Bridal Fashion Week 101: Answering Your Top Questions
Everyone's heard of Fashion Week, but now that you're garter-deep in wedding planning, chances are you've recently heard of Bridal Fashion Week as well; it's the holy grail for wedding dress trends. Especially if you've started dress shopping, maybe your stylist has mentioned it, or the owner of a boutique where you've tried on wedding dresses. In short, Bridal Fashion Week is a multi-city event for media and bridal fashion buyers from which all the trends trickle down to you, the bride-to-be.
"Bridal Fashion Week provides a platform for designers to unveil their upcoming collections and celebrate the labor of love that is put into creating each individual gown," says Sarah Swann, chief creative officer for AMSALE, a Black-owned bridal label that's been showing collections for 30 years. "It's an opportunity for designers to display their creativity, craftsmanship and innovation."
You probably have questions—so we've turned to the experts. You'll hear from Swann, as well as The Bridal Council Editorial Director Rachel Leonard and renowned publicist Savannah Engel (who reps some big names in both bridal and ready-to-wear). Let's dig in.
In this article:
What Is Bridal Fashion Week?
"Bridal Fashion Week is a presentation of bridal collections to buyers and editors," says AMSALE's Sarah Swann. "Buyers of retail stores are looking to create the best selection of gowns in their store for their brides-to-be, and editors are providing trend and story coverage for brides seeking inspiration. This event serves as a platform for bridal fashion trends, business interactions and networking within the wedding and fashion industries."
The events are typically invite-only to members of the press and retail buyers—but Bridal Fashion Week naturally has a massive impact on brides, as well: It serves as the origin of every bridal trend you see come down the pipeline and land on your Instagram feed or Pinterest page. New York Bridal Fashion Week (NYBFW) is the main bridal fashion showcase, and is organized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) with an assist from The Bridal Council, a New York-focused hub for luxury designers like Ines Di Santo, Naeem Khan, Sareh Nouri and more.
Where Does Bridal Fashion Week Take Place?
There are various bridal fashion weeks across the country and globe that cater to different buyers, showcase different labels and appeal to different audiences. New York is the big show, with Barcelona coming in a solid second.
When you're talking about fashion—bridal or otherwise—New York City is the place to be. A worldwide hub for everything from textile design to manufacturing to bougie bridal boutiques and awesome ateliers, Manhattan hosts the most notable Bridal Fashion Week two times per year (in April and October). The dates are set and the week is primarily organized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), and this is where the biggest names in bridal (including the likes of Monique Lhuillier, Reem Acra and Anne Barge) unveil their latest designs. See more about New York Bridal Fashion Week and the labels that showcase during it below.
Second to New York is Barcelona Bridal Fashion Week, which caters to the European market (though there is some overlap; for example, Canadian designer Ines Di Santo typically shows her collections in both New York and Barcelona). The biggest difference is that Barcelona's bridal fashion week is subsidized by the government, explains The Bridal Council's Rachel Leonard. It takes place at one giant venue with brands showcasing back-to-back on the same runway, using the same models. (It's a buyer's dream, with no travel required between shows.) A few dozen labels typically present, with a powerhouse here, of course, being Spanish label Pronovias; some of our other favorites to watch are Sophie et Voilà, Rosa Clará and Jesus Peiro.
A handful of other cities across the country host their own bridal fashion weeks to cater to niche areas and local markets. One of those cities is Chicago, which hosts a Bridal Market each August in the storied Merchandise Mart. Mainly for boutique owners and buyers, the trade show features designers like Calla Blanche, Madi Lane, Jenny Yoo and Watters. Other cities across the country and Canada host similar bridal markets throughout the year; and if not official fashion weeks, many cities also host periodic bridal fashion expos—you can find ones in Georgia, California, Texas and South Florida.
When is New York Bridal Fashion Week?
The New York Bridal Fashion Week 2023 dates are October 10-13, 2023. Events will start as early as Monday (media brunches, invite-only cocktail soirees and more), but official showcases and runway shows will happen Tuesday through Friday.
The catch here is that not every design showcase is an official part of New York Bridal Fashion Week. A lot of up-and-coming designers may choose to present a new collection in the city at the same time as Bridal Fashion Week in order to engage media, buyers and industry influencers while they're in the Big Apple.
Can I Attend New York Bridal Fashion Week?
The short answer: Not really. However, while the official runway shows and presentations are industry-only events, there are occasionally some ins for brides-to-be. If you've already purchased your gown, you may be able to secure a coveted invitation from your designer (or the boutique where you purchased it) their showcase. There are also sometimes events happening during Bridal Fashion Week that are open to the public: jewelry or shoe launches, store openings (She Is Cheval launched during Bridal Fashion Week recently with a chic event) and more. Follow your favorite designers on social media to see if they'll be doing any ancillary events—but don't get your hopes up. The week is largely invite-only to members of the industry.
How to Watch Bridal Fashion Week
So you can't be there IRL—but there are plenty of fun ways to follow along. For brides-to-be, Rachel Leonard of The Bridal Council recommends using social media as your main viewpoint for new collections. A few specifics:
Follow your favorite bridal designers in advance of NYBFW in order to get the most timely updates—most labels post photos of the new collection right after they debut—and even some behind-the-scenes coverage. (For example, AMSALE takes followers inside its Manhattan atelier @amsale). The CFDA and The Bridal Council will be posting, while unofficial accounts like @nybfw also provide great coverage and trend forecasting. And, of course, @TheKnot! We'll be boots on the ground with all the most up-to-date news, designer interviews and more.
