Designer Barbara Tfank is known for using the best fabrics for her designs—and lucky for us, she’s entered the world of bridal and her designs are available in our shop! Her creations are already favored by former First Lady Michelle Obama, and A-listers like Adele broke into the wedding world with her Fall 2019 Ready-to-Wear collection. Recently, Moda Operandi’s deputy editor, Tatiana Hambro Arader, walked down the aisle in a custom Barbara Tfank brocade gown at her wedding in the Cotswolds, along with an epic Victorian tiara, and we all collectively swooned.
Our swooning was followed by major fangirl-ing, and we quickly decided we had to get to know the designer better. Below, Tfank discusses what inspires her, why she decided to wear a colorful wedding gown when she got married, that iconic Uma Thurman Academy Awards dress, and more.
You worked as a design assistant in New York City, and at the same time, you were a flower designer for the Whitney Museum, the New York Historical Society, the New York City Ballet, and the Metropolitan Opera. How did your love of flowers translate into your designs and influence your collections, if at all?
“Working as a flower designer was the most brilliant art class for me . . . learning about color, texture, and the importance of empty space have been invaluable. Nature is timeless and beautiful. I aim to bring these elements to my designs. When my design studio orchid plants bloom in sync, I’m reminded. Flowers will inspire me forever!”
You worked as a costume designer too. In your opinion, which films have the greatest fashion moments?
“[Federico] Fellini’s films, to me, have the greatest modern fashion moments. La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2, in particular, always look exciting and inspiring. For period costumes, Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard cannot be surpassed.”
Your collaboration with Prada on the lilac gown that Uma Thurman wore at the 1995 Academy Awards resulted in an iconic Oscars’ fashion moment. When designing, did you have any inkling that the dress would have such an impact?
“I was totally surprised when The Times (London) called me at 5:00 a.m. the next morning to interview me. Later in the day, I was told it was on the cover of WWD. Obviously, I did not have a cell phone! I was actually the first person to use Prada in a feature film.”
You wore orange on your wedding day, and note that white isn’t the only option for brides. How did you decide on your colorful dress?
“It was mid-July, and I fell in love with a short, orange cocktail dress, after searching for something white and not finding it. The color worked so well with the Fortuny fabrics in my living room, along with the coral roses and blue hydrangeas I had chosen to adorn the beautiful mantelpiece of my Upper Eastside townhouse apartment, where we we married.”
What made you want to venture into bridal designs?
“Bridal found me! My dear friend, Alison Miller of Monvieve, was the person who really encouraged me the most. She is also a designer of couture bridal gowns and lovely accessories out of Italy. There was a moment when one of my pattern makers coincidentally chimed in saying I should venture into bridal too. It seemed somehow fated when I was invited to show my my Fall 2019 collection at The Elizabeth Collective, the former home of Elizabeth Taylor. It was the perfect place to debut my bridal capsule, as part of my RTW collection. I had recently been invited to see Miss Taylor’s short yellow Valentino dress—the one that she wore when she married Richard Burton for the second time—to advise on proper handling and storage, and my mood board for the collection was filled with photos of the many marriages of Miss Taylor. It could not have been scripted more perfectly.”
We absolutely love Tatiana Hambros’s wedding gown. What was that collaborative process like?
“I met Tatiana through her stepmother, Jo Hambro. I’m not at all sure Tatiana had in mind what I had to offer. There was certainly a warming up phase that included reviewing my fabric selection, discussing style lines of the dress, and trying several Watteau gown samples I had on hand and an assortment of veils. Initially, I had requested photos of the family’s tiara, once belonging to her grandmother, and the Saxon church, where she was to be married. The regal look of my Watteau back gowns and its history informed my suggestions. The photos of Tatiana at the altar with panels draped behind her and the sheerness of the Monvieve veil like a magical cloud were, for me, a dream come true.”
Any advice you have for a bride trying to figure out what to wear on her wedding day?
“My suggestion is to first take into account the formality of the ceremony, the season, the venue, and how you want to express yourself. It is important the dress be about you and not how others might want to see you! Understanding what looks best on oneself is important . . . fit and flare vs column etc. I suggest taking advice from experts. Go with what feels truthful. What endures, hopefully, are love and photos! You want a dress that photographs well. These are all elements I always discuss with brides. I always take lots of photos, so the bride leaves the first meeting with ideas to think about.”