By Marcy Clark with additional reporting by Gildas Rolland
Dore Designs and CEO Dawn Smart are bringing haute couture to American shores with striking custom made gowns, which are highly coveted by ballroom dance champions and private clients alike.
Ms. Smart purchased the company in 2007 and with her at the helm sales of Dore Designs gowns have doubled, and the company now posts revenues in excess of 2 million dollars a year.
With her designs regularly featured on stars of television programs such as “So You Think You Can Dance” and in the feature film “Musical Chairs,” Dawn has an inspiring story and fantastic advice for young women eager to enter the design world, as well as anyone who is determined to follow their true passion.
Women’s Mafia: What does fashion mean to you?
Dawn Smart: As the head designer at Dore Designs I view fashion from a ballroom prism; gowns are created to accentuate movement. I am creating costuming and design is influenced by the champion who is wearing a Dore Gown. A dancer who has an incredible ability to spin might spark a trend for skirts that fly out. For me ballroom fashion is a collaborative effort with the dancers wearing my creations.
WM: How were you introduced to the Ballroom world?
DS: A friend took me to a ballroom studio for a party. He had said that we were going to a chamber of commerce function and then suddenly they turned off the lights and a big guy asked me to foxtrot. I resisted falling in love with the industry for a few months, and kept delaying the lessons I had purchased at that event. When I finally took my first step on the dance floor, I knew I never wanted to leave. For the first time in my life I really enjoyed exercise. Dancing with another person, being able to have a conversation, understanding the music; it was all fun and engaging on so many levels.
WM: Where do you get your design inspiration?
DS: My design inspiration for the ballroom world comes from the story of the movement. A lot of dancers have a story they are telling as a couple, a scene they are acting out, and they often share that with me as I begin the design process. For one champion couple, the woman was embodying a “Mediterranean Goddess” character and so we dressed her accordingly: in blues, silks and turquoises. The characterization informed the way her partner interacted with her and made them even more compelling to watch.
WM: What makes Dore Designs gowns unique?
We make our designs in the United States, they are all couture construction and they are all original. We make them on a body form, with a specific body in mind and that is why they fit our clients so well.
We dress Ballroom champions and also real women just entering the field, for over 30 years now. We use a lot of jersey, crepe and silk from Italy, as well as stretch fabrics of various types. We use many unusual fabrics to create one of-a-kind pieces.
We might have a fabric or a type of crystal that we only use on one dress. If I buy a print I will buy only enough for one dress and if someone else wants to order something in that print then I will create something completely different to keep integrity within the brand. All our gowns are crafted and draped by hand, so there is no pattern to duplicate.
WM: How would you like your brand to evolve in the next 10 years?
In the next 10 years I would like to have Couture and Ready to Wear lines for evening gowns as well as a practice wear line for the dance studios to brand themselves. The future of our company will grow in the real world as well as the ballroom world.
WM: How would you describe your creations in 5 words?
Classic lines, form-fitting, luxurious feel.
WM: Which designers have influenced you the most?
DS: When I was a teenager, Dianne Von Furstenberg was my idol. Now my favorite designers are Marchesa. Valentino, Versace, Alexander McQueen and Elie Saab. I am inspired by their use of unique materials and that they use layers and intricate construction in their gowns.
WM: What’s the aspect of being a fashion designer that you enjoy the most?
DS: I get to make women feel beautiful.
WM: Do you have any secrets for success that Women’s Mafia members could learn from?
DS: Get up every morning and try to be better than you were yesterday: more creative, more inventive. I use Seth Gordon’s book Purple Cow as a reference. Every gown needs to be extraordinary and worth talking about.