Lifting the Veil

WITH HER EPONY­MOUS BRIDAL COU­TURE BRAND NOW A GLOBAL FASH­ION AND LIFE­STYLE HOUSE, Monique Lhuil­lier TELLS Bam­bina Oli­vares Wise ABOUT HER GRAND PLANS FOR AN ASIAN EX­PAN­SION

Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

Celebrity favourite Monique Lhuil­lier talks of plans to ex­pand her la­bel in Asia

It was like the cir­cle of life. My mum had dressed me up in my child­hood; now I was dress­ing her,” says Los An­ge­les-based de­signer Monique Lhuil­lier, re­call­ing her trip back to the Philip­pines in Au­gust for her par­ents’ 50th wed­ding an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions. With her, as well as hus­band Tom Bug­bee and chil­dren Sophia and Jack, had been the gown she cre­ated for her mother Am­par­ito’s walk down the aisle in Cebu to re­new her vows with her fa­ther, Michel.

“De­sign­ing my mother’s gown for this 50th an­niver­sary is a mo­ment I will cher­ish for a lifetime,” says Lhuil­lier. “It took a year to de­sign the dress, us­ing her wed­ding gown from 50 years ago, which was still in amaz­ing shape, as the foun­da­tion. I in­stantly knew I had to use el­e­ments of it. I took the dress’s lace train and re­worked it onto a new gown I de­signed with a slim sil­hou­ette and long sleeves. The dusted gold em­broi­dery on the gown sig­ni­fied my mother’s golden an­niver­sary. She looked ab­so­lutely stun­ning and I was so proud to have been a part of this very mo­men­tous oc­ca­sion.”

Lhuil­lier, who was born in the Philip­pines, has been bring­ing such dreams to life since 1996, when she first showed her bridal col­lec­tion to re­tail­ers and mag­a­zine ed­i­tors in

FLOWER POWER From left: The Monique Lhuil­lier store on Mel­rose Place in Los An­ge­les; Lhuil­lier in her LA home

WHAT ARE YOUR IN­SPI­RA­TIONS?

the United States to much ac­claim. With her hus­band, who joined the company as CEO in 1997, she has ex­panded the Monique Lhuil­lier la­bel well beyond cou­ture bridal­wear. To­day it’s a suc­cess­ful in­ter­na­tional brand that en­com­passes fash­ion and life­style cat­e­gories.

Fash­ion ed­i­tors and re­tail­ers love Lhuil­lier, and the num­ber of A-list stars wear­ing her cre­ations dur­ing awards sea­son alone is tes­ta­ment to her en­dur­ing ap­peal. As she con­tin­ues to de­velop the brand, she sees Asia as a key part of her global strat­egy. Ex­clu­sive bou­tiques in Hong Kong, Sin­ga­pore and In­done­sia have been stock­ing her evening­wear and bridal col­lec­tions for some time. And Lhuil­lier’s de­signs are quintessen­tially Asian in the way they em­anate a fem­i­nin­ity that is both del­i­cate yet pow­er­fully as­sured.

The de­signer, who cur­rently has two stand­alone stores, one in Los An­ge­les and one in New York City, feels the time is right to es­tab­lish flag­ship stores in key Asian ci­ties to al­low cus­tomers to “ex­pe­ri­ence the world of Monique Lhuil­lier.” But as she plans fur­ther ex­pan­sion, she re­mains grounded in re­al­ity, and is ded­i­cated to her young fam­ily and phil­an­thropic ac­tiv­i­ties.

DE­SCRIBE THE WOMAN WHO WEARS YOUR DE­SIGNS.

She’s strong and makes a dif­fer­ence in ev­ery­thing she does. She’s ex­tremely pas­sion­ate, whether it’s about her fam­ily, work or style. She ap­pre­ci­ates unique de­signs that are very fem­i­nine and marked by ex­quis­ite work­man­ship and lux­u­ri­ous fab­ri­ca­tions.

DE­FINE YOUR DE­SIGN PHI­LOS­O­PHY.

To cre­ate cloth­ing that is spe­cial and makes women feel em­pow­ered. I’m in­spired by life; art, travel and ar­chi­tec­ture are huge parts of my life and are in­fused into ev­ery gar­ment. The cre­ative process can only start from some­thing that vis­ually in­spires me. When I de­sign, I keep strong women in mind. I want them to feel beau­ti­ful and glam­orous, yet com­fort­able and con­fi­dent when they are wear­ing a piece from my col­lec­tion.

WHICH FASH­ION DE­SIGN­ERS DO YOU AD­MIRE?

