Famous fashion designer got her start at fashion school
If you've ever driven down Santa Monica Boulevard in the heart of Beverly Hills you can't help but notice the striking collection of evening and bridal gowns in the window of Monique Lhuillier's self-titled boutique. Founded in 1996, Monique Lhuillier took the bridal industry by storm with her high fashion gowns. Her collection, which retails for $1,500 to $10,000, is sold in some of the most upscale boutiques around the world. "As a woman I'm very conscious of what looks good for different silhouettes," she says. "For bridal I'm known for using traditional fabrics with untraditional cuts." Her bridal gowns combine glamour, femininity, and modernity.
In 2001, Monique Lhuillier opened its first boutique, which sells Monique's collection and some custom offerings as well. Brides-to-be are well taken care of inside the salon. Monique has thought of every detail including tissue in the dressing rooms (for the moms who often start crying), energy bars ("Sometimes they don't eat because they want to look good when trying on the dresses," she explains), scented candles, and a VIP Room, for notables or larger groups of people.
After the success of her line and salon, Monique began designing eveningwear with the debut of her Spring 2001 collection. The sleek and sexy gowns, which retail from $1,500 to $4,000, are rich in color and style. Most of the dresses are lined in silk so they "feel like butter" on the inside. The incredibly constructed pieces use lots of lace, beading, and beautiful silk fabrics. Monique currently designs around thirty-five pieces two times a year for the eveningwear collection.
So how did this designer and entrepreneur create her empire? Monique always loved fashion while growing up in the Philippines. She attended high school in Switzerland, but was planning to move to California to attend college. "As soon as I got the catalog and video I was thinking This is for me!' I really wanted to go to design school," she explains. So in 1989, Monique enrolled in the Fashion Design program at FIDM Los Angeles and continued on for a third year to complete an Advanced Degree.
At FIDM, Monique learned more of the technical aspects of fashion. "I didn't know how to cut and sew before I came to FIDM," she explains. "I ran out to Sears and bought a Kenmore sewing machine and started." While studying, Monique knew she wanted to do wedding gowns, but wasn't sure if there was a market in the industry for her. "I didn't want to be in mass production," she says. "I wanted to be in the high-end."
After graduating, Monique took a year off to plan her own wedding and while doing so she had an epiphany. "I realized there was a huge bridal industry and that I could be a part of it." She contacted seamstresses she had worked with before and started showing her designs. Monique inquired about bridal trade shows and attended one in Las Vegas where she picked up six accounts, including the prestigious Mon Amie shop in Costa Mesa, CA. "Then I knew I was onto something," she says. A show in New York followed and then things snowballed from there.
"It went from a hobby in my house to becoming a serious business," says the young designer. Monique wanted to focus on the creative aspect and her husband, who had recently received an MBA, took over the business side. The dynamic couple has made Monique Lhuillier one of the most exciting and successful houses in the fashion industry. The company currently employs three FIDM alums.
Monique's incredible designs have been featured in W, In Style, Modern Bride and Elle and celebrities such as Janet Jackson, Meg Ryan, Mariah Carey and Angelina Jolie have all donned her gorgeous gowns. T-Boz of the singing group TLC even commissioned Monique to design her wedding dress. The ivory silk-satin gown featured 2,000 crystals and hand-beading on the straps, bodice, and 16-foot train.
The industry is definitely taking notice of the FIDM grad. Monique was recently inducted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), an organization that everyone from Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan to Michael Kors and Oscar de la Renta belong to. As for the future, Monique hopes to design a footwear line and down the line open a second boutique, possibly in New York.
"You always think you can do it all," says Monique, who spends most of her week in the design studio. "But there’s something to be said for working for someone and getting experience." Monique also recommends working before starting a business to make valuable contacts with people in the industry. It helps to stay in touch with FIDM alums too. Monique Lhuillier currently employs three FIDM graduates.
"When I was a student I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I was full of dreams and knew I loved clothing, but I was also scared," says the designer. "I was fortunate that I could start my own line and risk it all." Monique travels across the country doing personal appearances and trunk shows and last year women started coming in with Monique Lhuillier ads in hand pointing to the dresses they wanted. "That’s when I knew that we had made it," she said. "We were doing something right."
Please visit www.moniquelhuillier.com for more information.
Please Note: The information contained herein was confirmed at the time of original publication.