Overall, I thought they did an immaculate job. I went to almost every store in the Bay Area, including some shops in Century Mall in San Jose, shops in Chinatown SF, shops in Chinatown Oakland, and NO ONE had cheong sams that were spectacular or special. Nor did any of those cheong sams fit me!!! I have a very small waist but hips that are disproportionate for my body, so for those Asian sistas that have either big busts or big hips, forget about it! You will need to buy a much larger dress and get alterations (at which point the dress doesn’t look so good anymore), or you’ll just need to have one made. Ling’s did everything in about a month and a half (3 fittings), and were good to work with. They are, admittedly, very pricey. Along with your western dress, you may feel like you are up the creek with your budget, but you have to decide what is important to you. I wanted a red dress and one that was special and original, so I went to Ling’s. Mine has special trim and piping, which is why it is so expensive. I also opted to have nice buttons sewn on and chose a more expensive material, so with tax and everything else, I paid about $650. The hefty price is why I gave them an A-. However, I have had other dresses made there, including my engagement party dress, which I also post below. That dress also cost in the $600 range, but both made quite a statement and I felt beautiful in them! However, I know that the dresses begin in the $300 range if you do not have piping and choose a cheaper material and something more modest in terms of the lining. Definitely worth checking out. See pictures above. Below are a couple more pics.
San Francisco, CA 94108
I went to about 9 salons ranging from more discount places like David’s Bridal to more expensive salons like Jin Wang (my experience at Jin Wang was horrible, btw. Do NOT go there, unless you want a mediocre dress and want to pay $4000-8000K!). I loved Amy Kuschel. She makes your dress for you. You basically go to her salon and pick out the style you want and then a mock up dress is made for you, followed by your actual dress. Her workmanship is wonderful. My mom is a seamstress and was satisfied with the care and attention that she pays to her work. There were three fittings and, yes, Amy Kuschel herself helped to fit me to make sure the details were perfect. It is made of Mikado silk and I couldn’t have found a more wonderful dress. I considered other lines, but I just couldn’t beat this price to have my own dress made. Because I am about petite, it was VERY difficult to find a dress that fit. Most of the time brides try on a dress and then it will be fitted to their body through alterations. I’ve learned that if you are petite, the proportions will be all wrong.
A bride asked me how it works at Amy Kuschel. You can go to her site and check it out. Every season she has about 20 or so new dresses. How it works is that you go to the salon, look at what they have, try on the one they have at the store, and then one will be made to fit you perfectly. So, you do not design your own dress. Rather, you pick from their wonderful selection.
And might I add, the experience of being at that salon is great. Very clean, bright, and also relaxing. I went to other salons and it felt like a cat fight. Girls were trying to peel dresses off my back after I tried them on. I hated that feeling. At Amy Kuschel they DO NOT overbook, so you get attention paid to you AND it is relaxing (they offer you candy, water, etc.). Cost = approximately $2000K (you can make 3 partial payments, one at each fitting).
P.S. The place that came in a close second was Miosa in Sacramento (on J Street). They also make your dress for you, based on a number of pre-made designs. But the one I wanted cost $3000, which is a little more than what I wanted to pay. The silk is imported from Italy at Miosa and their workmanship was superb. My mom couldn’t get over it at Miosa. If you have the dough, go check them out. Way better than Jin Wang, and other high end designers such as Monique Llullier, in my view. I know people are all about name brands, but just go with what you find fits you best and what you LOVE. You can’t go wrong that way. Miosa is a little-known store, but a well kept secret in my view. If I’m ever rolling in it and need a dress, I’m going there. Ask for Michael.
