After more than two decades in the bridal couture business, Pat Kerr Tigrett is looking to a younger market. And, maybe, if it's possible, even having a bit more fun.
At her 25th anniversary fashion show and retrospective last month, Tigrett showed a line of funky prom dresses that rocked down the runway with cowboy boots and Gibson guitars.
"At the fittings for these wonderful girls, I got very inspired in seeing them and the sort of freshness they have," she says. "It's not just the way they look in the dresses -- though they're so adorable -- but their enthusiasm once they put them on. They sort of lit up."
Inspired by amateur teenage models Hannah Belz and Claire Nelson, Tigrett began to create seven dresses she says have a "fun, funky, au courant feel to them" a mere 10 days before the retrospective.
"I really work best under pressure. I work when deadlines are on me. I get incredibly inspired and creative. I love the energy that comes with quickly putting a show together," she says.
Tigrett has always had a way with white, creating wonderfully dreamy and ethereal wedding gowns. What began as an interesting hobby -- collecting antique lace -- eventually propelled her romantic gowns to the covers of A Plaza Wedding and Martha Stewart Weddings. She also has a couture line of evening-wear -- ball gowns and cocktail dresses -- and a children's couture line of first communion dresses, christening gowns, and dresses and knickerbockers for the youngest members of wedding parties.
The designs are often created on the wearer using tissue paper; then each one is hand-cut and handmade. Tigrett says she's been cutting up one-of-a-kind pieces of antique lace for so long, it's no big deal. It doesn't even make her nervous; she just does it.
On this day, seamstresses are buzzing in almost every room of Tigrett's downtown penthouse, preparing her designs for a bridal market in New York.
Unlike some fashion designers, Tigrett isn't looking for a new gimmick or a new look for each season. Her collections don't have themes.
"I have been doing the same thing every year that I've been in business, just about," she says. Even the prom dresses -- which have a decidedly edgy attitude -- have similarities to her bridal gowns, with fitted bodices, intricate designs, and iridescent fabrics.
"This is a tiny variation of the corseted tops I've been doing for 20 years. I've also been doing voluminous skirts, but these are freer in that they don't have the underlinings and silk taffetas and the big, big skirts," she says.
Instead, the skirts -- some of which detach -- have the volume without the weight. In one, yellow and purple flowers are attached under a puffy tulle skirt. In another, both the top and the skirts are cut asymmetrically, giving it a bohemian look. Muslin underskirts and a beige crinoline are the base for a celadon overskirt and strips of ribbon, tulle and lace.
"Sheer silk taffeta has been worked into it, with lace along the back. Swags of gathered tulle are cut in a bohemian fashion," Tigress says. "It's the kind of dress that you really look at up close. Every little section has an interest to it."
Tigrett has been commissioned to do prom dresses before and has created cotillion and debutante gowns, but says those dresses were more serious.
"These are more frivolous," she says. "They're with more abandon. These are great prom dresses for this age, or just party dresses. Gosh, you could wear your cowboy boots and shop at Kroger in them."
And while the prom dresses show that she's still inspired by Memphis, or at least some of the young people who live here, they also represent something of a new beginning for the designer.
Tigrett says her work is designed for the "celebrations of life," events that usually require a vow of some kind: marriages, Bat Mitzvahs, christenings.
Now, with 25 years of promises and vows behind her, Tigrett is ready to celebrate in a new way. "With prom dresses, the whole idea is to party" she says. "I wanted to have that energy. I'm going to celebrate this entire year -- any excuse for a party."