Handsome Work

Dressed for Success: Her wedding dresses are the finest in the state.

Kristin Olsen’s tiny dressmaker’s shop is nestled at the end of a sensibly carpeted hallway, above the busy, congested hustle at the intersection of 50th and France. Here, Olsen, a refined, reserved seamstress, has made custom wedding dresses for Minnesota brides for sixteen years. The shop is quiet now, having reached the end of the year’s wedding season when October drew to a close. Yet Olsen still has plenty to do; she does make a few dresses during the winter, but mostly begins meeting with future brides whose special day arrives in the summer of 2004. There are designs to be created, fabrics to be selected, and fittings to be completed. When summer does roll around again, Olsen will be working on no fewer than thirty dresses at any given time, and most likely more, given that she was just named the best custom wedding-dress maker in the state by Minnesota Bride magazine. That honor—and that workload—seem to make her almost sleepy, she’s so calm.

With such a peaceful demeanor, I don’t doubt another detail Olsen quietly passes along: the satisfaction rate of her clients. She says she often hears back from brides who say the dressmaking experience was the most relaxing and enjoyable part of planning their weddings. Leaving the dress in Olsen’s capable hands makes for brides who can cross one major worry off their lengthy list of “things that could go horribly wrong.” Many women come in with ideas or pictures of dresses they like; Olsen creates the dress. “I have the ability to figure out how something is made,” she said. “That’s my expertise.”

At this stage in the game, Olsen is an expert on weddings and wedding gown trends. While she does stay abreast of the latest in bridal fashions, she is more interested in the creating than in the creation. “I don’t go all gaga over weddings,” she says. “I’m not a frilly, romantic person. I like the process of making and creating things. The fabric is just the medium.” Olsen began sewing when she was about seven years old. She credits her background in costume design, including a yearlong internship at the Guthrie Theater, for much of her dressmaking ability. Back then, nearly everything the actors wore on stage was created from scratch. “Their thought was, you never wanted to have something onstage that was the same, or made from the same material, as someone in the audience was wearing,” she recalls. So Olsen and other costume designers worked with fabrics ordered from all around the world, the better to outfit the actors in looks unfamiliar to Minneapolis audiences.

Olsen still does a tiny bit of special-order costume design, but today it’s mostly the wedding dresses. She has made pink, red, and green wedding dresses, in all fabrics and sizes. For most brides today, the look is much cleaner and simpler than it has been historically; gone (at least for now) are the days of enormous puffed sleeves and intricate beadwork. Olsen will do alterations on old wedding dresses, though, for women who want to wear their mother’s dress, and these present a challenge that Olsen welcomes as she does any other. It keeps things interesting too. When Olsen opened her store in the 1980s, she saw lots of dresses from the 1950s. Today, it’s dresses from the late 1960s and 1970s that are being dropped off.

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