I love all the de­sign greats: Valentino, YSL, Christian Dior, Hu­bert de Givenchy. How­ever, more cur­rent de­sign­ers like Cé­line’s Phoebe Philo and Givenchy’s Ric­cardo Tisci have re­ally in­fused a mod­ern take on fash­ion with a very in­ter­est­ing point of view.

WHAT’S THE MOST SIG­NIF­I­CANT THING YOU’VE LEARNED ABOUT THE IN­DUS­TRY?

Fash­ion is hard work— and not as glam­orous as you think. Build­ing a suc­cess­ful fash­ion business is about the mov­ing parts that ac­tu­ally get that beau­ti­ful gar­ment into the store. It’s about the bal­ance be­tween art and com­merce.

DO YOU HAVE FAVOURITE MA­TE­RI­ALS?

There are too many to name but here are a few: ex­quis­ite laces, silk and em­broi­dered tulles, silk crepes and faille. I’m also loving new techno fab­rics.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF YOUR JOB?

See­ing my cre­ative vi­sion go from con­cept to ex­e­cu­tion is a beau­ti­ful thing. I love that I’m so in­volved with the de­sign process of all the dif­fer­ent tiers of a prod­uct. Be­ing able to de­sign not only gowns but an

HOW DID YOU GET YOUR NAME ES­TAB­LISHED?

ar­ray of cat­e­gories is an im­por­tant re­spon­si­bil­ity for me. I take my cre­ative vi­sion and brand aes­thetic and cre­ate a world of Monique Lhuil­lier prod­ucts for my cus­tomers. Hear­ing women say­ing how beau­ti­ful they feel in my de­signs is re­ally re­ward­ing. Hon­estly, it was hard work for me and my hus­band. Ev­ery­thing has been a step to tak­ing this brand to the next level. We took our time and were very pro­tec­tive of it. We were not an overnight suc­cess, as we wanted to cre­ate an in­flu­en­tial brand that cre­ates beau­ti­ful prod­ucts. Celebri­ties also helped brand aware­ness— hav­ing our de­signs on the red car­pet con­trib­uted to our early ac­com­plish­ments.

WHAT IS YOUR BIG­GEST CA­REER ACHIEVE­MENT?

There have been so many defin­ing mo­ments. Once solely a bridal company, we’ve ex­panded into fash­ion and life­style cat­e­gories, which in­clude shoes, home­ware, fine jew­ellery, light­ing, fine pa­per, a dif­fu­sion ready- to- wear col­lec­tion, a brides­maids’ col­lec­tion and a dif­fu­sion bridal col­lec­tion. One of the big­gest ac­com­plish­ments was open­ing my first store in LA. Hav­ing a place where ev­ery de­sign de­tail or prod­uct is based on your vi­sion is amaz­ing. See­ing strong, in­flu­en­tial women wear­ing my de­signs has also been such an hon­our.

IS IT DIF­FI­CULT TO WORK IN A VA­RI­ETY OF FIELDS?

Each of my dif­fer­ent prod­uct cat­e­gories feels like another job en­tirely. Con­cep­tu­al­is­ing and de­sign­ing a jew­ellery or table­top line is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from de­sign­ing a red- car­pet dress. Yes, they all start with an in­spi­ra­tion, but the prod­uct, business and time­lines are very dif­fer­ent. It def­i­nitely keeps me on my toes.

WHERE DO YOU SEE THE BUSINESS HEAD­ING?

We’d like to ex­pand in­ter­na­tion­ally. London is an im­por­tant Euro­pean hub for us, while Hong Kong could serve as an Asian flag­ship. Manila has a very per­sonal con­nec­tion for us, an ob­vi­ous place for ex­pan­sion. Th­ese three ci­ties are our next pri­or­i­ties.

HAVE YOU EVER CON­SID­ERED A DIF­FER­ENT CA­REER?

From the age of 16 I knew I’d be a de­signer. While study­ing at the Fash­ion In­sti­tute of De­sign & Mer­chan­dis­ing, an in­cli­na­tion to­wards evening­wear di­rected me to my niche. After grad­u­a­tion, my search for my own wed­ding dress led me to launch my brand, which ini­tially fo­cused on bridal.

DO YOU HAVE ANY FASH­ION DON’TS?

I think too much jew­ellery and too much make- up looks dated. Fash­ion should be ef­fort­less.

WHAT IS YOUR DREAM?

To take off for an en­tire month and sail on a yacht on the Mediter­ranean. Un­for­tu­nately my re­spon­si­bil­i­ties mean this will prob­a­bly stay just a dream.

FLY­ING THE FLAG­SHIP Above: The LA store stocks wed­ding dresses, evening gowns and ac­ces­sories; Op­po­site page: Looks from au­tumn/ win­ter 2014

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