The MoBster Diaries

Friday, November 30, 2007

God Bless Anne Barge!

Yesterday, I got a call from Darcy at Anne Barge Atelier (or, for hicks like me: the wedding dress gettin' place). She called to give me the final cost for "The Dress," with the design changes, etc., we determined last week. I held my breath. "Oh, Geez. Brace yourself, Kid!" I said to myself. Actually, it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to interview Anne for our quarterly parish newsletter. I didn't know her at all, but after two minutes I felt I'd known her all my life. She is a wonderful, fun, talented lady.

And here's the article I wrote about her:

The Faith-Driven Artist: Anne Barge Clegg and the Perfect White Dress
Long before a girl starts casting around for a suitable husband or sets her heart on a style of ring, she’s designed and re-designed her wedding dress at least a hundred times. The first design is usually manufactured from her mother’s white slip and a pillowcase veil, and it only gets more elaborate from there. Yes, the husband and ring can wait, but it takes years to get the notion of the dress just right – just ask any little girl sitting wide-eyed at a wedding, any young woman leafing dreamily through a bridal magazine, or any bride standing in the doorway of the church waiting to march down the aisle. Sounds like a job for someone with a magic wand – or a creative spirit.

Meet All Saints’ parishioner Anne Barge Clegg. She’s one of the country’s top couture bridal designers and the artistic force behind Anne Barge for Brides, located just a stone’s throw from All Saints’ in the Four Seasons Hotel on 14th Street [She now has her shop on West Paces Ferry Road]. The only difference between Anne and every other little girl dreaming up the perfect dress is that she has the talent, drive, and faith to turn those fantasy wedding gowns into realities.

Anne’s journey as an artist started at an early age, and that journey was always faith-driven. Her mother was a church organist whose musical ability was put to good use at weddings in various churches around their hometown. With high hopes of pushing Anne toward a career in music, her mother brought her along to the wedding gigs. What fascinated young Anne, though, wasn’t the music – it was the wedding dresses. Week after week, wedding after wedding, she watched and studied the dresses that floated by, then went home and sketched out her own designs. It was a big dream for a little South Georgia girl, however gifted she might have been. But a supportive family and a solid Presbyterian foundation gave Anne the courage to trust God, put her talent to work, and pursue her passion. That’s where the faith part comes in.

Like any worthwhile journey Anne’s had it ups and downs, dead ends, and interesting curves. She majored in arts education at University of Georgia, continuing all the while to design wedding dresses and build a sketchbook full of ideas in her spare time. Weeks of practice-teaching and a looming graduation date (with its implied need for a “real world” job) found Anne discouraged that her bridal design dreams might not happen. But faith and fate stepped in.

Two weeks before getting her degree from UGA, Anne picked up a newspaper and saw a Regenstein’s ad featuring America’s foremost bridal designer of the time, Priscilla of Boston, and an upcoming trunk show scheduled for the store. So Anne did what any talented, faith-filled, gumption-packed Georgia girl would do. She gathered up her sketches and went to the store to see if she could meet Priscilla Kidder in person. And meet her she did. The designer pulled Anne aside, looked through her drawings, and offered her a job on the spot. Anne took her up on the offer (after picking up her UGA sheepskin) and moved to Boston.

Normally, that would be the happy-ever-after ending of a good fairytale, with Anne plunging headlong into designing wedding dresses and setting the fashion world afire. Except it didn’t happen like that. Every artist worth her salt knows that things just aren’t that easy. Even though she had potential as a designer, Anne still had to face the dues-paying, craft-learning, contact-making years necessary to mold innate talent into something fine and true. Those years were spent in Boston with Priscilla and in Atlanta with Rich’s and Saks. She ran Anne Barge for Brides for 14 years as a retailer – alas, not as a designer – and catered to the likes of Lillian Cousins (Giornelli) and Florence Callaway (Holmes). She even got sidetracked selling toilets for a while, experience that would pay off later when she realized that “If I can sell something I don’t know, I can certainly sell what I do know!” In the mid-1990’s she met famed entrepreneur Richard Branson, who talked her into coming to London to help set up his branded bridal shop, Virgin Bride.

But even as she moved up through the ranks of bridal salon management, Anne still wasn’t doing her own designs exclusively – a frustrating position for a creative soul. Tired of spending so much time away from husband Terry Clegg and determined to start her own line of dresses, she said goodbye to London and came home. The biggest hurdle she faced was finding a suitable manufacturer for her creations, which required intricate vintage beading and embroidery.

“When you’re doing your passion, it works out,” says Anne, who had faith that she could find a way over the hurdle. Her faith paid off when a contact she’d made in London put her in touch with a manufacturer in China, enabling her to launch her own line from her home in Big Canoe in March 1999. After thirty years of hard work, Anne Barge became an overnight success.

In 2002, Anne and Terry were looking for a church home when friends encouraged them to try All Saints’. Struck by the diversity and friendliness of the people, the music, and the sheer beauty of the place, Anne says, “We walked into All Saints’ and never looked back.”

All Saint’s member Annie Burriss met Anne in the early 1980’s when Annie was preparing for her own wedding. Though Anne didn’t design Annie’s dress, she did step in to solve a last-minute bridesmaid dress problem and ended up orchestrating the whole wedding, pulling everything together to make it work.

“She’s very intuitive,” notes Annie, “and pays attention to whoever she’s dealing with, no matter the money or position.”

How does faith impact the creative and business elements of Anne’s work? She’s quick to provide an answer.

“I wouldn’t be in business without faith. I know what I do isn’t life or death, but to the bride it’s the most important time of her life. And I do a lot of praying for the UPS truck and on-time delivery,” she laughs. “I try to keep it all in perspective, so mainly I pray that the bride will be happy with what we’ve created for her.”

“God gave her incredible gifts,” says Annie Burriss. “She’s very humble and joyful. That’s the way she lives her life, and that’s tied to her spirituality.”

Maybe what Anne Barge Clegg does isn’t life-or-death. Maybe it’s just life. Breathing life into a little girl’s slip-and-pillowcase dream. Bringing to life a young woman’s vision of a perfect, memorable day. Giving life to an idea – which is, after all, what an inspired artist does.
Here was my tag-line. I had no idea how true this would turn out to be!
"Mary, a member of All Saints’ since 1981 and mother of 22-year-old Kate, suspects she’ll be calling on the creative force of Anne Barge Clegg within the next decade. Kate has already advised her mom to start saving for “The Dress.”

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posted by MaryB at


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