Bridal couture designer Angel Rivera visits Bellissima

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 7, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
ALISBURY — Tanya Mack seized the chance to meet bridal couture designer Angel Rivera, even though it meant a nearly two-hour drive from her home in Vass.
“His designs are simple and elegant, but also very different,” she said.
Mack recently traveled to Bellissima in downtown Salisbury for a one-on-one appointment with Rivera, who was in town for a trunk show.
A fan of Rivera’s designs, Mack had been scouring the Internet looking at his gowns since her engagement in October.
“I’ve been following him, so when I found out he was coming to North Carolina I jumped on it,” she said.
Mack was all smiles as Rivera tied an embellished belt around her waist and placed a flower-accented veil on top of her head.
“He’s very personable,” she said. “It’s been wonderful.”
Although Mack didn’t walk away with a dress that day, she did narrow Rivera’s collection down to two.
“They are completely different and I love them both for different reasons,” she said.
She didn’t want to make a hasty decision during her first dress shopping experience, so Mack expects to be back at Bellissima to try on the dresses again.
Bellissima owner Monica Cameron said it was exciting to have Rivera in her shop.
“It’s so neat for the brides because he knows his dresses through and through,” she said. “He’s fantastic to work with, easy to talk to and very helpful.”
Cara McNeill, Mack’s maid of honor, said the experience was definitely unique.
“I think she got a different perspective than what she would normally get just by going to a bridal store to try on dresses because he has in mind the vision of what it should look like,” she said.
Getting to know you
Rivera said he typically travels to a different state every other weekend for a trunk show.
The designer could simply send his dresses to the bridal shop along with a representative, but he’d rather tag along.
“I think it’s a very special experience for the bride to get to meet the designer of her bridal gown,” Rivera said. “For me, it’s a nice experience to get to meet the brides and see what they’re like and what their opinions are and get some feedback as opposed to just designing and not hearing much from them.”
Rivera said that feedback, which can include draping, ruching or elements like 3-D floral embellishments that brides are particularly fond of, is used to design each new collection.
Cameron’s hosted trunk shows at Bellissima before, but Rivera is the first designer to visit.
“I’ve learned more than I could any other time,”she said. “We can talk about fabrics, I can see how he would tie belts and bustle some of the dresses. He’s a designer, so he’s always coming up with new ideas and I can see what he’s doing and implement those after he leaves.”
Several brides had appointments with Rivera during the trunk show, but Bellissima also allowed walk-ins that day so that anyone could get a look at his designs.
Rivera said there “aren’t a ton” of designers who travel to trunk shows.
“There are a good amount of us that still have the pleasure of going out and meeting the brides and helping them find their dream dress, but not that many,” he said.
Back to the start
Rivera said he’s been a bridal gown designer since he started sketching at the age of five.
While growing up in Ohio, he frequented a park where many would go to unwind and hang out on the weekends.
“It had a beautiful flower garden and you would always see all the brides taking their pictures there and I just thought it was amazing,” he said. “It was just the one day that I always realized that a woman was so happy and I could see how special she felt.”
Rivera still feels that way.
“Thinking about it now as an adult, it was something that I always loved just because I think it is the one garment that a woman will buy that she’ll always treasure and know exactly how it fit and exactly how she felt that day,” he said.
Rivera’s launched his design career in New York after graduating with a fashion merchandising degree from Youngstown State University in Ohio.
After arriving in the city, it took some time acclimate to the new lifestyle.
“It was a little overwhelming at first because it was such a fast-paced lifestyle, there were just so many people,” he said. “Plus, you’re so used to hopping into your car and driving wherever you want to go, but at that point I was depending on mass transportation, so I was learning to use the subway system.”
But once he got used to it, Rivera fell in love with the city.
“It’s just a wonderful place,” he said.
He ended up working for companies like Amsale, Kenneth Pool and Kirstie Kelly before continuing his education at Parsons School of Design.
“I’ve always designed and done freelance design, but I wanted to get more experience with patterns and draping, the technical aspects of constructing a dress,” he said.
Rivera worked at Kleinfeld’s Bridal in New York, where the popular TLC series “Say Yes to the Dress” is filmed, before starting his own business three years ago.
Now, Rivera releases a new collection twice a year, about 50 dresses each spring and 25 during the fall.
Despite his success, Rivera works without a design assistant.
“I design everything myself,” he said.
Getting inspired
Although Rivera typically sketches at the desk inside his New Jersey office, he ventures out when the temperatures start to rise.
“I do a lot of sketching and brainstorming during the summertime at the beach,” he said. “I’ll sit at the beach and I’ll have my sketchpad and pencils and I’ll just sketch while the waves are coming in.”
Rivera said he doesn’t actively follow any particular fashion designers for fear that his work will mimic their designs.
“I just don’t want to take them and turn them into bridal gowns,” he said.
All of Rivera’s designs are named after women he actually knows.
“My inspiration comes from pretty much the modern female, someone that I have a relationship with, I take into consideration what they love and like to imagine what they would wear on their wedding day,” he said. “I think what can I picture my sister Sheila or my sister Christina wearing, or my mother if she were to get married again.”
Rivera describes his style as “modern day princess.”
“She is in a sense traditional, but the same time likes to have modern elements in the gowns,” he said. “If you look at the collection you’ll see that we have, for example, beautiful, form-fitting trumpets which are a little modern, but then we have the traditional cathedral-length train on it.”
A Taste of Salisbury
Rivera’s trip to Bellissima was his first time in Salisbury and only a handful of visits to the state.
He spent one night at the Plaza downtown.
“From what I’ve seen (Salisbury) is a beautiful, quaint town,” he said. “There is something very historical about it.”
Rivera said he was pleased to find that “everyone is so friendly here.”
His trip was cut short by another engagement in New York the following day, but Rivera doesn’t doubt he’ll be back.
“I like it here so hopefully I’ll be here more.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.