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To me, Lea-Ann Belter Bridal has always been synonymous with classic, Southern charm, and we sure have featured some lovely Southern Lea-Ann Belter brides here. So imagine my surprise when I finally noticed Lea-Ann is based in Toronto! She could have fooled me, and I know any of her gowns would be perfectly at home at your Southern ceremony.

Today I have a fun treat for you! Lea-Ann herself has answered some of our questions about the origins of her business and her advice to brides! It turns out she and I have the same current favorite from her collection (Patrice: seriously stunning) as well as an affinity for red lipstick. We hope you enjoy learning more in today’s Designer Spotlight!

Tell us about the beginnings of Lea-Ann Belter Bridal—why did you want to start a bridal line, and how did you get started? I always knew my future lay in a creative direction — my sketchpad and pencil were almost never far! Textiles and glass have always fascinated me, so I focused on that love as well as fashion through college. Afterward, I trained with a couturier here in Toronto with whom I further developed my eye for impeccable execution and quality. Around that time, my brother became engaged, and his fiancée asked me to create her wedding gown! In doing so, I found it was the perfect expression of my love of fashion, gorgeous fabric, affinity for timeless style, and talent for meticulous execution. Before I knew it, I had opened my first Toronto bridal boutique and was offering the Lea-Ann Belter Bridal Collection to brides in Canada and the USA through a network of retailers. Over twenty-five years later, I’m grateful to be able to continue doing what I love.
Tell us about what y’all offer to brides and gals. I fervently believe that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. When I began designing bridal gowns, I wanted the dresses to celebrate that beauty, rather than overwhelm or obscure. It was equally important to me that my dresses were created in a true couture tradition — made by hand of the finest silks and laces I could find. I’m very proud to say that those things all continue to ring true. As a result, Lea-Ann Belter Bridal gowns offer wedding dresses that complement every body type and personality, as well as strike a true balance of contemporary and timeless style.

What sets Lea-Ann Belter apart from other bridal gown brands? We truly make every gown by hand. Each individual gown is cut, sewn, finished, and pressed all within my Toronto atelier. No dress leaves without a thorough looking-over! That couture approach enables us to create bespoke gowns for our brides. Additionally, we don’t have a finite size chart. Lea-Ann Belter gowns are available in all sizes and are completely customizable.
What is your single best tip for a bride about to start shopping for her wedding gown? Keep an open mind. You may think you want to wear a mermaid gown or that you love lots of beading or lace, but if after trying a few that seem to fit the bill you don’t get butterflies, try something new. That V-neck ball gown with the lace at the hem may be the one! Similarly, don’t let perception drive your choice. What others wear, want you to wear, or say is in fashion are completely secondary to pleasing yourself.

What is your current favorite wedding dress in your collection? An impossible question! I really do love them all. However, I do have daily favorites. At this moment, I am loving Patrice, a gown from my Summer in Provence collection. So many beautiful fabrics and textures make up this dress! Also, she reminds me of a particularly delightful afternoon I spent wandering a charming town in Provence while on holiday.
Do you have a favorite Lea-Ann Belter Bridal memory? Oh my…so many great memories! One of my more recent memories is the move to our current location on Broadview in Toronto. I purchased the building in which my flagship boutique and atelier are now housed, and doing so has always been a great dream of mine. Though moving is pretty dreadful, our first full day was such a proud, happy one for me!

What is the single greatest lesson you’ve learned in business? There are definitely many lessons to be learned when you open and run a business. However, one thing that has proved its worth time and time again is integrity. When you do the right thing and stay true to who you (and your brand) are, it’s a very powerful thing. Hand in hand with this is learning to delegate! It is hard in the beginning to justify enlisting help for various things such as accounting, graphic design, or copy writing when you can do them yourself. However, in order to focus on your strengths (design and production, in my case), you can’t also be running around doing taxes, managing the office, writing dress descriptions, and creating advertising images.
Name three items every gal should have in her closet. A pair of fierce boots that make her feel like a warrior, a timeless pencil skirt, and the perfect red lipstick.

Thank you so much, Lea-Ann!

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This post is brought to you by Lea-Ann Belter Bridal – thanks for your support of the brands that make Southern Weddings possible!

Written with love by Catherine
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Bride Mandy shares her romantic woodsy wedding!

