Fashion designer Kelly Nishimoto, star of TLC’s newest bridal show Something Borrowed, Something New, made her first wedding dress when she was just a kid. Her material of choice? Trash bags. Tailored with a glue gun — a bold choice that required the help of a readily available assistant.
“It started melting and I remember my dad coming to the rescue,” Nishimoto laughs. “He had duct tape and electrical tape and all kinds of random things in his tool shed. Some of the tape was black and some of it was silver and I was trying to hide it and cover it with big rosettes. And then I made my sister walk through the neighborhood with the dress on. It was very cool!”
In Something Borrowed, Something New, Nishimoto makes the most of the creativity that runs throughout both sides of her family and her knack for calling on the past to inspire beautifully current fashions to repurpose borrowed wedding dresses steeped in family history into gorgeous new gowns befitting new brides’ dreams.
It’s a hefty enough task as is — slicing into the most important dress most women will don in their lifetimes without causing emotional breakdowns. But Nishimoto has another challenge: Her creations must also best brand-new gowns selected specifically for the brides by celebrity stylist Sam Soboura.
I spoke with Nishimoto about the charms and challenges of turning something borrowed into something new.
CGM: Something Borrowed, Something New is a great concept because it’s such a common thing for brides to be faced with the offer of someone else’s gown, plus these stories are so emotional. How were the families selected?
Kelly Nishimoto: We were really just looking for people with interesting family dynamics and different situations. In one case, one of the brides was going to wear her sister-in-law’s dress, which I thought was unique. We also had one bride who wanted a red wedding dress. And I feel like they threw a couple wrenches in my system, just to see what I could do — because there were one or two dresses that I remember thinking to myself, “Now how the heck in casting did you think that I was going to turn this wedding dress into something that was going to be relevant?!” I was wondering if they did that on purpose — but those were the easiest to me, actually.
CGM: Watching the original dress owners’ faces when you begin to rip and snip is kind of heartbreaking. But in the episode that I previewed, you had a big ol’ smile on your face. Do you just keep telling yourself that you’re ultimately doing a good thing?
KN [laughing]: It’s not that I don’t cry or get upset. But you know, it IS just this old dress. And all I can think about is transforming it. I sometimes feel like I’m Edward Scissorhands, always ready to chop into it. And then the mom cries and I feel so guilty, but I need her to see that the dress needs to go through a transformation. She needs to see it and she needs to know what’s happening and she needs to know that at the end of the show — whether her daughter picks that dress or not — that the dress will never be the same. So whether it walks down the aisle a completely new dress, or it’s hung back in the closet a completely new dress, it’s a new dress.
CGM: Are you ever envious of Sam just getting to take the brides out shopping for something brand new — or do you love the challenge of your role?
KN: You know, I do! I do! And at first I was like, “Oh Sam you have it so easy because all you have to do is go shopping and pick something off the rack.” But then he has to go to all these stores and he can’t find anything and one time it was 11 o’clock at night and he was still searching for a new dress and I was thinking to myself, you know, maybe I do have it a little easier, so OK thank you I’ll just design this dress. Because at least I have control over what I want to do with the dress and if something happens, it’s my fault, but it’s my control. With Sam, he can’t control what dresses are out there!
CGM: Were you sometimes surprised at how different the new gowns the brides chose were from the one you created?
KN: No, I kind of expected it — and let me tell you why. When a bride first comes to me and we sit down and we’re talking about revamping her mom’s wedding dress, the first thing we talk about is, it has to be a reasonable request. I can’t turn a dress into something it’s not, and is never going to be. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is, I sit down with the bride before she goes shopping and she has very clear, concise ideas about what she thinks she wants. And then when she gets to Sam, Sam thinks outside the box. He shows women what looks good on their bodies and what they’re going to feel good in. SO they start trying on things that they didn’t expect to like and they end up liking them. And that’s part of the beauty of it. What I’m making them is what their idea in their head is. And what Sam is having them try on are things that they didn’t even think about.