P.P.S. Ive seen lots of posts from brides on how to go about finding a dress. I, myself, was totally clueless. As I noted above, if you are an average size bride (Size 6 and up), I definitely think it is worth going to salons like House of Fashion (Sacramento) and Trudy’s (Campbell) just to see what is out there and that can be altered to fit your body. Remember to bring pictures of dresses you like from the major bridal magazines b/c chances are they will have it there. What happens is that they have size 10 dresses of particular designs (I guess size 10 is the average size) and they will let you try it on (they will pin it in the back and you can try it on to get an idea of how it looks). Make sure you write down the name and size of the dress b/c you can most likely buy it for 40=50% cheaper from Netbride or Pearls Place (see my review of bridesmaids dresses for more directions). I’d recommend a line like Maggie Sottera (Australian designer, I thought her designs were very contemporary and affordable, some dresses beginning around $600). Then, there are salons like Amy Kuschel, Miosa, and Jin Wang that allow you to try on their own line and then one will be made for you in your size. Go this route if you are petite (which is what I did), or if you are picky and you want something that fits you like a glove. You’re going to be spending $1800 and up on this option, which might be worth it if you end up liking dresses in the $1500 at salons like Trudy’s anyway. Finally, there are fancy schmancy salons like Gingers in SF and Bridal Galleria in SF. They are like huge retailers of bridal dresses, much like Trudys in that they carry tons of dresses, but they are more upscale and carry designer dresses (like Monique Llulier, etc.). I didn’t go to Gingers or Bridal Galleria b/c I haven’t heard tons of good reviews from brides and I stopped looking after I found what I wanted at Amy Kuschel. If you are into name brands and designer gowns, you probably want to go to those two salons. OH YES, lets not forget about David’s Bridal. This was the first salon I went to (Colma branch). I would not rule them out. Their workmanship is not as good as a place like Amy Kuschel, but they have small sizes (and you can try these small sizes on at the store). There were some totally cute dresses, so I’d probably recommend going there first and then branching out and seeing what you like. Hope this little overview helps!
I loved working with Nicole. She works out of her home and does this on the side, so she charges about ½ less than what you will pay because overhead costs will not be charged to you. She was wonderful to work with, had great ideas, and knows how to incorporate your ideas, theme, and vision into her work. And my mother loved her! She executed my vision beautifully. Some brides, I’ve noticed have complained on these boards about her lack of responsiveness, but you have to remember that she has a full time job on the side! My goodness! You can't expect a response in 15 minutes when this is her side job! I really didn’t rush any of my vendors and always was patient, and they all came through for me (LESSON LEARNED: DO NOT BE A BRIDEZILLA! See advice at the end of post). Her response time via phone or email was pretty good (she replied to e-mails or phone calls within a day or two), and in the end, I was so glad I went with her. She did 33 table centerpieces for me (both high and low arrangements), decorated my cake, made five bridesmaid bouquets, my bouquet, and some of the boutonnieres. She also decorated my sign-in table and made my breakout toss bouquet (which was a huge hit - the bouquet was actually six little bouquets, each with a tiny message tied to it, so when you throw it, it breaks open so six women could catch a bouquet!). She will also give you ideas as to how to save money (e.g., how to use flowers for both your ceremony and reception, etc., how to make boutonnieres, etc.). On the day of your wedding, she will bust her butt to get the job done, and she's worth every penny I spent. She is friends with Mylinh Phan, my coordinator, so hiring them as a package is great b/c they will both make sure that every detail is perfect on your wedding day (e.g., Yank Sing sort of just threw the chopsticks and plates down on my reception tables and they, along with my helpers, went around fixing everything and making sure everything was perfectly aligned). Cost = about $2200.
San Francisco, CA 94111
The store is located in Chinatown, San Francisco. Our invite has a double happiness symbol on it. Their quality of paper is great. I was planning to design the invites myself, but it became too burdensome b/c my husband and I are very busy. I also scrapped the idea of doing my own invites b/c my mother wanted them to be Chinese/English. You can’t see it here, but on the back of the English side is a Chinese translated version. The insert goes into the double happiness part (very unique design, I thought). Many of our guests loved the invites. BTW, H2 cards is also good to work with b/c they make maps, inserts, etc. We had a separate and private ceremony in our backyard (and only invited family), so they made a special ceremony card for us. Cost = $1450 total (for 225 invites, envelopes, inserts, response card, ceremony card, all of which cost about $6.40 per invite). The cost sounds steep, but actually, with tax and everything they printed for me, it compared well to other places. As for H2, I gave them an A- for how easy it was to work with them and for all the raves from relatives and friends. The folks who work at the store are also bilingual (Cantonese/Mandarin). I worked with Mage.