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
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