The CFDA will post official collections on its website as they launch (check the calendar for updates on launches), and The Bridal Council will post its members' new collections directly following Bridal Fashion Week. You can check those sites periodically throughout the week to see the latest releases.
I Do! TV is The Bridal Council's video channel, where they air new collection highlights, designer interviews, collection campaign trailers and more. They'll be offering a peek into New York Bridal Fashion Week this fall as usual.
How Long Has New York Bridal Fashion Week Been Running?
The notion of Bridal Fashion Week began in the 1970s, when a couple of wedding gown manufacturers posted up in two buildings on Broadway to showcase their wares; it has morphed and evolved over the decades into what it is today, complete with a little more fanfare and see-and-be-scene runway shows (I personally once sat across from a Jonas brother at the glittering Berta show at the tip top of One World Trade).
But, it's not clear whether anyone really knows the exact year Bridal Fashion Week began, or if there even was one. Rachel Leonard has been in the bridal biz for more than three decades and says, "it was going on before I started in the industry." In the beginning, designers did whatever it took. "AMSALE has been presenting collections twice a year for over 30 years," says Sarah Swann. "[Our founding designer] Amsale Aberra first started inviting editors to her own apartment shortly after she launched her bridal brand." As more and more labels signed on, the official event expanded and has seen multiple iterations, from a consolidated event at the New York City Piers to the virtual events during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, Bridal Fashion Week is finding new footing once again, with The New York EDITION, The Plaza, Canoe Studios and other venues serving as hubs for multiple showcases, while other designers present in their own spaces, like standalone showrooms or ateliers.
What Is the Difference Between Spring and Fall Bridal Fashion Week?
The main difference, as evidenced by the name, is what time of year the fashion weeks take place—and what time of year the gowns showcased become available. New York Bridal Fashion Week takes place twice a year: in April for spring collections and in October for fall collections.
What differs from ready-to-wear Fashion Week is the season being showcased: In bridal, spring gowns are shown during Spring Fashion Week, and fall collections during Fall Fashion Week. (Ready-to-wear, on the other hand, shows spring collections in the fall and vice versa; those labels are predicting trends just six months in advance whereas, due to their made-to-order nature, bridal labels showcase gowns nearly a full year in advance.) By the way, this timeline is why Bridal Fashion Week is confusingly labeled one year ahead. For example, this October 2023 is dubbed Fall 2024 Bridal Fashion Week.
What Designers Show Collections at New York Bridal Fashion Week
Two major organizations play a key role in the scheduling and promotion of New York Bridal Fashion Week: The CFDA—which sets the official Bridal Week dates, announces designers and showcases collections on its website—and The Bridal Council, founded in 2016 as a hub for luxury designers that now includes the likes of Romona Keveza, Mark Ingram, Lee Petra Grebenau and more, with a special focus on New York City.
So, an official lineup does get set; but that said, any designer can technically "show" at Bridal Fashion Week. "Properly, [brands] go through the CFDA—they lead when it comes to Fashion Week and Bridal Fashion Week," Savannah Engel says. But, she adds, with the rise of social media, brands have more flexibility to showcase how and when they choose. Now more labels than ever are releasing pieces during Bridal Fashion Week, be they full collections or capsules. (In fact, Engel represents a handful of ready-to-wear labels that have dipped their toes into bridal in recent years, such as Markarian and PatBo.) Independent and up-and-coming designers—think Danielle Frankel, Dana Harel or Lihi Hod—have been known to rent a hotel suite and invite in the media and buyers; standalone boutiques will close their doors to the public and offer showroom appointments. (This is happening more and more, as labels like Galia Lahav prefer the creative control of their own environs, Leonard adds.) Personally, we love to see the creativity and modern takes on bridal showcases, especially when they make strides for diversity and inclusivity.
Where Can You Buy Dresses From Bridal Fashion Week?
You'll find designer gowns in bridal boutiques across the country (most labels have exclusives with a single shop in each major city, so check their "stockists" page to locate one near you, or explore The Knot Vendor Marketplace). If the label has a standalone store, showroom or atelier, the gowns will also be available there.
How Does NYBFW Impact My Wedding Dress Shopping Experience?
Bridal Fashion Week has a major impact on your shopping experience, from setting the trends a year in advance to affecting the timeline of when you can purchase a gown you've seen and fallen in love with on social media.
In fact, the better question than where can you find the gowns is when can you buy dresses from Bridal Fashion Week. The answer? Most likely not until six months later. "After the presentation, retailers place orders on the collection, and the gowns go through a production process, which includes manufacturing, shipping and delivery," explains AMSALE's Sarah Swann. "Typically, these gowns become available for brides to try on across the country and purchase in the early months of the following year; as all our gowns are made-to-order, this allows ample time for fittings and alterations before their summer wedding."
There is one caveat that allows brides to try on the gowns sooner than when they officially hit stores. "Brides can expect to find gowns from a fall presentation at New York Bridal Fashion Week in stores roughly several weeks after the event at trunk show events with our AMSALE retailers," Swann adds. (A trunk show is when a brand's full latest collection is put on display all at once at one of its retailers; the collection usually travels from city to city for brides to preview before it officially hits stores.)
Naturally, trends come and go, trickle down, shift and change—but more than what's trending, brides should look for a gown that suits their own personal aesthetic, needs, budget and dream-dress vision; it's YOUR day, after all. So, your best bet is to explore all types of bridal boutiques (and try on all the things!), from high-end salons with white-glove service to off-the-rack sample showrooms to second-hand luxury gown resellers. You can start by exploring our vast directory of bridal salons in The Knot Vendor Marketplace—after soaking up all the style from Bridal Fashion Week, it's the perfect place to officially begin your journey to "I do."