When Jahee Kwon first started working as a bride specialist at Saks Fifth Avenue more than a decade ago, a bride came to her in crisis mode. The gown she’d bought from another shop was stained and damaged. Obtaining a hurried replacement off of a rack, she brought it to Kwon, who managed to alter it from a size 14 to a zero in just one week with one fitting.
Kwon’s skills with a needle and thread have since earned her the reputation as one of the best seamstresses in Richmond, with everyone from former First Lady of Virginia Anne Holton to out-of-state brides calling on her to ensure a perfect fit on their special days. Here’s what Kwon had to say about her experiences as a seamstress and obtaining that perfect gown fit.
Bride: Tell us about your background as a seamstress. When did you get started?
Jahee Kwon: I started designing my own dresses as a hobby while I was in college. I studied art at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, Korea from 1968 to ’71. After college, I worked at an art education studio then later owned an art gallery in Seoul. In 1981, my husband decided to obtain his MBA at the Florida Institute of Technology, so I followed him with my two children to Florida. We lived there for about two years, then returned to Seoul. Upon my return, I decided to attend fashion school for two years for technical training. I was trained in fashion design.
Bride: What brought you to Richmond?
JK: In 1987, my family and I moved to Richmond so that my husband could pursue his [doctorate] in finance at VCU. When we first moved to Richmond, we struggled due to the language barrier and cultural differences, and since my husband was not working, my family relied on me to work. I worked at a small shop doing alterations on various types of apparel. That is where I learned a great deal of skills in altering. As customers brought in different types of clothes, including wedding dresses and formal wear, I began honing my skills. This led me to open my own business and I became a wedding gown and formal wear specialist.
Bride: Do you mostly work on bridal gowns or do you work on a variety of projects? Tell us about your business.
JK: I mostly work on bridal and formal gowns, but I also work on a variety of projects such as designing and making mother-of-the-bride or -groom dresses. I always have alterations to do on all different types of clothing, from vintage costumes to menswear.
Bride: Do you have any memorable gown fittings you’ve worked on in the past?
JK: A bride who is a friend’s daughter wanted to make changes to a dress that is 63 years old, originally designed by Priscilla of Boston — her grandmother and mother wore the dress at their weddings. I redesigned the dress to make it modern by changing the bustline, waistline and the sleeves. I also restored it by adding new fabric, and the changes were seamless.
Bride: What can brides expect of a visit with you, and how can they prepare?
JK: Brides can expect an honest opinion from me on the fit and look of the dress. They can also expect that I will lend my professional opinion to make anything possible. What I expect from the brides is that they trust me to make sure that the dress will be perfect. To prepare for a visit with me, specifically for a fitting, the bride should have appropriate undergarments and shoes with her.
Bride: Do you have any tips for brides looking for the perfect gown?
JK: I recommend that brides stay away from heavy gowns and that they consider whether the ceremony will be indoors or outdoors when choosing a proper gown. To determine quality, they need to look underneath the dress to see how it is made, such as whether the beads, sequins and lace are sewn on or glued.