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Dawn Smart’s Doré Designs produces about 1,200 dresses a year.

Success in the ballroom dancing world is dependent on the details. A slight misstep is the difference between champion and runner-up. That goes for the dress, too. A great ballroom dress is an attention-getting piece custom-made to fit the dancer. Doré Designs has been hand-stitching ballroom dresses for some of the most successful dancers in the world for decades.

The business got its start in the ’70s when a Cape Coral mother began stitching outfits for her son’s burgeoning dance career. It’s grown since, and now employs 23 workers on the Cape. Dawn Smart, a former dancer and dressmaker who also worked in sales for Doré, bought the company in 2007. It produces about 1,200 dresses a year, working with the elite in the ballroom community.

Each dress starts with a sketch that then is crafted by hand on mannequins, fitting the exact dimensions of the models. Velvets and other fabrics are often imported from Europe. Sequins and light-catching stones are applied by hand. The dazzling results of Doré’s work have been featured on shows including “America’s Got Talent” and “So You Think You Can Dance.”

The company has ventured into wedding gowns and other types of couture with varying degrees of success. But in recent years, Smart has shifted their focus back on competition dresses. “We’re dedicated to making the best dresses in the world,” she says.

The music hasn’t stopped in the ballroom dance world during the pandemic. Competitions are still happening—either virtually or socially distanced in-person. So, while business hasn’t been as robust as before, there has still been demand for new costumes.

The catch is that it’s difficult to figure where the ballroom costuming trends are headed right now. So much depends on what’s being worn on the red carpet, but with the fashion world currently on hold, it becomes tricky to predict what will be in demand in the months to come. “We’re staying the course,” Smart says. “I imagine we won’t be doing anything crazy right now.”


Photos by Vanessa Rogers

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