When the dress fits

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When it came time to plan her own wedding in 1996, Monique Lhuillier was looking for a wedding dress that felt timeless and romantic but had a modern twist to it. And when she found the range available in the market to be limited, it made her planning process far from easy. Sharon Carvalho speaks to the iconic wedding gown designer to find out what her process is, where she draws inspiration from and brides through the years

How did it all begin?
Post the difficulty I faced in finding a wedding dress to fulfill my bridal tastes, I debuted my first bridal collection to a few retailers and magazine editors. Now, almost 20 years later, we have expanded into ready-to-wear, tabletop, shoes, handbags and fine jewellery.

Describe the woman you design for?
The Monique Lhuillier woman is sophisticated and passionate in everything she does. She appreciates unique designs that are feminine, whimsical and well crafted.

What is your design process?
The process for me is very visual. It starts from a single piece of inspiration; whether it is a beautiful fabric, inspiring art or a bold colour. I also have to take into account the season we are designing into. Spring for me is more carefree and about crisp colors, whereas Fall is about layers and rich hues. In addition to sketching, I drape fabric on a bust form and cut muslin on body. I am very hands-on when it comes to designing. I take pride in our luxurious fabrications and the meticulous attention to detail that goes into constructing every garment we locally produce in Los Angeles. Being a part of that entire process is something I know to be unique, but it is extremely important to me that a woman feels beautiful inside and out when wearing my collection.

Where do you draw inspiration? How does that find its way to the final design?
Art, travel, architecture are such a huge part of my life and are infused into every garment. The creative process can only start from something that visually inspires me. Every season I push myself and try to evolve the collection. Additionally, when I design I keep a women’s lifestyle in mind. I want her to feel beautiful and special yet comfortable when she is wearing a piece from my collection.

How has your background and your experiences shaped you?
Fashion has been part of my life ever since I was a little girl. Growing up in the Philippines, my mother was my first source of style inspiration. She was the epitome of elegance and beauty, and I was constantly in awe of her fashion sense. My father is a successful businessman, and I have always admired his strong work ethic. His diligence sparked my entrepreneurial side and helped me to establish a foundation for my business. In my early teens, I would shop for clothes and reconfigure them to my own style. I attended high school in Switzerland where I had my first exposure to designer brands. This childhood helped me fuel my dream to become a fashion designer. I chose to move to Los Angeles since my three siblings were in university there and attended the prestigious Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising.

THIS CHILDHOOD HELPED ME FUEL MY DREAM TO BECOME A FASHION DESIGNER. I CHOSE TO MOVE TO LOS ANGELES SINCE MY THREE SIBLINGS WERE IN UNIVERSITY THERE AND ATTENDED THE PRESTIGIOUS FASHION INSTITUTE FOR DESIGN AND MERCHANDISING.

Bridal wear has transformed tremendously over the decades. What are your thoughts on how it has changed?
Brides today are walking down the aisle in more fashion forward silhouettes and they aren’t afraid to take a risk. Recently I’ve been designing dresses in colour and dresses with illusion cutouts and plunging backs. I have also started my ‘Ready-to- Wed’ line, which offers short dresses and two-piece ensembles for a more casual bride or as a second reception dress. Brides are definitely looking to express their individual style.

What is your favourite aspect of F/W15 trends?
I love the sultriness of fall and the bold colors. My RTW collection plays on the juxtaposition of masculine and feminine; with fluid silhouettes contrasted by modern, structured shoulders and tailoring. The collection is saturated with rich jewel tones – emerald, cobalt, deep violet and teal – and black is replaced by plum and midnight to create a glamorous mystique. Fall also marks the launch of my accessories collection. Sandals, boots, booties and pumps are cut to flatter in rich leathers and textiles with sculptural metal detailing. The collection is inspired by gemstones, faceted minaudières in metal and Lucite with caged crystal hardware, which accent a versatile capsule of clutches that iclude fur, embroidery and leather.

What advice would you give to young designers?
Trust your gut and work hard. Nothing in life is easy!

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