Leiren Designs celebrates life and love

Custom wedding designs to honor your heritage and special day

Leiren Designs

Leiren Designs takes much of its inspiration from Nordic folklore and the beauty of the northern landscape. For Madison Leiren, there is a “great echo” between Norway and the Pacific Northwest, with the dramatic scenery and a strong an appreciation of the nature.

The Norwegian American

For Madison Leiren, Norwegian heritage is more than just her family history: it is at the core of who she is. For several years now, she has been the creative force behind Leiren Designs with its

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Glittering sequins and beads add texture and drama to a gown.

Nordic-inspired fashions. During the pandemic, she founded Norse Mask, and she also serves as the advertising and marketing manager for The Norwegian American.

It’s a busy life for Leiren, but it is one full of inspiration. And when we decided to publish a special wedding issue, she approached it with great enthusiasm, with custom bridal design an important part of her business.

“Weddings are such a significant time in any person’s life,” says Leiren, “It’s a bit of an exclamation mark in the story of your life, and it’s a time to incorporate heritage, and tradition.” By reflecting on their culture, a couple can better understand who they are and who they will be together going forth.  Leiren works with

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The setting for wedding photos may play a role in shaping a design. Here a couple celebrates their big day in the Scottish highlands.

her clients to help them create a visual representation of their identity for their special day.

For Lerien, Nordic design is closely connected to the beauty found in the nature she knows from Norway and her native Pacific Northwest. She takes inspiration from the trees and flowers, flowing blue waters and the fresh white snow of the northern landscape. It is reflected in the laces, crystals, and rhinestones in her bridal creations.

She also makes use of very traditional Norwegian design elements. She orders pewter clasps and buttons for her men’s wear to give the garments a sense of authenticity and quality. The silhouettes she creates for her men’s wear is reminiscent of traditional bunads, and all her garments—for both men and women—incorporate a large amount of hand sewing. One technique she employs is tatting, a type of needlework that creates round lace-like pieces to adorn the garments. It’s a craft that she learned from her Norwegian farmor, who learned it back home in Norway.

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Custom designs are created to realize each bride’s own personal vision..

But Leiren Designs not only looks to the past; it also takes cues from what is going in Norwegian bridal fashion today. Leiren loves how Norwegian designers fuse traditional and modern elements in their wedding dresses. 

“You’ll see things like sølje jewelry and bridal crowns taken from the traditional bunads,” she says, “but they are put into a new context.” Hairstyles, too, are very modern, as opposed to the traditional braids of the past. “The look is younger, fresher,” she says.

In the same way, there is a lot in Leiren’s work that cannot be described as traditional. In contrast to the structured bunad silhouette or the strictly tailored >wedding gowns our mothers wore, the lines are often flowing to create much more freedom of movement. And in keeping with the times, the old concepts of modesty are out the window. “It is only natural that fashion evolves with time,” says Leiren, who is creating fashion for the contemporary

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Men’s wedding vests take their cues from the traditional bunad.

woman. “I see wedding designers who create much sexier dresses,” she says. Some cultures require more modesty than others with higher necklines and sleeves, but in the end, “It’s about what the bride wants, how their individual aesthetic will resonate in her creation.”

Most clients hear about Leiren Designs by word of mouth, or they find her on social media or her website, which is filled with vibrant images from photo shoots in various locations, both indoors and outdoors. When they come to her, they already have a certain connection to her aesthetic and some idea of what they are looking for. It’s then her job as the designer to piece together the information they provide and weave it into design that will enhance their vision.

The process starts with a consultation, where designer and client discuss how everything will come together from an architectural perspective. They also talk about the wedding venue, the setting where the dress will be worn. Leiren creates a sketch, and then comes the selection of material, the fabric, laces, beads, and other details. She presents the client with samples to touch and feel and discusses why they are the best options.

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Tradition and modern elements fuse in many of Madison Leiren’s Nordic-inspired designs.

This is where Leiren’s training and experience come into play, with her understanding the practical details of materials and garment construction. With years of experience with dealing with dresses, body shapes, and knowing what work to enhance natural beauty. In the end, it’s a relationship of mutual respect and trust.

