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'This Is the Dress I Really Wanted'


Darlene Mendiola had spent an exhausting April day scoping out bridal shops when she made one last stop at Euphoria in Studio City.

That's where she saw It.

"I totally fell in love with this dress--it was totally me," she says. "It looked like a Grace Kelly dress. And when I found out they would make it from scratch, I fell in love with it even more."

The object of her affection is an original design by salon owner Joyce Dunn, who opened the shop three years ago after her daughter couldn't find a gown to her liking in the San Fernando Valley.

She offers her own creations, which are sewn to order, or works up designs taken from photos or sketches. The salon turns out two to three couture dresses a month.

Mendiola, 25, was attracted not only to the dress but to the entire dressmaking process, which represents the antithesis of her harried, full-tilt life as vice president of Gourmet Gifts International in Newport Beach.

After being measured on her first visit, Mendiola recently had a muslin fitting of the gown. So far, she says, the experience has exceeded her expectations.

"It's more than what I thought," she says. "I didn't know I was going to go through this elaborate process and see everything from the very beginning."

The slightly off-white gown has a sleeveless bodice of duchess satin with a silk organza skirt that should fit in perfectly with the "very California" wedding Mendiola has in mind for next summer.

Next, the silk will be cut and the pieces basted together for another fitting. The sewn dress will then be tried on again for final adjustments.

Although Mendiola had planned to spend $1,000 on a gown, she doesn't seem to mind that the cost has doubled.

"I figured this is a onetime deal, so what the heck?" she says. "This is the dress I really wanted. Money is replaceable, but the day and how you feel in the dress is not replaceable."

Dunn recalls the day Mendiola fell for the gown. Despite her coaxing to try a few other styles, this bride knew exactly what she wanted.

Not every woman is so sure. Some arrive clutching magazine pictures, others have only a notion of what they want, and a few are completely clueless.

"I go through [the process] with them step by step, telling them what they'll need," Dunn explains. "I show them the fabrics--silk organza, Thai silk, chiffon--so that they know exactly what they're getting. They need the right shoes--Darlene, for instance, needs a matte satin shoe--and the undergarments are very important."

She also quizzes her brides about the wedding. Formal or informal? Indoors or out? Small or large? But at some point, Dunn's human side usually eclipses her business side.

"You have to be almost a mother to some of the girls who come in here. Many don't come in with their parents. Maybe they don't live here. Or the brides are a little older and they don't want their mother to come in with them. So after they choose a dress, I say, 'Here's the phone. Do you want to call your mother and tell her?' "

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