A conversation with the founder of this new haute couture atelier
Words by ANUSH J. BENLIYAN
Specializing in custom, one-of-a-kind bridal gowns, The Couturiere is a new Parisian-style atelier set inside a three-story art nouveau landmark building in downtown San Francisco. The direct-to-consumer studio matches every bride-to-be with a master patternmaker, a project manager, an expert sewing team and a so-called “inspirationist” to help conceptualize and fabricate a unique dress. To help stir the imagination, The Couturiere will also host a series of monthly salon sessions to share the latest showroom designs.
Here, we chat with Jennifer Evans — founder of The Couturiere and its parent company, fashion development and production house The Evans Group (TEG) — about her inspiration, the bespoke experience and preserving craftsmanship in San Francisco.
How did the idea for The Couturiere come about?
Through The Evans Group (TEG) I built a team in San Francisco specializing in couture and bridalwear for high-end designers. With them I’ve made wedding dresses as gifts for family and friends for years. But it was really after creating my own dream wedding dresses (for three weddings!), that I realized there was a need for making haute couture accessible to the modern bride. … I worked with a talented branding specialist, Erin Kent, to create a fresh new take on bridalwear and haute couture, bringing The Couturiere brand and experience to life.
Why San Francisco?
My mom brought me with her to San Francisco on a business trip when I was a girl, and I swore I would move there. Growing up in the suburbs of Southern California, I was captivated with the originality of the people, and the sophistication and sheer beauty of the city. I now have spent the larger part of the last 20 years living here, and still marvel at the city’s appreciation for culture, equality and fostering of original ideas.
What do you find most special about the Sutter Street atelier space?
A fun fact: I first spotted the building while in college in San Francisco and swore I’d have a business there someday. I loved the three symmetric floors, art nouveau details and floor-to-ceiling windows. … Fast-forward many years, and I was ecstatic to finally secure the space. Interior design is a favorite pastime of mine, and so I dove into designing the interior of the space. It needed a complete overhaul, changing it from all dark wood and deep red paint to an elegant blush-colored atelier. I still get excited every time I enter.
Tell us about the master seamsters and pattern makers.
The Couturiere has a renowned team consisting of a master patternmaker, lead seamstress, and supporting team of pattern assistants and seamstresses. Our master patternmaker, Walter, has worked with me for nearly 10 years and has an extensive background in couture and custom bridalwear. He is a true craftsman and oversees all of the operations of the atelier’s sewing room. He is especially skilled at working with brides or individuals in helping them formulate their ideas into a design. Our lead seamstress, Marcella, and I worked together in our early 20s.
Could you “walk” us through the Couturiere experience?
We strive to provide a complete white glove experience for the bride. This starts with attending one of our private Salon Sessions at the atelier … intimate cocktail gatherings … serving as part inspiration and part education for the bride. Guests learn about the haute couture process, meet our team, see new muslin inspirations and decide if The Couturiere is a good fit for them.
Brides can come with their Pinterest boards or pictures, spend time in our inspiration library or pull details from our muslin inspiration gowns
The patternmaker is an expert at working with brides on their designs and helps pull all of these ideas together until the bride lands on their dream gown. Once this is clarified, we create a keepsake hand-drawn fashion sketch for the client to approve before proceeding.
Once approved, our team gets to work and making pattern, and sewing a muslin gown for the bride. This is the first “toile” sewn in cotton muslin, to see that the fit, design lines and proportions are correct. It is also the first opportunity to see their design come to life.
During this fitting, the bride will also decide which fabrics they would like their gown sewn in. We source fabrics from the best fabric sources in the world and provide swatches for the bride to choose from. … Next, we sew the actual gown in the chosen fabrics.
There are a series of fittings, to ensure the gown is exactly right. For the final fitting, about two months before the wedding, we invite the bride’s mother, bridal party or friends to join her in the reveal of her gown at the atelier and toast the special occasion with all involved.
What materials and techniques does The Couturiere utilize?
All of our patterns are completely drafted by hand, unique to the clients measurements. We use mostly silks, laces and tulles for the outer fabrics, from the finest mills around the world. A look at the inside of one of our gowns is nearly as stunning as the outside, when seeing how well-finished it is. All of our patterns are completely drafted by hand, to the clients measurements. Interior components include boned interior corsets, horse hair on the hemlines, and hand-sewn closures.
Are there any never-out-of-style designs or fabrics?
The ballgown will always be a classic, and we love to create these. The longer the train, or intricate the details are, the better they are in our eyes. Using a heavy duchess satin helps achieve a structured look and is sought after by most brides. Pairing this with Sophie Hallette lace from France, the company that created Kate Middleton’s wedding lace, makes any bride feel like royalty.
We are seeing brides become more avante garde in their visions for their designs. They are stepping away from the traditional, or boldly combining it with fresh modern takes. This includes mixing in everything from cut-outs, high-low hemlines, tiered ruffles, one-shoulder, to plunging necklines. Seeing these details paired with a traditional shape, or in a modesty gown, or wedding “outfit” is something we love to see and encourage at The Couturiere.
From $3,000. 303 Shutter St., S.F.
Feature image: A blush-colored seating area at THE COUTURIERE’s space in downtown S.F. which overlooks the intersection of Shutter Street and Grant Avenue.