“It’s about working with the bride to figure out what design elements will give her the look she wants, how it will translate into a beautiful dress,” says Leiren.

Another aspect of Leiren’s business is working with vintage garments and alterations for the bride who wants to wear an heirloom piece that has been handed down. It is not only about making the dress fit. Sometimes she will change out the sleeves to update the look of the dress, or she will take lace from an old dress and put onto another to keep the connection with the past.

And then, of course, there is what goes under a wedding dress. Leiren has a background in lingerie design and incorporates her knowledge there into the design and construction of her garments. She points out that one of the advantages of the custom wedding dress design is that undergarments are often actually sewn into a dress to make it fit on the body better. But she also offers a line of lingerie items to make a couple’s wedding night a little extra fun and special.

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Many grooms opt for a fun bow tie to spruce themselves up for the big day.

In some cases, Leiren has even worked on designs inspired by cultures outside of the Nordic realm, which can present a special challenge, requiring more research on the culture, design traditions, and materials. She has worked with couples from India, and even designed dresses for a fiesta de quinceañera, the celebrations of s girl’s 15th birthday in Latino cultures. For the designer, they have been educational and enriching experiences.

The end-to-end process for any given design can take several months, from initial consultation, ordering of materials, sewing time, to a final fitting, so Leiren recommends that brides start planning well in advance of the big day, with a nine-month time frame optimal.  Most custom wedding dresses start at about $1,500, so budget-planning is also important. Ordering a custom bridal gown is an important investment, not only because you want your wedding day to be special, but because you may also want to hand down your dress for future generations.

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Creating a beautiful bridal gown and wedding is the sum of months of planning and coordination, harmonizing a host of details, including the bridal gown, the setting, and the floral arrangements.

And custom wedding attire does not stop with the bride. Leiren can also design clothing for grooms and the entire wedding party.  She has sewn up to eight bridesmaid dresses for one wedding, and grooms often come to her looking for something fun to enhance their traditional wedding wear. They are often looking for a fun bow tie or smaller detail to bring out their personality to spruce up their groomsmen.

And then there is the pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on couples’ plans and the entire wedding industry. For a while, most wedding plans were put on hold and supply chains were often interrupted. Leiren pivoted to making masks, at times having to purchase sheets for the high-quality cotton she needed for them. But things are gradually returning to normal, as couples continue to get married. 

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A formal wedding venue lends itself to more formal design concepts for maximum effect.

“I think that brides have really been doing a great job of sticking to what they want their day to be. They are still treating themselves to that special dress or that flavor of cake or whatever they envisioned for their day,” says Leiren. “Some people now get ‘legalled’ at the courthouse and are planning for their bigger dream wedding in a few years, or they have a smaller ceremony with their families. It’s about flexibility and creativity.”

Leiren is now busier than ever and has added special masks to her bridal selections, as she adapts to new wedding trends dictated by the pandemic. With outdoor venues and scaled-down events, she has adjusted her designs to suit them. Elopements are also popular, requiring a different set of clothes. One popular trend right now is the new concept of bridal separates. A bride might wear a body suit top with a grand skirt for a formal ceremony and photo shoot, and then switch things out to a comfortable flowing skirt for a reception of going away on their honeymoon.

But in the end, for Leiren, getting married is about more than a wedding flight of fantasy. 

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Chiffon skirts with flowing lines create a sense of the ethereal.

“I feel as if what the wedding day should be about is celebrating two unique individuals who have decided to stick together, no matter what comes their way,” she says, “and this is something worth celebrating in a memorable way. “It is, in and of itself, such an honorable decision, a beautiful sacrifice and commitment … that you are willing, come hell or high water, to connect and carry on together.” 

Now during the pandemic, these words have more meaning than ever. As a wedding dress designer, Leiren wants to celebrate the true meaning of love. In her words, “In challenging and difficult times, it is so important to create a special day to recognize the more beautiful and delicate parts of life, the human experience that makes trudging through all of this worth it in the end.”

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All photos courtesy of Leiren Designs.

This article originally appeared in the March 12, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.