Fashion

Who What Wear Podcast: Monique Lhuillier

You think about this industry, and there are very few people who have created a business that’s not just viable but thriving after 10 years, after 15 years, let alone 25. So big congratulations to you. I just think about how the media has changed, how technology has changed, how the world consumes information has changed, let alone retail and distribution and sales and all of it. Can you talk a little bit about how things have evolved for your brand?

Well, back in 1996, it was a very different playing field. After graduating from fashion school at 22 years old, I got engaged, and my husband and I started looking for a wedding dress. That search led me to decide to get into the business. [My husband] had a business degree, and I said, “You know what, if we could do this together, we would go further. I can be creative, and you can take on the reins of the business side.” After designing six wedding dresses, I picked up a bridal magazine, and I looked in the ads and said, okay, so these people carry these collections, let’s call [them]. We would call each store and say, “Hi. We’re a new designer. I would love to show you the collection. How would we go about this?” They were like, “Oh, there’s a trade show coming up. You should probably get a booth there.”

So with that information, we loaded up our car in California and drove to Las Vegas because that’s where there was a big bridal convention taking place. After three days, we were ecstatic because we were officially in business. We had picked up five retail stores. On the drive back, it sunk in like, oh my god, now we need to make these dresses. When you’re young, you’re fearless. We were in love, and we were like, we can do it. The stores invited us to come every weekend to do trunk shows to show the rest of the collection and meet the brides. And that was really the very beginning of our brand. We did not have a business plan; we were just going with it.

After doing that for three years, I knew something was clicking because people were starting to say my name right. I never changed my aesthetic. I wanted something that was modern, feminine, romantic, but it had a sense of tradition as well. It was all those things that I wanted when I was looking for a wedding dress. And so we went with that, and that was me being authentic, and I think that’s part of why it worked. But the thing is when you’re on the journey, you don’t think so far ahead. You’re just thinking day by day. It was so important for us to start building the right team, who, I’m so proud to say, a lot of them are still with me almost 25 years later.

At first, we started in the bridal space and only the bridal space. But after working with whites and ivories for five years, I needed color in my life, and that’s when the ready-to-wear business started. At that same time, we opened a retail store in Beverly Hills. That really was a great step for me because then, being based in California, we have stylists coming by and saying, if you can make that dress in color, I would love to put that on my celebrity client. That was the beginning of celebrity dressing for us. One of the first stylists that came up to me wanted a dress to put on Angelina Jolie, and this was back in 2001. That was the beginning of hearing our name on the carpet. Year after year, it just snowballed, and it’s been an incredible ride.

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