Real Talk: Philly Bridal Designer Jovan O’Connor on What She’ll Wear to Her Wedding

She'll don two of her own handmade gowns on September 1st.

Jovan O'Connor

Designer Jovan O’Connor and Kevin Keller will be wed on September 1st. / Photograph courtesy Jovan O’Connor

Your attire is one of the most memorable parts of your wedding, so it’s only natural that many marriers choose to imbue it with a personal touch, whether they design it themselves to honor a loved one or go all in with a particular theme. In Jovan O’Connor’s case, the East Falls-based designer decided to create her own entirely — it’s what she calls the grand finale to her fashion show — and she’ll debut them (yes, more than one) in just a few days, when she marries Kevin Keller on September 1st at Morris Arboretum. If you’re looking for more fashion, click here to get your copy of the summer/fall issue of Philadelphia Wedding featuring her Flora gown (below), and stay tuned for more in coming weeks. But for now, her story.

This story is part of Philadelphia Wedding’s ongoing Real Talk series, in which real Philly couples share their unique approaches to wedding planning and marriage. If you have a unique story or experience worth sharing, we’d love to hear about it.

Jovan O'Connor

Flora gown by Jovan O’Connor; jewelry by Bernie Robbins Jewelers; shoes by Manolo Blahnik, available at Neiman Marcus (King of Prussia) / Photograph by Charlie Wrzesniewski; styling by Lauren Kozakiewicz; hair and makeup by Alayna Rakes for FACE Atelier; modeling by A’maya Lynne for Elite Model Management; shot on location at Lokal Hotel (Old City)

I got back into bridal design after getting engaged in July 2020. I incorporated my business in 2011, but I was already custom designing — Patti LaBelle was my first custom client — for years before. I created pieces for big events like birthdays, prom, vacations and weddings as well. I also worked as a seamstress in Ardmore. But getting engaged inspired my bridal collection. Bridal is one of the sectors of fashion that’s still valued, where people don’t mind investing in a piece they’ll only wear once because it still has significance for them.

My current collection has 10 pieces, but it’s growing. My [ceremony] dress will be part of this collection, which I showed during Philly Fashion Week in September 2021. It’s like the finale I didn’t show. Kevin was helping me during that event, sewing on buttons when we were getting ready, and I obviously didn’t want him to see what my dress would look like.

My wedding venue definitely influenced the style of my ceremony dress. It took me a while to start my dress because I wanted it to fit the venue, and I didn’t initially realize I was a “garden girl.” I walk by gardens and flowers and take pictures of their blooms. I thought: “You’re not a ballroom girl, or a rooftop girl. You might be a vineyard girl, but you’re probably a garden girl.” Once I figured that out, I started reaching out to garden venues. We wanted an outdoor space so people could have fresh air. I wanted a more warm aesthetic with summer blossoms all around. I wanted bright, vivid colors — orchids, lavender.

I’m doing more than one gown. I’ll have a look for the garden ceremony and one for the evening reception. The first is avant-garde bridal, not the kind you would typically see in a garden ceremony because we’re already surrounded by flowers. I went with a traditional ivory, and it’s made of silk taffeta with some architectural elements. But it also relates to our surroundings, which is nature — flowers, birds. The elements are in the dress without it being literally a floral lace. It’s also inspired by a prom dress that my grandmother and her cousin made for my sister in the 1980s. It’s a modern evolution.

Photographs courtesy Jovan O’Connor

Photograph courtesy Jovan O’Connor

My second dress has some sparkle and shimmer. I selected a fabric that would play off the lighting and the tent decor, the cascading fabric. So it’s a nod to that. It reflects where we’ll be getting married.

I might have a bonus dress. Morris Arboretum has so many opportunities for beautiful photos. There’s another dress I may or may not wear, but I feel like I do want to wear it to maybe take photos in the Rose Garden. I didn’t design this dress, but I’d wear it with a handmade veil that I created. Maybe it’ll be my first look.

The biggest challenge for me was figuring out the type of dress I wanted. I wanted to make sure that I stayed true to who I am and my aesthetic as a designer. I didn’t want to be swayed by the trendiness of it all. I also wanted my dress to stand out as a classic piece — something anyone could see and say, “Wow, I love that dress now. Can you still make it?” And the answer is yes.

I never dreamed about my wedding. I dreamed about my career, but not my wedding. It was always just a blank because that depends on who I marry. But I knew my shoes — Jimmy Choo. I also wanted to incorporate women-led vendors, including Petronella Photography, DNA Floral, Wild Stems, Power Events, Two Ladies Bakery, Aijee Cello and DJ Lady FX.

Jovan O'Connor

Photographs courtesy Jovan O’Connor

I helped Kevin pick out his look from The Black Tux. Our photographer recommended them. I knew we wanted his outfit to be navy. But when he was at the store trying his look on, I missed his call, so I haven’t seen it! Maybe it’s his reveal moment.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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