How Monique Lhuillier Started Her Brand After Searching for Her Own Wedding Gown

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(Image credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Sosa)

Throughout the last 25 years, Monique Lhuillier's designs have adorned women the world over, from brides to celebrities to celebrity brides. While it might have taken some time for the industry to get her name pronunciation down (it's loo-lee-ay, in case you're still struggling), her designs have been notable from the start. Now, a quarter of a century later, Lhuillier reflects on her transcendent and successful career, documented in her newly released book, Monique Lhuillier: Dreaming of Fashion and Glamour. Catch some of the excerpts from her podcast episode with Hillary Kerr below, in which she even lets us in on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create Britney Spears's 2004 wedding dress.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Sosa)

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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In addition to very stylish women the world around who wear your clothes, you also have a huge celebrity following for both bridal as well as ready-to-wear and specific pieces for the red carpet. But let's go back to bridal, and let's talk about some of my favorite big moments starting with Britney Spears. Can you talk about how that wedding dress came together?

That was very exciting because that was back in 2004. That was the height of Britney mania. Her stylist friend had contacted me and said, "Britney is getting married. We would love for you to dress her." I was ecstatic. I was like, "Absolutely." They told me I didn't have a lot of time, and she couldn't meet me in my store because the paparazzi were following her at all times. Everything had to be undercover. So we met first in a private space. I brought all my dresses to the room, and she was so kind. She was so excited and so sweet and so appreciative. She tried on dresses, and we fell in love with one, and she had her mind set on that. Then, we designed accessories around it. We designed the whole look with what the veil should look like. Then, she asked me to do the rest of the party, so I did all the bridesmaids, flower girls, and I was off. Then, when I was in New York during fashion week, I got a phone call saying, "You know how you thought you had eight weeks to get everything done? Well, now we need it sooner because it's out in the press. People are finding out that she's going to get married, so can we have everything in three weeks?" I had started because I had met her before going to New York Fashion Week, but then the rush to get it all done in time, do more fittings—it was exhilarating and stressful but all exciting at once. And that was the first time I was exposed to a mega-celebrity.

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Can we talk about this book a little bit? It comes out on September 29. How did you decide what you wanted to include? Obviously, there are some big moments in there that are no-brainers. But when you're thinking about the scope of your career, how do you know what you want it to include and what to leave out?

I had been speaking to Rizzoli a few months before March 1, when we signed the deal, to do the anniversary book together. We were like, "Great, let's be so collaborative. You will come to New York; you'll come to L.A." And that was on March 1, 2020. As you know, the world shut down on the 10th of March. I found myself at home with more time on my hands, and there was a moment of vulnerability. I'm like, Oh my gosh. I'm feeling irrelevant. Nobody needs my product now. All these things that I had in my head, like the world's been on pause, and people are not celebrating, and I'm a celebratory brand. So I focused most of my energy into this book. I opened boxes of Polaroids—because there were no phones back then—and looked through all the images, looked at my earliest collections, the pictures of us opening our first store, our first office, our first employees. It was really the very beginning. I got emotional putting it together. I was rejoicing by the time I got to the end.

It was quite seamless to just pinpoint what are the big milestones that have brought us here and also seeing the vision of celebrating life's most special moments and also following the path that I'm on in my life because I did start when I was a young bride looking for a wedding dress. And then I had children, and then we moved into our new home, we published our home, and then after we published our home, Pottery Barn Kids called us and said, "Would you like to do a kids' collection? We saw what you had published, and we'd love your aesthetic. Would you be interested?" So we dove into that world, and it didn't stop with the kids, so mainline Pottery Barn came around. It's all these things. So when I was putting the book together, I was emotional because seeing my mother, how she was really my first style icon and influenced me to get into fashion, and then seeing how it evolved, also doing my first show during Paris couture week, and then to show in New York Fashion Week, which is a dream. I feel like my life is full, and I couldn't be more grateful for where I'm at today.

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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Next up, check out our previous episode featuring singer-songwriter Natalie Imbruglia.

Contributing Editor

Ray Lowe is a contributing editor for Who What Wear. She's spent the last decade living in New York, but now that she professionally works from home, she's slowly been going back to her roots by splitting time between NYC and L.A. A year ago, she left a four-year stint as a fashion editor for Refinery29 to explore the freelance life. Nowadays, she does just about everything from penning online articles (for Who What Wear, Refinery29, Elle, Cosmo, and many more) to writing scripts, styling, and finding ways to fuse her love for both Disney and fashion. Her main beat is fashion (trends, emerging brands, affordable finds, you name it), but you may find her dropping in with a beauty story every now and then. As for her personal style, she'd best describe it as a balanced blend of basics and contemporary trends, often with a dash of Mickey Mouse thrown in for good measure. In her spare time, she can be found coddling my pets (a French bulldog and a rescue cat), curating travel itineraries for her friends, scrolling through Instagram for up-and-coming brands, and watching so-bad-they're-good films.