If you’re looking for design inspiration for your wedding, today’s bride, Mandy, has a couple great places to find it: consider a piece of decor you really love or your relationship itself! She shared, “As an event designer, I’m always drawn to beautiful patterns and textures, so it really never came as a shock that the entire wedding’s inspiration began with one simple, yet beautiful area rug. My ultimate goal was to design our day to be effortless, ethereal, full of patterns & textures, and in the end, dripping with a whole lot of romance that was truly symbolic of our love for each other.”

This wedding, and the bride’s and groom’s heart behind it, are indeed dripping with romance. My favorite part? The wooden boards inscribed with quotes from the couple’s texts, words, and letters to each other throughout their relationship that lined guests’ path to the reception. If that’s not romance, I don’t know what is! See the rest of the jewel-toned rustic goodness in our tenth-anniversary issue, available now!

Big hugs to Renee Hollingshead Photography for these photos!

Chris and I got married at Murray Hill in Leesburg, Virginia on Saturday, June 18, 2016. It was a stunningly beautiful day on a scenic private residence that overlooks the Potomac River. I always imagined my wedding outside, and the lawn beside the home and the boxwood gardens provided the perfect place for that wish. Our reception then took place in the property’s converted llama barn, which features on open-air side and rustic wood detailing. The reason for the date held huge importance to me as it was also my parent’s wedding anniversary, and they celebrated a wonderful 33 years on our wedding day. My father chose to surprise my mother with thirty-three lavender roses, and they were able to share a moment on the dance floor as their first dance song played before dinner.

What was the weather like on your big day? I can honestly say it was perfect. For weeks leading up to the big day, I was seriously on edge. Rain was in the picture, and the forecasters couldn’t quite pinpoint exactly when it would happen. I can remember sitting near a window at dinner with my family on Thursday before our wedding day and watching it rain so hard it was raining sideways. Waking up on Friday and Saturday it was like all of that hadn’t happened and there was only an abundance of sunshine.

I gave the girls a few instructions. The dress had to be chiffon (light and airy), it had to be long, and it needed to be in a set color palette that was a range of cool blues and grays. I wanted my bridesmaids to have some freedom to pick a color or a style that best suited them.

All day while getting ready, all I wanted to do was see my husband. There was an unexplainable anxiety for me – maybe I was just crazy, but it felt wrong to spend any second of our most special day without him. Laura and Renee, our photographer, had done a fantastic job of scoping out the most perfect area on the property for our first look. A heavily wooded slope on the side of the house created such a magical backdrop on such an amazing day. I’ll never forget the feeling that washed over me when I reached the top of the hill and saw Chris (still with his back turned towards me) at the bottom. It was like all the air instantly left my body. He quite simply took my breath away. It hit me like a ton of bricks. This was the moment. This was going to be my forever.

Tell us about finding your wedding dress. I had my sister, my mother, and my father along for the adventure. We started looking in August after the proposal, and I visited Love Couture Bridal on a whim – not quite ready to pick out a dress yet. Two or three dresses in, I tried on the blush Carina Corset and Ahsan Skirt from Watters and fell in love. I knew I wanted to continue to amp up the ethereal quality of the ensemble so I ordered additional tulle fabric and lace too. The seamstress there worked tirelessly over the months leading up to the wedding to fully customize the skirt with hand sewn blush lace appliques that cascaded delicately down the skirt and a dramatic cathedral length tulle train.

Our flower girl, Hadley, stole the show. Moments before walking down the aisle, the two-year-old, red-headed cutie was certainly not feeling it. I was sure she would be escorted by her mother, and I was okay with it. Something changed dramatically as she approached Laura. She straightened up with her dusty blue basket and marched onward, delicately dropping petals as she went. Turns out Hadley got to the end of the aisle and decided to dump all of the remaining petals at the end of the aisle – all I could hear was the roar of the guests from my hiding spot. I couldn’t help but smile. Oddly enough, those laughs calmed my nerves.

My favorite line from my vows to Chris have in a way become a saying for each other, and it just so happened to be the closing words of my vows: “Until forever this will be true. Because there is no one I could ever love, that way that I love you.”