CGM: In addition to being really entertaining, the show does offer a ton of great of advice on how to save money and how to find a dress that really suits your body and your personality and your budget…
KN: What I think a lot of the viewers are going to relate to is that our brides came to us with small budgets. We didn’t have five- and ten-thousand dollar budgets. That would be too easy. These are real women who are really getting married and are on a budget! And it’s crucial that you stick to your budget. Times are tough right now. People don’t have even an extra $250 to spend on a dress. So these budgets are between $500 and most of them were no more than $1,500 dollars. We had one that was $2,000 or $2,500, but there weren’t any that were over that.
I wasn’t surprised at what I could turn out because I’ve been in this business for so long and I know people and know where I can get really good fabrics for really great prices and try to find fabrics on sale. But I was really surprised at some of the price points that Sam was able to find for off-the-rack dresses. They look like a million dollars.
CGM: In your case, though, you really have to listen to the new brides and the old dresses’ former owners carefully, because you’re really tapping into cultural pride, family pride, personal relationships when you’re cutting into those heirloom gowns …
KM: I’m not going to lie — I think that there were a couple of dresses where the sentimental value was on that they wore the dress and the marriage was still happy and has continued successfully, not necessarily the dress itself. Because some of these ’80s dresses that came across my cutting table, I don’t think they had an attachment to how they looked. I was thankful for that. I was like, “OK, I’m glad you’re not stuck on the look of this dress, because it’s really hideous and I could probably make a miniskirt out of the sleeve itself.”
So I tried to listen to that. Was it the dress? Was it the fabric? Was it the meaning? Was it the history? What was it about the dress that was the most meaningful? Because if it was a specific look or a piece of fabric or the sequins, you have to keep that in mind — and you have to keep that intact. Because yes, I’m trying to bring these dresses into modern times and make them something that the younger bride is going to want to wear. But you cannot take people’s family history lightly.
CGM: My sister and I were both married in the ’80s and our dresses were, indeed, horrendous. But my mom’s dress was beautiful and classic — the cut, the fabric. What’s the bigger terror for you: a god-awful ’80s dress that you have make into something beautiful or a beautifully-made vintage dress that you have keep equally beautiful?
KN: We did have two or three dresses that I really had a hard time cutting into. They were too beautiful and too well tailored, and you could tell that they were very expensive for their time. One dress that came through was over 100 years old. The fabric was falling apart, and it was all silk. so I had to find new silk that matched the old silk. I had to dye it and enzyme-wash it so it had a vintage effect. Just all kinds of processes that you have to go through with these super old dresses that people don’t really take into account. And then they’re so pretty and so unique and so one-of-a-kind. They weren’t off the rack. They were made by someone already. So there were two or three that I did have a hard time cutting into. But the result was beautiful, and generally those dresses were chosen by the bride.
The ’80s dresses were fun — you know, “What can I do with this big ol’ pile of satin?” But the older dresses, I was so honored that they would trust me, that they would let me have this dress in my possession and do whatever I saw fit.
CGM: How much time did you have to recreate these dresses?
KN: Sometimes only 24 hours. It was tough! The most time I had on one dress was maybe 48 hours. So you’re trying to crank these things out and you’re working fast, but you have to be diligent and you have to be really careful that you’re not messing something up, because you only get one shot.
The majority of my time was spent on the plan and on the deconstruction. Because putting a garment together is easy — it’s not rocket science in my world. But the plan and the deconstruction of the dress and making sure that you don’t rip any of the lace or mess up any of the fabric, that’s what takes the most time.
CGM: Were you and Sam genuinely happy for each other when the brides chose your gown over the other’s or was there some friendly rivalry?
KN: I feel like there was one time where I was really disappointed that she didn’t choose my dress. But for the most part, the brides ultimately made the right decision. Sometimes, even though I was really proud of my work and I did the best that I could have been done with that dress, I still liked Sam’s dress better on her, because I felt it was more appropriate for what she really in her heart wanted. So I thought the brides always made the right decision and of course I just love Sam to death, so I was always excited when he won. And of course I was excited when I won as well. But I believe there was only one bride where I thought to myself, “Nope, you made the wrong decision.”
But every single time, whether they chose the dress or not, the brides were really surprised at the transformation of the dress.
CGM: Are you prepared to hear from a deluge of brides who want their loved ones’ dresses made into something new? You maybe need to repurpose your career, as well …
KN: I’ve already started getting emails!
Something Borrowed, Something New premieres Friday, February 8 at 10|9CT on TLC.