.

Pinstripe suitings are given an exotic slant by being executed in silky handle manmade fabrics. Shadow stripe and corded effects are also tipped as popular groom's wear while pageboys in the Netherlands, Italy and Spain are likely to find themselves in updated versions of that Edwardian nursery favourite, the sailor suit.

In Spain there is at least the alternative of donning a scaled down version of an admiral's uniform, all epaulettes and gold braid, a line also selling well into the masculine side of the first communion market.

Historical inspiration
Lace in bridal gowns has virtually vanished from the Dutch market except for the occasional choker necklace made from insertion lace rather than the more usual pearls or diamante.

The return of the choker to wedding accessories echoes a shift in focus for historically inspired wedding gowns from the 19th century to the first decades of the 20th.

Near bustle effects and bodices which simulate the S-bend lines of early 20th century corsetry were an important look at the Netherlands fair with its stress on sculptural styling suited to the more sophisticated tastes of the 21st century bride. Recent statistical surveys reveal that in Britain the average age of the first time bride is now just over 28.

Changes of bridal venues are also influencing the design of wedding dresses.

At the Madrid show for instance whole rails of garments were devoted to the needs of the bride, possibly the second time around bride, opting for a civil rather than a church wedding. Such styles often centred on full length silk coats fastened with tiny covered buttons, another revival of the Edwardian age.

Satin trouser suits also made their debut in the Madrid collections, alongside asymmetric hemline skirts in bright prints on chiffon to be worn by the mother of the bride and by the bride herself at the post reception disco.

Across Europe the return of ballet-like tulles to the wedding and party wear market, as forecast by fabric manufacturers at events like the spring 2004 Premiere Vision, doesn't seem to have materialised in actual garment terms. The exception to this rule is the UK's Mori Lee label. Adult bridesmaids dress in sugar candy bright pastels which could have stepped straight off the stage from a performance of the last act of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker suite proved to be one of the showstoppers of the Madrid bridal fair.

The fashion for fluorescently bright lime and spring cabbage greens as the recommended shades for bridesmaid and mother of the bride outfits generally appears to be dying away, although Illusion seems determined to carry the colour forward into 2005. It does, however, offer the alternative: the purples and lilacs which were once only acceptable for brides still in half-mourning.

Elsewhere tones of apricot, rust and bronze set the mood for autumn weddings. Rich crimson as a trimming for bridal gowns and bridesmaids' dresses and reflected in the waistcoats and cravats of grooms and ushers, looks like being the undoubted winter 2004/5 winner.

By Sonia Roberts.