Tell us about your wedding flowers. When I first met with Philippa, I told her my vision for the flowers: organic, lush, and romantic. Peonies and dahlias are my favorite flowers, so I knew I had to use them on our wedding day. I wanted the color palette for the flowers to focus on the ivory, mauve, blush and deep Bordeaux tones and hoped the splash of greenery would provide necessary texture and freshness. Philippa created the ultimate bouquet full of texture, color, and dahlias the size of my head! The organically composed bouquet featured big, beautiful blooms with burgundy peonies, dahlias, astilbe, garden roses, scabiosa, seeded eucalyptus, Italian ruscus, and umbrella fern. It was finished with long trailing hand-dyed silk ribbons cut to varying lengths in a variety of widths and shades of indigo, dusty blue, pale gray, deep merlot, and soft pink.

After cocktails, guests were encouraged to make their way through the wooded grounds to the barn for dinner. Along the pathway, Syzygy created beautiful wooden signs that featured quotes from text messages, letters and cards exchanged between Chris and me.

If you had to ask me what my favorite tangible item or décor piece was from the day, it would be rather difficult, but I know I swooned over the custom printed fabric panels Chris made for us. With the generosity of his mother and the company, he worked tirelessly to print for me my every whim. The botanical print really brought the barn to life. It was feminine and slightly whimsical but also the perfect bit of elegance with its colorful array of deep blues and splashes of burgundy. They were so beautiful.

In keeping with the rest of the day’s design, I wanted everything to read romantic and a little bit eclectic so the floral pattern used on the ceiling and dance floor became the starting point in the design of the space. It was the perfect blank canvas – concrete floors and a wooden beamed ceiling. I knew I had to add several layers and textures to soften the space and keep it cozy and personal to both Chris and me.

Our head table was composed of custom-made wooden chevron tables and was dressed with a lush runner of florals, greenery and colored pillar candles in burgundy and blush pink. Chris took the time to decal every charger with the name of our bridal party guests to serve as place cards at the table. Chris and I sat in beautiful hooded dome chairs that were further dressed with cascading flowers on top.

Ridgewells Catering provided a beautiful cake for our wedding day – a partially naked cake that was lightly frosted and dressed with coordinating flowers. We had a hard time choosing a flavor but landed on a delicious blueberry key lime with lemon genoise cake, fresh blueberries, key lime custard and vanilla buttercream.

How did the two of you meet? Tell us your story. They say that our eyes are the windows into our souls. And when I first laid my big blue eyes on Chris, I instantly knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with his soft-spoken, caring, and extremely loving soul. I certainly never expected that while interviewing for a position at Syzygy Events (as my mother-in-law’s assistant!) that I’d eventually gain my soulmate. A few months into my job, shameless and innocent flirting led to a strong desire and necessity for more. Saying goodbye at the end of every long work day meant I had to spend time away from him. So dating ensued, and eventually, I knew I couldn’t picture my life without Chris in it. He means everything to me. After the fact, I learned the truth – Chris had told his mother as I left my interview that I was the woman he was going to marry. He knew that just from meeting me, so as you can imagine, we are big believers in love at first sight.
Describe the proposal! Early December of 2014, Chris told me that he booked us a special DC “getaway” to celebrate another successful busy season at work. It was a week or so before Christmas, and I wasn’t going to turn down some relaxation with him. We pulled up to the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown and I was instantly on edge – it seemed too good to be true. I opened the door and I’m standing in the Presidential Suite (I mean, Oprah had stayed in this suite!) – the room was dim but flooded with the warm glow of candlelight everywhere. Petals dressed the floor leading through the large suite directly to the bedroom where soft metallic balloons fully enclosed the ceiling. I had just enough time to notice the blinking red light of a video recorder when I realized I was on film; I turned around to see my husband on one knee! I couldn’t tell you what he said, but all I remember was saying yes before even seeing the ring.
How many guests attended your wedding? 120.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while planning your wedding? I certainly struggled with learning when to let go! I had to be fully involved at every moment, and I felt an immense amount of pressure to have the “perfect” day because I work in this industry, but my planner, Laura Ritchie, was an angel. She is truly amazing at what she does and she always made sure I was seeing what was really important about the day- Chris and me. Saturday morning came and the stress had all washed away. I only remember how beautiful the day was and the happiness in my husband’s eyes.
What were some of the highlights of the reception? I think my dad delivered a great speech to welcome all our guests and begin the reception. And shortly after he completed his speech, he surprised my mother with thirty-three lavender roses in honor of my parent’s wedding anniversary. I made sure to ask for their first dance song at that moment and it was a beautiful moment seeing my parents share the spotlight for a dance together. There love is certainly one that I admire immensely and it was very touching to witness so much love in one perfect day.
What was the funniest moment? At one point on the dance floor, we had Chris’s uncle and his son both on the dance floor. Both were doing their generation’s version of the dance known as “the running man” and for some reason, I couldn’t get enough of it. It was that or turning around and seeing my father on his back on the dance floor doing the “dead bug” during the song, “Shout”.
What advice would you give to someone currently planning his or her wedding? Be true to yourself. It’s easy to get carried away in what you think other people will think, but at the end of the day, all that matters is you and your spouse. It’s YOUR day. That and don’t blink, because just like everyone else says, it will be gone in a blink of an eye. To this day, I wish I could relive every emotion from the day – it was an unbelievable ride and a day filled with so much love and happiness. Soak it in.

