Sitting in a popular coffee shop on one of the most famous streets in America, Michigan Avenue, and across from the historic Art Institute of Chicago, one can’t help but get excited and take in everything Chicago has to offer. On one corner young men introduce tourist to a fast-paced Chicago style of dance called Footwork, and on another corner an older gentleman makes balloon animal hats while onlookers dance to the electric guitarist playing popular tunes; everyone has a hustle. The streets are full of tourist in awe of the city, Chicagoans are hurrying home or to happy hour on this Friday afternoon, but everyone is enjoying the 80 degree temperatures; a day like today is what helps locals get through the brutal winters. Among the faces in the crowd is Bryan K. Osburn, a Chicago native who is known for his creative and one-of-a-kind dress designs. An observer might think he is one of the summertime tourists, but it is the pictures he takes of the Chicago architecture, art, and flowers that inspire his designs.
From the moment we sat down, it quickly became clear to me how brides end up on Osburn’s doorstep looking for something unique to their personality. The first few minutes I found myself answering his questions about my own background, how I ended up in this industry, and my passions. It is obvious that Osburn is accustomed to and familiar with asking questions to get a sense of a bride, so he can develop a better idea of who she is so he can design her dream gown. Once the conversation transitioned back to where it was set up to be, it became quickly evident that Osburn is blessed to have found his true passion in life. “People are born with different gifts. I didn't know the meaning of designer, but at eight years old I knew I wanted to design clothes. My mom sewed and she taught me and sister and brother how to sew. I watched her put dresses together by hand. I knew at an early age I wanted to do dress design, to take things apart and put them back together,” said Osburn about discovering that road that led him to where he is today. “When I saw Diana Ross in Mahogany in 1975, and saw her making those clothes and all the fashion I said that is what I really want to do.”
Osburn carries his camera with him wherever he goes, just in case he sees something he can draw inspiration from. Also in his bag is a sketch book that holds more than pencil sketches of dresses. He pulled his book out and when he opened the pages I was able to see fabric swatches stapled onto the paper, as well as short phrases about a potential client; “She likes sleeves,” or “she lives v-necks.” With those phrases and colored fabric swatches, along with the pictures a bride collects and shares with Osburn, he is able to draft an original sketch of a bride’s dream wedding dress.
Osburn is there with his brides from conception to the final fitting. As a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, he can conceptualize the design, sketch the gown, select the materials, and complete the masterpiece by sewing with his own hands. “I don’t consider myself a designer, I consider myself an artist because I put them (gowns) all together by hand. My favorite part is sewing them together and seeing them come out the way I saw them on paper or in my head. When the seams come together and it fits, that’s the best part,” says Osburn about his process.
Everyone has a different journey to finding their dream gown, whether they work directly with a designer, work through the racks of a retail store, or alter the gown previously worn by a loved one. Every bride should feel like she is glowing in her gown. Osburn says, “A bride should be comfortable in what she likes. It doesn’t have to be the most current design. I tell all brides to go into a store and try things on, so she knows what is comfortable. It doesn’t matter what the mom says, or the bridesmaids say, or the girlfriends say, it helps if she feels comfortable in it. It’s like wearing a pair of shoes that don’t fit, it’s one of the worst feelings.”
You wouldn’t know it from his youthful look, but Osburn has been in the industry for over twenty-five years. He left Chicago and spent fourteen years in New York where he found himself learning from and working with Vera Wang, Lazaro, and Jim Hjelm. During his time in the Big Apple, Osburn designed a dress that is on permanent display at The City of New York Museum for “The History of Fashion” exhibit. He has also had well-known clients in Kenya Moore, Natalie Cole, Phyliss Hyman, Patti LaBelle, and the one who really grabbed his attention many years ago, Miss Diana Ross.
If you’re wondering what an original Bryan K. Osburn design will run you, they start at $2,500. Osburn is proud of his turnaround time, as well as his ability to work with a bride’s schedule. “I have a bride right now who I have been working with since February. She’s pregnant now, so we’re altering the design, it’s no problem at all, I do everything by hand,” says Osburn about his ability to be flexible.
Every artist/designer has a celebrity they would love to work with, regardless of their current client list or celebrities they have worked with in the past. Osburn has had an amazing career and worked with some great personalities, however he says, “Michelle Obama does not have to be the First Lady to come to me, I don’t care, I just like her because she is an inspirational person.” A statement we can all agree with.
Osburn has lived in New York, France, and North Carolina, but there is no place like Sweet Home Chicago. He has clients all over the country, but his studio is still located in Chicago. Even with all of his travels, he still finds time to wander the streets of Chicago to re-discover the city that has always been home and the birthplace of the Bryan K. Osburn Custom Collection.
Have you thought about skipping the bridal boutique for the custom dress experience? If you are looking for a custom gown, what's something unique about your gown?