In her two-room studio downtown, Jennifer Kessler floats to the door and greets me with wide-open arms and a beaming smile. She coos a welcome and shows me around; it’s nothing at all like what you might expect from a service so luxurious.
Kessler owns Ghinda, a custom wedding dress company in downtown Columbus. And she makes them by hand, with a mere staff of five, surrounded by white walls plastered with patterns and sketches, a stunning view of Leveque Tower and Pearl Alley’s art providing a backdrop.
There are no tufted couches, chandeliers, or glasses of champagne to be sipped by brides and their entourage. It’s quite the opposite.
“I think I expected kind of what you see on Say Yes to the Dress, said Paula Gallagher, who worked with Kessler for her October 2014 wedding. “You walk right into the studio where she actually has the sewing machine and where she has people literally sewing the dresses together.”
Kessler glides around a drafting table full of patterns, fabrics, sewing machines and supplies. The room oozes a pure and raw elegance.
She slips off her Chuck Taylors to return to her natural barefoot state. This isn’t your average wedding studio, and Kessler isn’t your average designer.
Her work is a culmination of years spent living in Africa as a young girl and studying fashion in Italy. She defines her formative years as “a little bit gypsy,” where she lived in Uganda and Ghinda, a town in Eritrea.
“That’s where Ghinda comes from,” Kessler said. “I loved Ghinda because … when you’re little you don’t have the barrier of language or culture and race, you just don’t even think about stuff like that when you’re little. It doesn’t matter because playing is universal.
“And I loved that it was so open, and you could just run around and play and do whatever you want, and I just felt very free. So those things stuck out to me, and I wanted to bring some of that with me in my own company. Not everybody gets that experience, especially when you’re working towards your wedding. I feel like brides are stressed out already, and so we try to keep it relaxed in here.”
That ethos, married with the niche of custom design, is the backbone of Ghinda.
“I think that’s becoming more relevant, to have a very unique kind of look,” Kessler said. “So I’ve kind of found—there was that hole, that girls were looking for that. And even in the greater Midwest, it doesn’t really exist.”
The process is not for the impatient. It typically takes six to nine months, beginning with a consultation to create a final sketch of the gown. From there, brides are measured, fit for a muslin (cotton that acts as a sketch in fabric), and endure fitting after fitting until the dress is complete two weeks prior to the wedding.
“It was a long process, because I had my hands in everything that she did,” Gallagher said. “It was really meaningful to be able to create it from scratch with her.”
“Whatever needs to happen to make that dress perfect is what happens.”
Custom dresses start at $3,000 and go up from there; the price tag at least ensures absolute perfection.
“A bride will never have a final dress that doesn’t fit her perfectly. Whatever needs to happen to make that dress perfect is what happens,” Kessler said. “[The] ultimate goal is that she feels amazing, and she feels gorgeous, and she gets exactly what she wants and is happy.”
No dress is cookie-cutter, nor any bride. One of the most rewarding aspects of Gallagher’s time with Kessler was the attention.
“That’s the cool thing about Jen is that when you’re going through this process you would never know that she was making another girl’s wedding dress, besides the pictures on the wall and the remnants of the fabric,” Gallagher said. “You literally felt like you were the only bride that she was dealing with.”
That compliment is music to Kessler’s ears, as that’s what she strives for every day.
“I find that it’s very satisfying. Not every girl gets to be part of the making of her gown, and that’s a really big gift to give somebody.” Kessler said. “It’s a little stressful sometimes … but you know, at the end it just makes me feel elated. Just so glorious. It’s good.”
For more, visit byghinda.com.