When thinking of top wedding dress designers, few—if any—faces of color come to mind. There definitely isn’t a lack of talent in the mainstream bridal space, but there is a lack of diversity.
“There are very few Black bridal designers at the forefront of the industry. The passing of Amsale only widened that void,” Andrea Pitter of Pantora Bridal, a salon catering to Black brides, says. The late designer Amsale Aberra not only shook up the industry with her designs, she was a trendsetter when she broke into the industry in the '80s, creating luxurious dresses for the minimal bride. At the time, Aberra was one of the only prominent Black designers in the bridal industry.
As a Black woman and a business owner, Pitter sees the gap firsthand. "The lack of diversity is unfortunate. Black women hold so much spending power and are absolute trendsetters. We should be included in the marketing efforts of fashion houses, employment and all other aspects of the bridal fashion industry", she tells Brides.
The lack of diversity is unfortunate. Black women hold so much spending power and are absolute trendsetters.
Pitter hopes her line can achieve the same level of recognition as Amsale, but as her own star rises, she hopes to bring a few friends with her. “I look forward to the day when Pantora and my other Black industry colleagues are being respected and acknowledged by major publications and retailers,” she says.“It would be awesome if brides could easily find bridal designers that understood them culturally.”
So in addition to Pantora Bridal, here are 10 more Black bridal designers that all brides-to-be should put on their radar.
Andrea Pitter is the founder and creative director of Pantora Bridal, a bridal boutique based in Brooklyn, NY. In 2011, she received a BFA in Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology.
The Pantora Bride
According to Pitter, Pantora brides are confident, feminine, and fancy and they have a connection to the "real world". “At Pantora we offer relatable luxury. Our brides enjoy clothing that hits home, our design aesthetic is unique yet inviting. Pantora Bridal offers brides the opportunity to come as they are and to be celebrated. It’s feel-good bridal wear!,” she tells Brides.
Not only do her designs take on classic silhouettes and modern details, but she designs with the Black bride in mind. While illusion dresses are gorgeous, the standard mesh colors don’t really work on darker skin, so Pantora Bridal created, Forgotten Skin Tones, their own line of mesh and lining.
"We have 7 Forgotten Skin Tone mesh colors ranging from buff to deep. Each shade can work for women of various complexions," says Pitter. Black women range in complexions and it’s a pity that the bridal fashion industry hasn’t adapted to the idea that there is no universal nude."
Pantora dresses also account for curves with a hip-first approach to sizing. "Pantora bridal is all around inclusive, not only have we accounted for skin tone, but we have also accounted for curves. Our bodies are only celebrated when mimicked by other races. We come in so many shapes and sizes, and no matter what package we come in, it should be dressed to the nines."
Where to Buy:
With 20 years of experience in the industry, Jean-Ralph Thurin isn’t exactly up and coming. Brides come to him for custom wedding gowns made with all their needs in mind.
The Jean-Ralph Thurin Bride:
“The clients that come to us have done their research, they’ve done their due diligence, they know who I am, and they come to get a dress made because they know I'm going to do the right thing,” Thurin says.
He designs dresses to fit black women and their bodies and gets a lot of his inspiration from architecture. “Sometimes its a curve in the window, it’s a pillar, it’s the interior, but that really gets me going,” he says. “Most of my clients really love form-hugging dresses and really appreciate their curves, so a lot of times it's me trying to enhance that with different types of lines and fabric embellishments, but it extends from architecture.”
Even with so much experience, this might be the first you are hearing Thurin’s name. He says the fight for black designers is continuous. “There are a lot of wonderful black designers who do great things and who are very talented who are just trying to be seen and be heard,” he says. “I think the challenge for us is just to keep trying to be seen and to be heard just trying to get the right representation and get people to see what your good at what your talent is.”
Where to Buy:
Schedule a virtual consultation or appointment.
Before entering the bridal world, Esé Azénabor was creating custom evening wear. It wasn’t until she started looking for her own wedding dress that she noticed a gap in the industry.
