Many of us may remember writing notes to our idols as kids.
For some, it was the professional athletes and, for others, it was the actresses and singers. We’d check the mail for weeks after sending it, anxious for a reply. Sometimes, we’d get one—even if the handwriting did look oddly similar to one of our parents’.
For Daniel Thompson, that idol was Priscilla of Boston, an elite wedding dress designer who made her name after making Grace Kelly’s gown. In 10th grade, Thompson optimistically sent off his fan mail, proclaiming his dream to be just like her. To his surprise, he actually received an authentic reply.
“I told her that I wanted to be a bridal designer, and I asked her, ‘What should I do?’” Thompson said. “Well, I couldn’t believe it, that this star—at least to me—actually wrote back.”
Thompson, the owner of Daniel Thompson Bridals in Camp Hill, always knew he wanted to design wedding gowns. After growing up and graduating from high school in Carlisle, he took the advice Priscilla shared in her letter and headed straight for New York City to attend design school.
In New York, Thompson went to Traphagen School of Fashion, a private school that allowed him to concentrate on bridal design his entire time there.
After completing his design courses in 1976, he decided to reach out to his pen pal Priscilla again to thank her again for the words of encouragement she gave to him five years prior—and, of course, to let her know he was on the job market.
“She called me,” he said. “She said, ‘I want to meet you. So, I want you to come to my showroom in New York and show me your portfolio.’”
Thompson did exactly that, and the designer told him that, if he were willing to move to Boston, he’d have a job. He was there less than a week later.
“At the time, [Priscilla] was at the top of the industry,” Thompson said. “I mean, you just couldn’t get any higher than her. I was very lucky.”
After working for Priscilla of Boston for a few years, Thompson was homesick for New York. So, he made his way back and worked for several other companies for about eight years, until he decided to go off on his own. He stayed in the city for a while but eventually returned to Pennsylvania to be closer to family.
Along with the flexibility and freedom that comes with working for yourself, Thompson said he enjoys the human interaction he missed out on in past positions.
“I didn’t have any one-on-one interaction with the brides because I was stuck in the design room,” he said. “And I really like working with the customers.”
When Thompson says “personal service,” he means precisely that.
He specializes in creating a unique experience for each bride, offering individual attention to his clients. Brides who visit his Camp Hill store, which he opened last September, will enjoy private meetings throughout the design process, as well as other couture perks.
Everything in Thompson’s extravagant shop was made by his hands with extraordinary care. Though there are around 75 dresses already on the racks at the boutique, brides can come in with their own ideas for a custom gown. Or they can start with a dress from the rack, then request alterations based on their preferences.
“I’ll adapt dresses,” he said. “Sometimes, I’ll put one dress on her because the top is right, then I’ll put another dress over that because the skirt is right. We really create the perfect dress right on her.”
After settling on the general style of the dress, Thompson and the bride discuss fabrics, lace, beading, trains and any other specific feature.
Before making the gown, he creates a mock-up of the dress in muslin fabric, an inexpensive material. This helps the bride see the shape of the dress in person, as well as try it on. Thompson will then make any necessary nips and tucks on the muslin, as well.
“So, we do this wonderful muslin fitting first, which is very couture,” Thompson said. “It’s not what you’ll get at a bridal shop. It’s very, very special.”
The muslin stage allows brides to make changes after seeing Thompson’s designs come to life. They may decide they actually want longer or shorter sleeves, a different neckline, fewer cut-outs or other attributes. So, Thompson can make these adjustments right on the muslin or create a new one, if needed.
Once the muslin fits perfectly and looks just right, he’ll proceed to creating the actual wedding dress. This typically happens in several stages. For example, he may perfect the top of the gown first so the bride can try it on with several different skirt options to decide which is best.
As part of the individualized experience, Thompson will make any alterations to the completed dress free of charge to ensure a perfect fit for the big day. He said it’s not unusual to meet with a bride between eight and 10 times from start to finish.
“It’s very personalized,” he said. “When I’m with a bride, no one else comes in to shop or look around.”
This high-end, tailored atmosphere aligns perfectly with Thompson’s motto, which he proudly displays in the store: “It’s All About the Bride.”
While having more time is always better, Thompson said six months to a year is the average lead time he recommends brides follow for a custom-made dress. Prices typically range from $2,000 to $2,500.
In addition to wedding gowns, Thompson can create “anything fancy”—from bat mitzvah dresses to elegant gowns for mothers of the bride, flower girls, first communion, “sweet sixteen” or even just evening wear.
Whatever the occasion, there’s one common element—Thompson’s undivided attention and expertise.
“I like the personal service very much,” he said. “And, in this industry, that’s important.”
Daniel Thompson Bridals is located at 2133 Market St., 2nd Floor, Camp Hill. Call 717-525-9920 for an appointment.