Sketch to Cake: Chantal Fairbourn’s Elie Saab Inspired Couture Wedding Cake

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We asked Chantal Fairbourn of Chantal's Cakes and Desserts (chantalscakesanddesserts.com) about her alluring wedding cake featured in Volume 7 Issue 4 of Cake Central Magazine

Chantal’s Couture Cake

inspired by Elie Saab, is a product of the combination of artistic brilliance and personal loss.  The outcome is a beautiful design to inspire cake artists as well as a touching tribute to her close friend Cassie.

Cake Photos Photos By heatherellisphotography.com


What elements of the inspiration photos attracted your attention?

I used the inspiration photo provided and others that I found researching the designer dress online. As I studied the photos and videos of the dress, I saw that the dress had 3D flowers. The petals of the flowers resemble the texture of cockle shells and some of the flowers also have additional cockle shell textured petal/leaf-like designs around them. The centers of the flowers are clear, diamond-like pearl clusters. The dress has diamond-like jewels and sequins throughout. Some of the flowers are also clear or diamond-like and they have pearl cluster centers as well. The dress has light blue elongated paisley stitching on both sides of the bodice. Gold, silver, and clear diamond-like clusters are spread randomly throughout the dress. The dress also has glittery vertical lines of stitching. I noticed the gold link belt around the waist and the basket weave texture gold headband. I incorporated many different mediums and techniques to create these details and textures in creating my design.

What was your design process like?  How did you create your cake concept?

In creating my design I thought about how I wanted to incorporate all of the elements that I saw in the dress. I thought about the techniques that I would need to use in order to re-create the elements. I wanted my cake to represent the cake a unique way. I decided to recreate the flower pattern that I saw in the center bodice of the dress just above the waist. I knew that I would need to create at least one fairly wide, extra-deep tier in order to create the flowers in a size that would show the cockle-shell like designs on the petals and the jewel-like pearl flower centers. I decided that I also wanted to incorporate the headband and belt.

How did you begin making your cake from your sketch? What were your first steps?

After creating my design sketch and acquiring the tools that I would need to create it, I began to execute my design. My first step was to color all the fondant that I would need to cover the cake dummies and the cake drum. I used computer software to match the colors from the photo to create color sample chart so that I could mix my fondant and details to match the dress as closely as possible. I hand kneaded and hand rolled almost 20 lbs of fondant to create the custom base color.

How closely do you like to work from your sketch?

My sketch is my guide; however, there are times during the process of execution that a new idea comes to mind or that I discover my design cannot be executed in the way that envisioned. Art to me is as it is defined in the dictionary; "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination...producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power." My goal is to use my skills to creatively express myself in a way I am proud of and that others can appreciate, not to follow a sketch. If changes are needed or desired, I make them.

Special Techniques & Tools

I used many special techniques on this cake. The 3D flowers in my design were cut with a six petal flower cutters in two different sizing using gray gumpaste and embossed using a shell tool. They were dried in apple carton formers and dusted with silver and gold luster dusts

Toppping It Off
I used a basket weave mold to create the headband and painted it with gold luster dust

Delicate Lines

A mixture of Mirror Glaze, silver luster dust and silver disco dust was used to pipe the vertical silver lines of glittery stitching that I saw on the cake.

Gelatin Gems

Using Marina Sousa's method to create gelatin sequins, I made hundreds in different sizes mixed with silver luster dust and silver disco dust.

Circle cutters and a Marvelous Mold's cockle shell molds were used to create the textured leaves on the sides of some of the flowers. These were also dried in apple carton formers and then dusted with silver and gold luster dusts. I piped Isomalt into a Susan Carberry's silicone pearl cluster mold to create centers for the flowers. I also piped Isomalt into Marina Sousa's Bling Squared mold to create the clear jewel looking flowers. The pearl cluster centers were attached to the silver and gold gumpaste flowers using Isomalt and a propane torch. Gray compound coating was used to attach the gumpaste flowers to the cake. The Isomalt flowers were attached to the cake using Isomalt and a propane torch.

Clair Bowman's Chantilly Lace mat and Cake Lace were used to duplicate the patches of stitching that I could see in the bodice behind the silver and gold flowers. I cut portions of the lace to use on the 2nd and 3rd tiers of my cake. These were dusted with silver and a mixture of blue luster dusts. I also cut a section of the lace that I created to represent the chain link belt that goes around the waist of the dress. I painted the belt portion with gold luster dust.

I hand rolled the elongated paisley blue stitching and embossed them with a circle tip to resemble the serger stitching that I saw on the dress.

Isomalt piped into two different sizes of jewel molds created the diamond-like jewels. I attached the jewels using Mirror Glaze.

Did you have to make changes to your original plan when it came to execution?  If so, what did you to have to compromise?

I did make changes to my original plan. I created two different types of sequins. I made some from Cake Lace mixed with silver luster dust using a sequin mat. I also made some using gelatin and silver luster dust. I created both so to see which one would give me the greatest shiny silver sparkle. The gelatin sequins turned out the best so I decided to use them. I made hundreds of them prior to executing the cake. When it came time to place them on my cake though, I had difficulty getting them to. I tried water, sugar glue and gel. Consequently, I ended up not being able to use all the sequins that I would have liked to use. I posted my dilemma on a cake forum to see if someone else knew how to attach them. Those in that group had not tried making gelatin sequins. I love the way the sequins look so when I use them again, I will try using light gray compound coating to attach them to the fondant.

Were there any complications in making your cake?

There were unforeseeable complications as I created my cake. My sister-in-law, Cassie, passed away from cancer on the day that I began my work on this cake. She was just 39. I was very close to her and it is a very difficult loss for me. It is especially difficult for her husband and two young girls. This is the first time that I experienced not wanting to finish a cake. My heart was not in it. I remembered though, that my sister-in-law was one of my greatest supporters and I knew that she would want me to complete my project. In my mind, I could hear her telling me to finish it. Often times sugar artists name their cakes after clients or by theme, I decided to complete this cake in my sister-in-law's honor and I call it "Cassie."

With the culmination of stress from the loss of Cassie, this cake and an elaborate client cake, I contracted Shingles. Not only was I emotionally compromised, I was physically compromised as well. As I worked, the cake became an emotional investment as well. It was a difficult process because I thought a great deal about her and how much I am going to miss her as I worked on the cake. There were times after long hours of work during the late night/early morning hours when I really felt like I couldn't finish. And then I'd hear her in my mind, cheering me on and telling me that I could do it.

My bond with Cassie was the type of bond that you find with maybe only a few people in your lifetime. We shared common interests and personalities. It was easy for us to connect. We were committed to helping each other and bringing happiness to each other.

We shared many fun characteristics and interests but we also shared some difficult challenges. Working through these together made our relationship and love for each other stronger. She knew I had her back and I knew that she had mine.

When Cassie was well, she wanted to spend time with me as much as I wanted to spend time with her. We were comrades in the sense that we supported each other equally and consistently. She was one of my biggest cheerleaders. She cheered me on in every way. And although she's no longer physically with me, she still cheers me on.

I will cherish my memories of Cassie and the sweet way that she loved me and my family.