“Before I made my own dress I wanted to do some research and go to some bridal stores to see what is out there, and I found that a lot that was out there catered to women with lighter skin as far as matching the lace or the illusion tulle,” Azénabor says. “So when you are a darker woman and you wear the dress it doesn’t match and that’s the only option you have. You just end up wearing it but it’s not really made for you.”
The Esé Azénabor Bride:
Now she makes dresses completely tailored to each bride, as most of her work bridal work is custom.
Azénabor pulls her design inspiration from travel. She was born in Nigeria, raised in Canada, and went to boarding school in the United Kingdom, so she has plenty to draw on. Her experiences typically lead her to create wedding dresses for brides looking to stand out. Azénabor says her bride “loves detail; she understands attention to detail and the work that goes into creating a garment.”
Where to Buy:
When Nneka Alexander was a bride 11 years ago, she had trouble finding something on the rack that fulfilled the vision she had in her head. “I am very detailed about what I want and I was not finding it,” Alexander recalls. “The only place I could find what I wanted was in my head, so I had to create my gown and I was like, there has got to be more brides like me out there who cannot find what they want, so I'm going to create a bespoke service to cater to them.”
The Brides by Nona Bride:
Enter Brides By Nona. While they mostly create custom gowns, their collection is used to get both the designer's and bride's wheels spinning. ”Every year we try to come up with a collection that is more diverse than the previous year so we are consistently making our work unique and different,” Alexander says. “My collection is to show you how diverse we can be not for you to order from it. It’s just for you to see the lineup of what we could do.”
The result is typically a wedding dress full of intricate details, with clean and modern lines that makes the bride feel beautiful, romantic, and sexy.
Where to Buy:
Contact Brides by Nona to schedule your appointment.
Renowned for her sophisticated and timeless aesthetic, Ethiopian designer Amsale Aberra was widely credited as the inventor of the modern wedding dress. Her journey into the bridal industry began when she was searching for her own wedding dress and found that most designs at the time were overly dramatic and ornate. So when Aberra couldn't find a gown that represented her pared-back and minimalist style–she designed her own. Realizing that this modern aesthetic wasn't being offered to brides, Aberra set out to create her eponymous bridal label.
Amsale Aberra passed in 2018 and the brand is now under the direction of her husband and CEO Neil Brown, and senior design team comprised of Sarah Swann and Margo Lafontaine and daughter Rachel Brown.
The Amsale Bride:
"The Amsale bride is sophisticated and statement-making, confident yet refined. We design gowns that fit the modern bride’s wedding-day vision and mood—no matter what that looks like. From our couture signature collection to Little White Dress—which features shorter dresses and chic jumpsuits—and Nouvelle Amsale, an accessible collection of chic styles in fine fabrics, there’s something for every wedding-day style. No matter her vision, the Amsale bride shines."
Amsale Aberra's legacy still lives on through her designs and her words: “I believe that true style knows no place or time – more than an aesthetic, STYLE is a way of living.”
Where to Buy:
Stephanie White started her ready-to-wear brand Odylyne in the early 2000's and launched her bridal brand Odylyne The Ceremony in 2014.
"I was always intrigued by artists and the stories behind their work. I love studying historical art movements that shape the way we see things today. With my graphic design background, I worked for several brands in developing all their collateral for business. It was learning from these designers that I decided I could build a brand and design on my own. I took the plunge into fashion in 2009 with a ready to wear line. Then in 2014 I dived into bridal, after I had my two children and needed the flexibility to spend time with my family and do what I love," Stephanie White tells Brides.
The Odylyne The Ceremony Bride:
Odylyne The Ceremony is for the bride who is searching for a gown that feels different, bohemian, and deeply romantic. As you browse through White's collections you'll find gowns with magnificent bell sleeves, exquisite pleating, and soft ethereal ruffles.
"I draw inspiration from many different places. It could be from a song I heard or a movie I watched. I like to create themes for each of my collections based mostly off of movies, and then I tie in art and music within it, so it feels like a complete dive into a different world," says Stephanie White. "The Odylyne the Ceremony bride is a woman who is unique, a visionary who is true to her convictions. She is a dreamer and likes the feeling of being part of something that feels otherworldly, because she ultimately is that. One of my favorite quotes comes from C.S. Lewis: "If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world."
