Maria Antonieta Couture, Portland

Posted on December 3, 2012
By Mara Higgins

Specialization: Couture dresses and gowns for weddings, special parties, and events
Most Coveted Items: Ruffled back wedding gown, Queen Anne's collared skirt suit, black wool cocktail dress
Decor: Combination of a warm and inviting atelier with an upscale boutique
Notable Brands: Maria Antonieta—designed, created, and sewn by Maria herself
Hours of Operation: Monday–Friday: 11 a.m.–5 p.m., Saturday: 12 p.m.–5 p.m.

When one casually mentions the names Balenciaga, Valentino, and Chanel, you know this person is incredibly passionate about fashion. Who knew we had our very own version of Diane von Furstenberg, designing, creating, and manufacturing dresses right here in Maine?

Maria Antonieta has known she wanted to be in fashion since the age of 11. At 20, she began sewing professionally and hasn't looked back since. I recently had the pleasure of visiting her atelier on Free Street in Portland. Rather than browse her creations, the majority of my time was spent listening to Antonieta's history and her passion for what she does. Honestly, I could have listened to her all day.

"Women are like diamonds with all different facets." Referring to her work as "sculpture," she shapes and creates the most beautiful outfits for each individual woman. The relationships Antonieta creates with "her girls," as she refers to them, are more than professional. She once drove to New Jersey to hand deliver a dress to a client, simply because she had to see it on her the night of the event.

Antonieta started out with only wedding gowns, but found she missed working with colors and began incorporating designs for mothers of the bride. Now she says she could never give up her "mothers." I found her designs for this generation to be striking. One of her signatures styles is a stately Queen Anne's collar. I can just envision how proud and beautiful a mother would feel wearing this style on her daughter's big day.

Flowers are bountiful on Maria's designs, and I noticed her logo represents these intricate flowers she creates by hand. She speaks of them as if they each have their own life. She lets them evolve into their own as she creates each one—almost like a mother to a child. The way she delicately handles her flowers exuded so much fervor for her art I was taken back.

As a chef is passionate about his ingredients, Antonieta is passionate about textiles. "Textile is like a second skin. It caresses your body, shapes your figure." She uses only the highest quality materials, traveling to Europe and Brazil to bring back these luxurious fabrics. I was mesmerized by a stunning wall of Italian lace in the shop, just waiting to be turned into beautiful bridal gowns.

Although only a photo on the wall, one of my favorite gowns was a ruffled low back wedding dress, pictured on a beautiful young bride. The fact that it caught my eye shows the incredible range of Maria's talents—from young to mature, contemporary to classic.

After noticing my interest in an elegant asymmetrical black cocktail dress, Maria showed me another one of her creations. This one was short, made from luxurious thick wool, with a slight dip in the neckline. Her description of her vision—a dove in flight—turned this "slight dip" into a beautiful white dove. "Fashion is a language," Maria said, and she was spot on. This dress was now speaking to me.

Before leaving, I took a peek at Maria's collection of coffee table books—all fashion-related of course. When I opened one on Geoffrey Beane, Antonieta said she felt a kinship to this fellow designer. Beane, like Antonieta, wakes up at 3 a.m. every day. Although they've never met, she felt she was a part of this inner circle, as if she knew she was born to do what she does.

I walked into Maria Antonieta's with an expectation of couture gowns, and walked out with the inspiring story behind the seams.

15 Free St. | Portland | 207.871.8200 | mariaantonietacouture.com