Photographer: Renee Hollingshead Photography | Videographer: Mwendo Weddings | Planner: Laure Ritchie of Grit and Grace | Designer: Amanda Autry of Syzygy Events International | Venue: Murray Hill | Florals: Philippa Tarrant Floral Design | Catering and desserts: Ridgewells Catering | Bride’s gown: “Carina” Corset and “Ahsan” Skirt by Watters | Bridal salon: Love Couture Bridal | Bride’s shoes: Oscar de la Renta | Bride’s accessories: Thomas Knoell Designs | Hair and makeup: Hair and Makeup Artistry by Claudine | Men’s fashion: Men’s Wearhouse | Paper goods: Butler’s Pantry Calligraphy | Rentals: Syzygy Events International | Party Rental Ltd. and DC Rental | Linens: La Tavola Linen | Transportation: Limousines, Inc. | Lighting: Digital Lightning | Officiant: Leora Motley | DJ: Dan Huynh via Premier DJ Services | Host hotel: Lansdowne Resort | Bride’s robe: Girl with a Serious Dream | Bridesmaids’ robes: Plum Pretty Sugar and the Heart Collective

Written with love by Catherine
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Belles, we have a treat for you today!!

Early last year, our friends at Southern-staple Lauren James told us a VERY exciting secret: they were working on a one-stop bridesmaid shop for their signature LJ dresses!

We pretty much started jumping up and down, as nothing could make more sense: Lauren’s dresses are PERFECT for Southern gals, and they’re already being used in weddings around the world! Now, the geniuses at LJ have simply streamlined the shopping and ordering process for your entire bridal party, making it easier to deck your belles in bows on your wedding day. Here’s how:

Head to the “Made for You” section of the Lauren James site to create an account and set up your own bridal suite. This will be your custom landing page, where you’ll enter information about your wedding and each bridal party member.

Choose from a wide range of options to assign each bridesmaid a color, fabric (100% cotton or seersucker), and dress style choice. You can give each gal several styles to choose from, or assign one option to everyone. Bridesmaids can order a dress with added length too!

Once you’ve made all of your selections, the system will send an email to each bridal party member welcoming her to the bridal suite and showing her the style options you’ve chosen with links to shop on the website. From there, each gal can order her outfit of choice directly from Lauren James.

As the bride, you’ll be able to see who has ordered what, and when, eliminating so many headaches and the hassle of chasing down your girls! Hallelujah!!

All dresses are made to order in the United States and take up to ten weeks for delivery.

Genius, right?! You already know Lauren James dresses are the epitome of “wear it again after the wedding,” and now, they’ve made the whole process simple and fun for everyone involved. We could not be more excited to see more LJ bows show up in our real wedding features from here on out!

To check out the Bridal Suite for yourself and scope out the dresses featured in these photos (the Morgan, Emerson, and Livingston), head to the Lauren James site!

Photography: Bamber Photography | Venue: Leslie-Alford-Mims House | Hair and makeup: Teighla Norris | Flowers: Amanda Day Rose | Cake: Ashley Cakes

This post is sponsored by Lauren James. Thanks for your support of the brands who make Southern Weddings possible!

emily Written with love by Emily
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Southern Weddings reserves the right to delete comments which contain profanity or personal attacks or seek to promote a business unrelated to the post.  And remember: a good attitude is like kudzu – it spreads.  We love hearing your kind thoughts!

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