Where to Buy:
Contact Odylyne The Ceremony to schedule an appointment.
Valentine Avoh launched her eponymous bridal brand in 2017. After graduating with a degree in fashion from London College of Fashion, Belgian designer Valentine Avoh went on to work at renowned international houses such as Alexander McQueen, and Alexis Mabille. In 2009, Avoh designed and completed her first wedding dress and completely fell in love with the process.
Valentine Avoh draws her inspiration from the glamour of movie stars like Rita Hayworth and Marlène Dietrich to musical greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. "I used to watch a lot of old movies from the early 30s until the late 50s which really fascinated me. I loved how feminine and sensual women were in those film and yet had a very strong personality," Valentine Avoh tells Brides. Avoh works closely with her brides to create custom made gowns that are expertly tailored to the bride’s vision and body. "I also get inspired everyday by my brides, watching them trying on my dresses, and listening to their comments gives me so many new ideas and ways to improve my designs."
The Valentine Avoh Bride:
Who is the Valentine Avoh Bride for? "Women who wish to highlight their femininity without compromising ease. Women who want to look glamorous on their wedding day wearing a carefully handcrafted piece made in the finest materials such as silk, French lace, embroidered tulle or feather. That is why they love the bespoke approach of my work, knowing that each dress is made to their measurements and can be customized according to their taste and curves."
Where to Buy:
CUSHNIE is a luxury women’s ready-to-wear and bridal brand established in 2008 by Carly Cushnie. Her sleek and architectural styles have been worn by many influential women including Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, Gal Gadot, Lupita Nyong’o to name a few.
The CUSHNIE Bride:
Carly Cushnie designs are an impossibly chic marriage of structure and fluidity. Her collections feature ultra-modern and expertly tailored jumpsuits to figure-flattering sheath dresses to sophisticated necklines. “As a woman, I understand what my customer wants from her clothes. I’ve grown and evolved alongside her over the past 10 years, and I strive to present her with timeless silhouettes that make her feel sexy, sophisticated and powerful — all at once."
Where to Buy:
Violette Tannenbaum is a French self-taught designer who began designing bridal wear in 2013. Tannenbaum decided to create her eponymous brand after designing a wedding dress for a friend.
The Violette Tannenbaum Bride:
Tannenbaum gathers inspiration from everywhere but mostly from ready to wear fashion. "I have a thing with poetic things and vintage clothes too and it inspires me to designs my dresses. I always took a look to my mother, grandmother and auntie’s pictures when they were young because they were so stylish," Tannenbaum tells Brides. Her designs are popular among brides who are looking for something ultra-unique and cool. "Take some pink, a modern style, one or two hip-hop songs, a cool state of mind, some poetry, a piece of Solange Knowles' creativity, and vintage stuff–this is Violette Tannenbaum aesthetic."
Where to Buy:
Violette Tannenbaum's designs can be purchased online.
Even at an early age, Yemi Osunkoya knew he wanted to be a designer and he was especially inspired by all of the weddings he attended as a child in his homeland of Nigeria. Osunkoya studied fashion at the esteemed Paris Academy of Fashion and in 1991 he launched his bridal line, Kosibah.
The Kosibah Bride:
Since Yemi Osunkoya is trained as a master couturier, every gown he crafts is skillfully tailored and he takes pride in catering to women of all sizes. It's because of this attention to detail that you'll discover gowns with details like expertly placed ruching and intricate beading in each of his collections.
Where to Buy:
Cynthia Grafton-Holt is the owner and designer behind Oui Madam Bridal Atelier. Cynthia is a highly skilled dressmaker with many years of experience in the wedding industry and her handcrafted bespoke gowns have been worn by high profile clients and celebrities.
The Oui Madam Bride:
Brides come to Oui Madam for a unique bridal gown crafted and tailored to their specific visions and needs. “I help brides who don’t want a typical bridal gown. My brides just want a gown that is everything she has been dreaming of. One that is elegant and fills her with confidence to wear it on her big day. A wedding dress that is exclusively designed and perfectly fitted in all the right places, leaves my client free to enjoy the occasion with total confidence.”
Where to Buy:
Contact Oui Madam to schedule an online or in-person appointment.