Justina McCaffrey, a haute couture designer, is a vocal promoter of the Catholic idea of the feminine genius in the fashion industry, and insists that the clothes a woman wears can reflect or deflect her dignity, especially on her wedding day.
In this interview with ZENIT, McCaffrey spoke about what she thinks is wrong with the wedding industry and the understanding of the role of faith and feminine dignity in the celebration of marriage.
Q: What do you consider to be the core values of your company, Justina McCaffrey Haute Couture? Have time and experience changed these?
McCaffrey: In the early days, I certainly saw in our work the importance of beauty and contributing to true everlasting love, while also recognizing that my little company was preparing a woman to enter into a sacrament.
Beyond this, however, it used to be that the focus was just "go, go, go, and get it done fast." We were so plagued with wedding dates and fabric delays that we didn't really have time to consider other values.
As our company has matured, other values are coming into focus.
A few months ago […] there were a number of issues confronting our growing company. We needed a new place to house our manufacturing, we were unhappy with the current administrative work force wishing to work for our company, namely, very inexperienced youth with a strong sense of entitlement; and our current seamstresses were getting older.
The answer […] was to open a facility that celebrates womanhood.
This facility would house pregnant, abused and other victimized young girls between the ages of 14 and 25, living in a simple format like religious life, including poverty, chastity and obedience, to break away from the manipulations of pop culture.
These young girls would participate in light sewing and assist the more mature seamstresses.
This has become my dream, and presently we are looking for an abandoned convent in Quebec to house this kind of factory.
Q: A quick look at your Web site reveals a hint of your Catholic faith, with names of dress collections such as Stabat Mater, Revelations, Luminous, Transfigured, etc. How has your faith affected your work?
McCaffrey: My faith has given me the opportunity to not get caught up with the glamour of fashion.
My goal is not to dress every Paris Hilton, nor is it to put my name on everything that we see. My goal is to enhance the dignity of women.
I am very vocal about this difference between me and other fashion designers; I still believe that people need continual education about the dignity of being a woman and how this plays out in the clothes we wear.
Q: What kind of woman is drawn to your dresses?
McCaffrey: Traditionally, I design for the woman in love, embodying the idea of love without counting the cost.
I tend to a more romantic approach of draping fabric and choosing lace. As a result, people find in my designs something that is beautiful, that uplifts them, delights them and appeals to something that is forgotten -- the beauty of womanhood.
People are shocked that they love the beauty without the sexuality. This beauty takes them into another world. The rest of the world needs sexuality to sell anything. With my dresses there are no gimmicks, just beautiful dresses.
I think the vanity of the industry enters in when a bride is drawn in by all of the commercial ideals.
It is very important for a bride to be beautiful, but my idea of beauty is a natural idea of beauty, rather than the typical bridal beauty of scary makeup, fake nails, and lots and lots of jewels.
I don't think all that is necessary. It is, in fact, distracting from the true beauty of a woman.
Q: If you could change one thing about the fashion or wedding industry, what would it be?
McCaffrey: I would change the ultraconsumerism that is usually associated with the wedding industry. Cheesy DJ and limo guys, all of the really bad accessories that some people think are required. These types of things, put simply, make young men and women embarrassed to get married.
It is easy for people to get distracted about what a wedding actually is -- a man and woman giving themselves entirely to each other. And for a woman, this event is a new way to live out her femininity.
A woman's body is designed to be in relationship to others, seen most clearly in her ability to have children, but also in smaller details, like the way her arms are shaped.
If you look at a man's arms held out with palms up, they are straight, but a woman's arms have a curve to them at the elbow. This curve allows her to embrace others, particularly her husband and children. A wedding is the beginning of bringing feminine gifts into their fullness.
Q: What recommendations do you make to brides planning weddings?
McCaffrey: I like beautiful weddings but there is a disturbing trend that everybody is trying to "out-sophisticate" each other.
It is sad to be at a wedding of a friend who is usually lighthearted and even funny and see her transformed into "ice queen bride."
Brides can become paranoid, planning their whole wedding with the idea of impressing their boss who is going to attend.
I think there needs to be a return to naturalness and to the importance of family in weddings. I hate when the invitations say "no" to children.
A well-planned wedding will always be beautiful if it includes grace and dignity. There is no need to include pretensions.
Q: Are there insights you have learned from your work about what it means to be a woman?
McCaffrey: Every bride I meet teaches me a little something about being a woman. Some experiences are positive and some are not.
I think the attention that I give to my retail boutiques helps me to formulate the true essence of a lady. Our motto is: Ladies Serving Ladies.
Through this statement I am able to take young girls and give them formation. I can make a place where women can serve other ladies with dignity, while also coming to the understanding of what it means to be one.
One young girl who visited my boutique said, "This store changes the way I think about everything." I think she represents many girls and women who feel that in order to get what society or her parents say is necessary, she must compromise herself as a woman because of the pressure to pursue a career and become professional, but following masculine rules.
Few women have the opportunity to understand and live what it truly means to be a feminine woman.