By Summer Stanley

Isn’t it so true? Women are always searching for the perfect dress — that one dress made to fit the occasion — over and over again. I’ve found myself on this exhausting hunt too many times to count, and I usually compromise with something that never feels quite like “me” or what I had in mind.

Loudoun photographer and artist Rebekah Murray has felt the same shopping frustrations and realized the perfect dress shouldn’t be so hard to find. She decided to change that for herself and so many others by venturing out into the world of fashion. Encouraged by her parents, Murray designed the Virginia Dare Dress Co. as a line of graceful and versatile dresses to bring simplistic beauty into our everyday lives and adventures.

The conservative and classy designs are meant to make customers feel both feminine and confident, providing a dependable and wearable option in contrast to the over-saturated market of “too-contemporary, shapeless and skimpy dresses we find today,” Murray explained.

There’s an obvious old-fashioned feel to the brand that gets its name from the first Englishwoman born in the Americas in the late 1500s. Virginia Dare’s life carried a spirit of optimism, as she is now considered a symbol of bravery, courage and innocence — all the inspiring qualities Murray wishes to build into her company, as a resident of the colonial history-rich Commonwealth of Virginia.

 “Camilla” is a romantic, with a floral toile pattern, sweet peplum ruffle on the sleeves and ties at the back. Photo courtesy of Virginia Dare Dress Co.

In September, Murray launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund her dream of producing the first line of dresses, which will be available in February. Within one month, she raised just under $45,000 — three-quarters of the way toward her goal of $60,000. In the coming weeks, she plans to relaunch the campaign to collect the additional pledges needed for production and fulfillment of customer pre-orders.

A few years ago, when she began her journey of launching a new business, Murray said it was quite a humbling learning process. Her grandfather, a fur designer in New York City, helped her get started by providing invaluable connections and introductions to his contacts in the garment district. Taking advice along the way, she educated herself in design, pattern making, fabric sourcing and production.

She leaned on social media with a focus group of friends and supporters to help her get to the root of what women want. Exploring shopping habits and expressing how they feel about what they’re looking for, this group has been instrumental in marketing by word-of-mouth. They have also gone above and beyond by volunteering to contact media outlets on behalf of the brand.

“Choosing to do things that feel beautiful to you can elevate your life. What we wear directly affects our experiences.”

In appreciation, Murray said she has worked hard to strengthen her relationship with that group to make the collective dream of her small and personable company a reality. Friends of the company even received surprise launch boxes in the mail this fall, and with attention to all the details Murray carefully curated contents for a special “kindred experience.”

Following the boxes was an invitation to the Virginia Dare Dress Co. launch party in October, held at Leesburg’s historic Birkby House. Murray plans to periodically host similar experience events for friends to enjoy an intimate gathering of kindred spirits, while trying on the styles in a lovely setting.

The first collection was inspired by Murray’s travels to the U.K., both personal and for her work as a wedding photographer. While in England, Scotland and Ireland, she found herself wanting to wear more dresses, whether it was sitting in a cafe or looking out the window of a passenger train, embracing the elegance of times gone by as if playing a character in a book.

“Emma” is a planner, but up for anything in a no-fuss stretch knit with elbow sleeves, pockets and scoop neck — this classic silhouette in a flattering teal green is ready to dress up or down. Photo courtesy of Virginia Dare Dress Co.

“Choosing to do things that feel beautiful to you can elevate your life,” said Murray. “What we wear directly affects our experiences.”

Perhaps dressing up proves the magic of the Secret Garden notion that positive thinking can make anything seem possible — much in the same way that a bouquet of freshly cut flowers in a room, or a croissant and coffee morning with a friend can have mood-lifting effects on the most ordinary day.

With British-sounding names, the three dresses that make up the signature collection each reflect different personalities and different sides of Murray herself. “Emma” is a planner, but up for anything in a no-fuss stretch knit with elbow sleeves, pockets and scoop neck — this classic silhouette in a flattering teal green is ready to dress up or down.

“Camilla” is a romantic, with a floral toile pattern, sweet peplum ruffle on the sleeves and ties at the back. “After all, who we want to be as a little girl is who we always want to be,” said Murray.

“Samantha” is a dreamer, a free spirit in a navy rayon-silk wrap dress and full skirt made for twirling! Dresses range from $150-$195.

As for Murray’s photographer-turned-fashion-designer life, at the end of the day it’s that natural flow of artistic expression driving the same love of creativity through each channel. “I’m tied to a certain dream of beauty,” she said. “I see it in my mind and want it to be real. I love being able to work to bring that dream to life.” ML

To view the Virginia Dare Dress Co. trailer, get updates and make a pledge on Kickstarter, visit
virginiadaredresses.com