Reimagining the Past for the Future

TVT_5360Across the street from Locust Grove, one of Louisville’s favorite historic landmarks and a place you’ll often catch a wedding on a balmy summer day, is an unassuming house at the end of a cul-de-sac. Here is another place where history and all its fruits are admired on a regular basis – where brides converge for their own little piece of magic.

After all, there is indeed something magical about the past. And for Cecilia Hardin, one of the city’s best tailors and designers, the past has proved to be a seemingly eternal place to pursue her craft. While most brides in the city will choose a new dress for the big day, the practice of finding and altering vintage dresses, especially ones already in the family, is as popular as ever. For Hardin, who has spent the last 40 years working with fabrics and textiles, this has been a continuous boon – a chance for her to work with spectacular dresses, some over 100 years old, and finding a stylish, and up-to-date look for them while preserving their vintage beauty.

“The dresses [I work with] are from the 1920s, 1930s, from the Edwardian and Victorian times,” explains Hardin. “It’s really fun because I get my hands on some of the most exquisite things. The other thing I can say, and I probably say this all the time, I’m working with people at a happy time in their life, so it’s a happy job. And each project is different. And each woman is different. That’s the fun of it.”

TVT_5367Unlike most jobs, Hardin’s occupation involves working with people planning one of the happiest days of their lives, and that’s something that has kept her coming back to it every day.

“You have a different relationship with your brides because of that, ” adds Hardin. “Because often in this room, the grandmother and mother are sitting here. There may be a sister who’s worn the dress. And I’m seeing pictures of these gals, you know, from years ago in the dress. And now we’re sitting here talking to this new bride, and she has this romantic idea of continuing the legacy, but maybe she doesn’t want it to look just like granny’s dress. Sometimes, the question becomes not if a girl’s going to wear the gown, but rather will mother or grandmother let go of it enough that we can change it without too many tears or too many memories being cut off.”

And for Hardin, nothing is more delightful than the actual process of sitting down and getting to know intimately each family she is working with.

“Sometimes I make a sketch of where we think we’re going with the dress, but sometimes, you know, the dress has other ideas or the bride changes as she gets a little further along into it. But it’s one of those type of jobs where I do get to work closely with the family and the bride. And I get to know them really well, and I love to offer things like sewing a little pocket into the dress and they can have a charm or a family member’s ring or a little note from the groom or something sweet that can be stitched into the skirt of the dress somewhere, which is fun.”

Right now Hardin is busying herself by finishing dresses for the coming season as well as catching up on the mountain of alterations she has for other clients and bridal stores, work for which she’s exceedingly grateful. Although it’s a heavy workload, Hardin wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s able to practice something she’s great at, and, better yet, she’s upholding a family tradition.

“My grandmother was a quilter. My aunt, my mother was a fabulous tailor and dressmaker and so I just, I grew up on it as something that I had an affection for. I’m a person who’s been able to love her job all these years,” concludes Hardin. “And my brides are so sweet and they’re so supportive and they send me pictures and they send me little notes that say ‘and this would be my advice to the other girls.’”

When she has time, Hardin unwinds at the back of her garden in a shed that’s dedicated to her passion of oil painting and sketching dresses that she has dreamt up. She hopes to one day turn her intricate sketches into a coffee table book.

“I’m hoping I really will be able to go forward with a lot more of the sketches, you know, the oil paintings, and really put a collection together….”

Whatever Hardin does going forward, it will still involve looking back at the past in admiration, and the result will be dazzling. VT