With Ghinda, Jennifer Kessler Puts Brides in Custom Couture

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Kessler in the Downtown studio where she makes her gowns

Jennifer Kessler is sitting cross-legged on a beanbag in her downtown Columbus studio. She's talking about her year as a child spent in the town of Ghinda in Eritrea, a small African country that sits just north of Ethiopia and west of the Red Sea.

"It just felt so free," she says. "You could go anywhere and do anything. People are so welcoming and generous to you, and they have so little. I just loved it there."

Her dad, a minister, took her family there when Kessler was 7 years old.

Now 27, she recalls feeling relaxed and accepted there. She made friends immediately, despite the language barrier.

So when she decided to start up her own couture bridal house, it wasn't hard for her to settle on a name.

Ghinda, now a two-year-old brand, is Kessler's tribute to that small African town. She creates gowns for a different kind of bride-the fun-loving bride, the bride with no inhibitions, the one who wants her dress to be unique but unfussy.

Made of metal-infused nylon, chiffon or charmeuse, the gowns are "casual but still elegant," Kessler says. "Sharp, linear, a little more artistic in some of the cuts. Comfortable and sensual."

She creates dresses from her collection, priced between $2,500 and $4,500, and custom gowns, which start at $3,500.

Kessler, an Ohio State grad, studied design during an eight-month stint at the Accademia Italianain Florence. Because of her experience there, she shies away from computers, drawing out each pattern by hand. One of her studio walls, covered in chalkboard paint, serves as a giant sketchpad.

Post-college, Kessler interned in the costume department at BalletMet and worked at Short North bridal shop Big Rock Little Rooster.

"I kind of cultivated my own education, which I think is really good," she says. "It's amazing what you learn when you're actually doing something and making mistakes."

After spotting a need for more understated bridal gowns, she started Ghinda from her parents' house in Worthington. She got a night job serving at Marcella's in the Short North.

Now, she works from a bright studio in the heart of Downtown, on Gay Street. She advertises in national bride magazines and has clients in cities from Cleveland to Boston. She has hired seamstresses to help and is booked for 2014.

Most importantly to her, though, she is thrilling her brides.

Cathlin Bully, who walked down the aisle in one of Kessler's gowns, said when the dress they were working on wasn't turning out precisely as planned, Kessler surprised her two weeks before her wedding with a brand new gown-a perfect realization of her dream dress.

"She wanted to give me the dress I always wanted," she says. "I just started to cry, because that's the kindest thing that anyone has ever done for me."

Kessler does not plan to stop here. Next on her list: expanding outside of bridal, and becoming a national brand. She dreams of dressing women like Heidi Klum and Keira Knightley.

"We want our dresses down the red carpet," she says. "By the time I'm 30, that's my goal."

In the meantime, she relishes the opportunity to recreate the essence of Ghinda in her own unique way.

"It feels so good," she says of her success. "More than anything, I just feel really grateful."