When it came time for Jill Andrews to find a studio for her new business venture, the answer had been staring her in the face—literally. Andrews’ Hampden home faced the Castle at Keswick, a former police station, originally built in 1899, that was turned into office space. Andrews admits it wasn’t love at first sight. “The fireplace looked like [pink] Spam. Everything was green. There were big hideous lights. I cried,” recalls Andrews of the first time she walked around the first-floor location. It was far from the space she was imagining for her custom gown and mix-and-match bridal separates atelier, but she let her creative vision guide the renovation.
These days, her workroom is a dreamy place drenched in natural light with hardwood floors and a row of sewing machines. A work table is littered with muslin, seam rippers, and handmade fabric flowers from the century-old M&S Schmalberg in New York City. Nothing is tucked away or hidden from clients so that they can connect the dots of the whole dressmaking process. (It’s the atelier version of an open kitchen.) The sewing machines provide a pleasant buzz, but there’s something else reverberating off the walls. It’s the hum of excitement as brides come in for their fittings, their names etched on a giant chalkboard next to their appointment time. During the weeks and months needed to create a dress, the brides, moms, aunts, and grandmas become Andrews’ family. There’s always one last twirl at the final fitting, the dress zipped into a pink garment bag. It’s bittersweet saying goodbye.
Andrews grew up in Upstate New York before moving to Manhattan to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. After a stint in London, she came to Baltimore and spent 14 years making costumes for Center Stage. She opened Jill Andrews Gowns as a full-time gig in November 2009. In the 10 years since, there have been countless dresses, but Andrews remembers every one—the fabric detail, the way the sleeves lay, the grommet and lace closure, the bustle, the couple’s story. Her dresses have been worn in Paris, Santa Fe, Germany, Mexico, and, of course, Baltimore. She has transformed numerous outdated wedding dresses from mom (think oversized sleeves, heavy satin) into sleek, modern gowns for daughters. Andrews dreams in inseams, vintage lace, and silhouettes.
“Last night we had a client in here,” says Andrews, “She was saying, ‘I can’t believe you knew what I wanted even before I did.’”
That seems to be Andrews’ gift, something that is just innate. She takes her job seriously and understands the enormity of what she is creating. “The amount of trust that people put in us here, it makes your heart want to explode.”
Says Andrews, “We become part of their story.”