This Designer’s ‘Historical and Significant’ Moment
In 2017, after working for the designer Vera Wang for three years, Danielle Frankel debuted her own atelier line of wedding apparel, with a focus on hand-sewn garments and a discerning eye for draping and intricate details. She quickly became a sought-after label, dressing celebrities like Zoë Kravitz, Julia Garner and Alexandra Daddario for their weddings.
Most recently, she designed the outfit that Naomi Biden, President Biden’s granddaughter, wore on Friday to her wedding rehearsal and dinner that followed. Ms. Biden is set to marry Peter Neal later today on the South Lawn of the White House.
“This is a national wedding that most Americans will see an element of on their televisions or their phones,” Ms. Frankel said. “How the White House does this wedding is going to be a global conversation. I don’t know if there will be another in my lifetime. To know I was part of that feels historical and significant.”
Over the last five years, Ms. Frankel, 33, has released six collections, established an e-commerce component, created pajamas and a line of jewelry, and collaborated on a shoe collection with Manolo Blahnik. She also expanded her studio in New York City’s garment district, taking over an entire floor.
We spoke to Ms. Frankel from her atelier about working with Ms. Biden, the process of creating her pre-wedding look and her love for handmade garments. (As always, our conversation has been edited and condensed.)
Naomi Biden’s rehearsal outfit has four distinct parts. Why make different pieces?
We wanted a transitional look since the rehearsal part is on the White House lawn and then she’s going to dinner. There is a top bustier; a tailored jacket and trouser, which are made from the same fabric; and a pleated tulle cape covered in lace flowers.
The bustier is a cotton base with staggered boning and tulle draping overlay. The cape is made of a honeycomb fabric called Malfroy, which is a French tulle that has a drapey, soft and fluid movement to it — almost like water if water was a fabric. Each flower is made using three types of lace hand appliquéd onto the tulle and then pleated so that the flower motif is caught in the pleat. The pant and jacket are made from Italian silk wool. The wonderful thing about this fabric is that it has two faces so we can use both the matte side, which reads as wool, and the shiny side that looks like silk.
It took six months to transition from sketches to Ms. Biden’s final in studio fitting on Oct. 28. Can you walk us through the process?
Once we had finalized sketches, we built out Naomi’s measurements and body on a mannequin, which is part of our custom, handmade process. We’re basically recreating that person’s figure. Then we built the foundation and the inside of the garment, incorporating boning, cups and wire. Over that we placed fabric, which was molded onto the mannequin, cut and patterned.
During the next few months, a team of people made the final garments, which included in-person fittings and adjustments. Last steps were small, but important designs elements, like covered buttons on the back of the bustier, or an added petite veil so she could practice having her future husband unveil her. I did the draping myself because I’m very specific about pleating and not making it look too perfect.
How many people from your studio worked on the outfit?
Seven: the studio and operations manager; the pattern maker, who is responsible for the proper fit; the cutter; the sewing team, which consisted of a lace appliquéing specialist and a tacking specialist; and myself.
How is a first look, like that at a rehearsal dinner, different from the rest of the outfits a bride will wear?
The first look sets a visual tone for the wedding. And it’s the look that’s going to spark the wedding events. It’s also an introduction to the person wearing the outfit and reflects who she is. It’s an elevated moment to have fun with because you’re not doing the actual ceremony; rather it’s a rehearsal. You can play with trends more and there’s a sense of ease and comfort because you’re not sitting in your wedding dress.
And in Ms. Biden’s case?
This is a White House wedding, so there’s regard for the White House and for our country, but also for the sanctity of the wedding. We wanted to pay tribute to all of those components while still showcasing who Naomi is, respectful but sophisticated with a tinge of femininity.
She’s young and cool. Wearing the cape and the tulle is reminiscent of wearing a gown but has an ethereal quality that creates something grand and a sense of importance in that moment. For the rehearsal dinner, she’ll swap out the cape for the jacket, which is a more tailored, commanding clean look. We wanted to create a different moment and shift into the evening.
How important was it for you to be a part of this experience?
It’s a historical, cultural and celebratory event to be happening at the White House that isn’t political. The White House is the closest thing we have to cultural glue that brings everybody together. To dress somebody from that family for a significant event in their life is a huge honor as a designer. And it’s bringing the wedding and fashion world together into one story, which I’m proud to be part of.
As a designer, how are your aesthetics different from others?
We are ethereal but tailored. It’s the marriage of both of those qualities. I’m very silhouette driven so that means my designs are sculptural. I’m inspired by architecture, pottery, and 3-D art. I’m also a very tactile designer, so I like textures — fuzzy, pokey, prickly.
You’re happy when you touch something foreign and visually pleasing. That causes an emotion in people, and I like to stimulate that. When you’re looking at what we did for Naomi it’s very visual. I want guests to feel like they want to touch what we’ve created. That’s part of the tactile experience. I’m not creating just for the bride but for the guests as well.
Handmade garments are considered a dying art. Why do you still specialize in them?
We still believe in the art, technique, quality, and the visual fit an artisanal brand like ours creates. It’s the handcrafted, tactile details that make these kinds of garments spectacular. Offering a mix of handmade, hand-sewn, and machine-sewn garments creates a more elevated product. If not, the garment tends to have a flatness.