On June 9, five months after graduating from design school, Hannah Friesen was on the set of “Good Morning America” waiting to hear if her wedding dress design would win the 2011 Brides magazine Operation Dream Dress contest.
Friesen, the daughter of two Presbyterian pastors, was one of five finalists selected from more than 300 applicants. She stood alongside the other finalists while waiting for the hosts to announce the winner of the $10,000 cash prize and a magazine cover featuring the design.
“I was kind of freaking out backstage,” the 22-year-old Friesen said. “I was waiting to trip up over my words or something, but adrenaline got me through.”
That Friesen was even in the finals was breathtaking because she didn’t learn about the competition until two days before the January deadline.
“I had about 24 hours to come up with a sketch,” Friesen said.
When she learned she was one of 24 semi-finalists, Friesen then faced a three-week deadline to make the dress and post photos for seven days of online voting. Friesen’s dress emerged as one of 10 finalists, and she shipped her dress back for the final review by Brides judges, who then narrowed the choices to five.
Friesen’s design takes a step outside of the more traditional “princess” wedding dress. Made from 100 percent silk, the dress is form fitting with a sleeveless bodice. The most remarkable feature is the basket weaving of ribbons around the skirt, which incorporate two ribbons dyed in slightly different shades of pink.
“I used the literal art of weaving to form the romantic imagery that is represented in a wedding ceremony, while my use of natural fibers upholds my belief in creating a healthy planet,” Friesen wrote about the dress on the competition website.
“The fact that my parents are both ministers helps me with the symbolism aspect of wedding dress design,” Friesen said. “I know how a ceremony works. I see how my parents, who actually have to write the ceremony, how they chose what symbolism is going to be present in what they say and I think that helps me incorporate symbols of marriages into my design. I can get ‘it’ because I see the background, behind the scenes of what goes on in a wedding ceremony.”
The fabric of the dress and ribbons shimmered gracefully as the model walked onto the set of “Good Morning America.”
“I designed this not just for the wedding but for the reception as well and I just imagined that this dress would be so much fun to dance around in” Friesen said. “You can look gorgeous and have a ton of fun in it too without feeling like it’s a cumbersome thing.”
While her dress did not win the contest, she still counts the experience as being very worthwhile.
“It boosted my confidence in myself, I learned about self-promotion and now I have something I can take with me and show to people what I can do,” she said.
Friesen grew up in Newberg, Ore., where her father, the Rev. Peter Blank, is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church. She attended Evergreen State University for a year before realizing that she wanted to focus on fashion design. Friesen then transferred to Oregon State for a second year but finished her degree at Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles.
“It was a much more competitive environment that appreciates fashion for what it is and not trying to make it all be waterproof or recyclable,” Friesen said. “Although I do go into fashion design with a conscience.”
Noticing that several Oregonians have recently successfully competed on the fashion design competition TV show “Project Runway,” Friesen noted that there is a kind of hippie, bohemian side of design in Portland.
“We want to make or design clothes that are beautiful, trendy and fashionable, but we’d also love to not hurt the world any more with what we create, or at least I do,” Friesen said.
Friesen works part time at TaborSpace, a community coffee bar/worship space located at Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church in Portland, where her mother, the Rev. Carley Friesen, serves as associate pastor. Now catching her breath from the fast-paced preparation for the design competition, Friesen is exploring how to move forward in fashion design in the Portland area.
To watch the “Good Morning America” segment, click here.
Anitra Kitts is a freelance writer in Santa Rosa, Calif., and a candidate for the ministry under the care of the Presbytery of the Redwoods.