VINELAND - Dressmaker Jessie Buckmon has made gowns for some of the world's richest women in Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
She uses the skills she honed in the Middle East to fulfill her customers' dreams of princess weddings and memorable proms in South Jersey.
"So many brides have trouble finding the right dress. They come here and I help them put it together. When they come here, their anxiety is released," she said. "I want you to have peace of mind and be able to sleep at night."
Buckmon, 53, owns Jessie's Bridal Shop on East Landis Avenue in Vineland. A native of the Philippines, Buckmon started her Vineland business in 1997 with $500 - and lots of courage, she said.
"I only had 12 dresses hanging on a rack. People would say, 'What kind of bridal shop is this?'" she remembered.
She used the dresses as samples to show what custom gowns she could make for her first customers. Word spread quickly, she said.
Buckmon grew up the daughter of a dressmaker in the Philippines, where she learned to sew at an early age.
"I was 3 years old and knew how to use scissors. Then I cut the curtains on the wall and my sister's hair," she said.
Today, her daughter, Joan Tan, also is a dressmaker at the shop.
Buckmon attended a fashion-design school in Manila before moving to the Middle East. Her wealthy clients splurged on lavish dresses for their young daughters to wear around the home.
"Under their burkas, they were dressed in the finest clothes and jewelry, and beautiful makeup," she said.
Buckmon said the living conditions in Saudi Arabia were oppressive for women, so she returned to Manila to continue her education. She moved to the United States in 1992, settling in Franklinville before moving to Vineland to open a formal dress shop.
"She moved to Vineland because she thought it was the city," her husband, John Buckmon, joked.
The shop also caters to men, with tuxedos for every occasion. And it provides alterations for casual clothing to formal wear.
"I'm a dressmaker, not a seamstress. When I do alterations, I start with the original pattern. When they get it back, it looks like they bought it that way," she said.
Her enthusiasm for her work is infectious.
Christine Lanning, of Pittsgrove Township, stopped by the store to pick up some clothes she'd had hemmed. Buckmon made a dress for Lanning's 2008 wedding in Jamaica. No other store could guarantee a fitted dress in the two weeks before her impromptu Caribbean wedding, she said.
"With Jessie it was a breeze. I had a Cinderella dress. It was very pretty. Everyone at the resort commented on it," she said. "It was perfect."
One of Buckmon's latest creations was a handmade formal gown in the beaded style of her native Philippines for a customer's 50th wedding anniversary. It's a dress former leader Imelda Marcos would be comfortable wearing, she said.
To help find the perfect dress, Buckmon will sketch in pencil what style and design each bride wants. She works quickly, drawing elegant flowing gowns with the precision of an animation artist.
Buckmon said she always liked the Bible verse from Matthew: Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry for itself. But she only fully understood it after applying her craft with diligence for years and finding her hard work paying off with repeat business and referrals.
"My best work today will bring me tomorrow's customer," she said.
Contact Michael Miller:
Location: 538 E. Landis Ave., Vineland
Owner: Jessie Buckmon, Vineland