By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
Photos | COURTESY THE CAMPO FAMILY and GABRIELLE CAMPO HILLMAN
In the South, we hold our traditions close to the heart.
When it came time for Gabrielle Campo Hillman to get married on April 13, 2019, she already knew what dress she would wear – a hand-sewn gown first worn by her grandmother, Gayle Brack Kopelman, in 1961, and then by her mother, Tammy Kopelman Campo, in 1986.
“My mom already knew I was going to wear it,” Hillman, 28, said. “It was always discussed.”
All three wore the dress as they walked down the aisle of the same church – St. Agnes Church in Jefferson. Her great grandparents had moved into this Catholic parish in the 1940s, sent their children to school there and never left. Her grandmother was 19 when she got married. Her mom was 24, and Hillman was 28 this year on her wedding day.
Why so special
Hillman, a graduate of St. Scholastica Academy and Ole Miss, said the original dress was designed from a dress in a magazine her grandmother liked. Kopelman’s Aunt Elenor, a bridal couturiere who served tea in porcelain china cups, handmade the classic dress from satin with Alen con lace accents, but it was void of pearls and sequins, said Hillman.
When her mother, Tammy, decided to wear the dress, it had not been properly heirloomed and had partially yellowed and deteriorated on the bodice and sleeves.
“Below the bust down was never touched, but my mom removed some of the top and removed the sleeves and added see-through, puffy (popular after Princess Diana’s 1981 wedding) sleeves for her wedding,” Hillman said. “My grandmother hand-sewed 5,000 pearls on it on the lace to fill in the buds of the flowers.”
After her 1986 wedding, her mom had it heirloomed and stored it at her house, Hillman said.
“I never saw it but knew I was going to wear this dress,” Hillman said. “I guess because my great aunt made it for my grandmother, and my mom wore it. How could you not?”
Back to original form
Hillman, who is larger in stature than her mother, said when she tried on the dress, she unboxed it at her great grandmother Herminie Simon Brack’s Jefferson house with her grandmother Gayle, her mother and sister present. Maw Maw, 97, has lived in the house with her sister, Maude ever since her husband, Prudent Brack (Aunt Elenor’s brother) built it in the 1940s. It is where they raised Gayle and three other children: Don, Barry and Mike Brack.
It had yellowed and had to be slightly altered to fit Hillman. She said the restorer removed a giant satin bow on the back and used it as bodice inserts. She also removed her mother’s “puffy- sleeves” addition and restored the sleeves to their original long-sleeve, lace-style worn by her grandmother.
The dress also was cleaned to revive its whiteness, something they didn’t know was possible.
“It was fun watching the progress of the dress restoration,” she said. “The original scalloped lace neckline remained,” she said. “The length of the dress was perfect without (high-heeled) shoes, so it worked perfectly for me because I don’t like heels.”
When she walked down the aisle, Hillman said many in attendance remembered the dress, and others couldn’t wait to see it. She was wearing her in-laws’ wedding garter underneath.
“My great grandmother, who doesn’t move around a lot, was breaking her neck to see me come down the aisle,” Hillman said. “Everybody commented on how great the dress was, and what a cool story.” (She had information about the generations wearing the dress in her wedding program.)
“The beauty of the dress is that it came full-circle (back to its original form),” she said. ”It’s almost the same style when my grandmother wore it and the sentiment of the dress that each of us walked down the same aisle (at St. Agnes).”
Starting a new tradition, a friend’s daughter, Eleanor Killens, wore a vintage dress as a flower girl that Hillman had worn in 1992.
Father Beau Charbonnet, pastor at St. Angela Merici and formerly chaplain at St. Scholastica where Hillman first met him, was the wedding celebrant.
Hillman’s husband, Ty, formerly a Methodist, went through RCIA at St. Angela to become Catholic during their engagement.
“When we started dating, he started coming to church with me, and he did some research on his own,” Hillman said. “When he started going to RCIA, things became clearer to him and it started some interesting conversations between us.”
Her closeness to her mother’s family resulted in Hillman buying her first home around the corner from her great grandmother; and her second home with her new husband nearby.
She carried her great grandmother’s light blue rosary in her bouquet down the aisle.
“I knew I wanted to carry it; my mom suggested it,” she said.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.