Q&A: MONIQUE LHUILLIER MARKS 25 YEARS OF DESIGN
BY INGRID SCHMIDT
The LA designer discusses her journey in developing a successful lifestyle brand
Celebrating 25 years in business, Los Angeles-based designer Monique Lhuillier made a name for her dreamy bridal gowns and has since built a lifestyle empire. Her brand is known for a distinct aesthetic that she describes as “feminine and glamorous, but with a modern twist.”
To mark the occasion, Lhuillier has debuted a 25th anniversary dress produced in a limited run of 25 and inspired by her red carpet gowns worn by Taylor Swift and Kaley Cuoco. Also in the mix is her new book Monique Lhuillier: Dreaming of Fashion and Glamour, which includes a foreword by long-time client Reese Witherspoon.
“If you look at my work from early on until today, you’ll see that my point of view hasn’t really wavered.”
– Monique Lhuillier
The center is a fitting venue for marking the anniversary, given that her achievements in creating a coveted brand are manifested in her year-old boutique, the only store to carry the widest range of products reflecting the Monique Lhuillier lifestyle. They include her signature bridal, evening and ready-to-wear collections as well as the more affordable ML Monique Lhuillier ready-to-wear and Bliss bridal collections, shoes, accessories, lingerie in collaboration with Hanky Panky, home fragrance, and a namesake eau de parfum that debuted last year.
Lhuillier’s design signatures are omnipresent, including every hue of pink, wedding gowns crafted in fresh iterations of lace, and convertible dresses with details such as detachable sleeves or capes.
At the Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids and Pottery Barn Teen stores at South Coast Plaza, collaborative Monique Lhuillier collections span bedding, lamps and rugs to tabletop, toys, wallpaper, home accessories and holiday decor.
Since launching her company in 1996, Lhuillier has worked alongside her husband, Tom Bugbee, who serves as CEO. She talked to us about this experience, her advice for fashion entrepreneurs, and what’s on the horizon.
A conversation with Monique Lhuillier about 25 years of design:
Tell us about how you grew your brand.
When we started our company, I was a bride-to-be looking for a wedding dress and I had graduated from fashion school (the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising) in L.A. I didn’t think that there were a lot of options for brides, so I decided to start this brand. The struggle wasn’t just breaking through, which was the biggest challenge, but also keeping it owned by us and growing, because we never took outside money.
So we were always very lean and smart about our decisions. At the same time, we were not an overnight success. We did not have access to PR, marketing, or funding, so we did a lot of things by ourselves.
After four years, I could see that the tide was turning. People started to say my name correctly, and I knew we had some momentum. We opened our first retail store in Beverly Hills in 2001. Because so many celebrities are based in Los Angeles, I had stylists saying, ‘If you could make that dress in a color, I would love to put it on the red carpet.’ That really helped to build our brand and our name recognition and visibility for the world to see. I became a member of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) in 2002 and showed during New York Fashion Week for many years. That also helped cement our place in American fashion.
As our brand grew, I wanted to expand into other categories. I didn’t want to just be in a woman’s life for her wedding. What about for her special occasions? So that’s where the evening gowns came from.
Then it was, what does her home look like when she gets married? And when they have children, what does the nursery look like? So we started designing home products with Pottery Barn.
Most recently, my fragrance is part of finishing the look. All the puzzle pieces are coming together.
Any mistakes you’ve learned from along the way?
Sometimes our collections were too large, because I wanted to be something for everybody. Then I realized that people come to us for a specific thing. It’s so easy to over-design and make big collections. But then when you go to produce, it costs a fortune and you never get to regroup before the next collection comes out.
Can you call out a dress moment that was particularly meaningful to you?
In 2019, I dressed a record eight women on the red carpet for the Golden Globes. I mean, that’s unheard of! Normally you dress two, maybe three. That night was really remarkable because I knew two were going to wear my designs, but I didn’t know that all the others were going to decide to go with it at the last minute.
Dressing celebrities, you don’t know until they hit the carpet what it is they decide. So we were watching, saying, ‘Oh another one! Another one! Now there’s four, now five!’ They all looked completely different and beautiful in their own way. So that is a night that I will cherish forever.
How has it been to work side by side with your husband, Tom, from day one?
Back then, Tom was getting his MBA at USC and working for Deloitte & Touche, so he has a business background. Our roles were defined, business and creative. But when you’re a start-up, you wear many hats. Now 25 years in, we are still involved in everything from day to day, but have great teams in place, so we can function more efficiently and effectively.
Tom and I have been married for 26 years and the first ten years, we didn’t start a family because the business was our child. It can be challenging. We may have different opinions about something and then sit down for dinner in 20 minutes. The benefit is we both really want what’s best for the company. We’ve stayed authentic to what it is that we do.
What’s in the future for you and your business?
I would like to see more international growth from our brand. South Coast Plaza was a fit for us because they have a lot of international clientele. I’d also like to explore getting into the beauty business, because I feel that a color makeup palette makes sense for our brand, especially on those special days. We have more footwear coming in the fall and are expanding our accessories collections. I now want us to go on vacation with the customer, so I have a resort collection coming out in December for spring 2022 that is new to my offering.
What advice would you give to young designers who want to succeed in the fashion industry?
If you look at my work from early on until today, you’ll see that my point of view hasn’t really wavered. My biggest advice is to have a very clear vision of what it is you stand for and stick with it.