As I surveyed myself in the Zoom frame on my screen, straightening my white button-down and taming a few unruly strands of hair, Monique Lhuillier’s name popped up next to me. It took a minute before her camera turned on and I could see her, chic as ever, with what looked like the mood board of my dreams behind her. I first met Lhuillier back in March of 2020 (still high off my engagement and blissfully unaware of how a pandemic was about to change everything) when she visited the Brides office while doing press for her fragrance launch. But this encounter felt completely different—like I was meeting her for the first time all over again. She was the same, iconic designer I’d been jittery to sit down with a year and a half ago, but now, she was also the woman who created the gown I’ll be wearing on my wedding day in eight short months.
I was three years old when Lhuillier founded her company in 1996. After moving to California to study design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, Lhuillier met her now-husband and CEO, Tom Bugbee. Planning her wedding at the time, it was the rather lackluster search for a wedding gown that inspired her to get into the bridal business. “I got married and graduated from fashion school and decided to embark on a bridal collection first,” she recalled. “When I made my first five samples I was like, ‘How do we show this to the retailers? How do we get these samples in front of them?’ So I picked up a Brides magazine and I flipped through it and looked at the retailers. I would call these stores and say, 'Hi I’m a new designer, how can I show you my collection?' And a lot of them informed me that there was a bridal trade show happening, and they’d love to see me there.” The rest is history.
Now Lhuillier is celebrating her 25th anniversary and marking the occasion by releasing her debut book with Rizzoli, Monique Lhuillier: Dreaming of Fashion and Glamour. It serves as a visual evolution of the legacy she's built, turning her "lean start-up" into a global lifestyle brand. The pages are filled with colorful images (250 to be exact) of her most pivotal and glamorous moments, from snapshots of her childhood in the Phillippines to celebrities wearing her gowns down the aisle and the red carpet. One of her significant A-list brides was Reese Witherspoon, who penned the foreword for the book and fondly described her personal journey with the "gifted, hilarious, and brilliant" Lhuillier while making her wedding gown back in 2011: "When you collaborate with a designer you’re not simply picking out a dress; you’re entrusting them with your emotional memories," she wrote. "No one is more deserving of that trust than Monique."
Her Brand Identity
From the very beginning, her creations embodied romance and feminity and set the standard for impeccable design. "If you look at the gowns up close, you’ll see all of the details that I love, whether it’s the lace that I use or the intricate and more subtle embroideries that I do, the thread work that I do," she said. A signature Monique Lhuillier is recognizable the second you see one, and she's found inspiration from sources like travel, architecture, and trailblazing brides throughout history. “I really love what Grace Kelly wore,” she said. “I love the dress and how she carried it. To me, she was the epitome of class. I also love Audrey Hepburn and how she wore the billowy organza dress with the flowers in her hair. It was not as traditional, but I thought it was so romantic and beautiful.”
By 2003, Lhuillier's bridal business secured her spot as a key player in the fashion world. People started recognizing the brand and (finally) pronouncing her name correctly: Monique Lhuillier (loo-lee-ei). She opened a flagship in Los Angeles, launched ready-to-wear, and was inducted into the CFDA. She built her empire dressing notable brides like Britney Spears, Carrie Underwood, and even Dakota Johnson’s character in Fifty Shades Freed. While her designs could be spotted on famous and powerful women (hello, Michelle Obama), she also made them attainable to people from all walks of life. In 2009 she launched Bliss by Monique Lhuillier, offering classic and modern wedding gowns at a lower price point. Two years later she introduced ML Monique Lhuillier, her diffusion apparel line.
Once she mastered garments, she set her sights on accessories, footwear, and bags. “One of my favorite shows was Fall 2015," she writes in the book. "This show marked the launch of our accessories collection to complete the look. Footwear was presented in rich leathers with sculptural metal detailing; minaudières were inspired by gemstones, faceted in metal and lucite with caged crystal hardware accents." It wasn't long before she permeated the lifestyle space, rolling out home fragrance and securing a Pottery Barn line. "Every time I put out a new collaboration or category it has to be a natural progression for me to get into that space," she said while discussing her most recent partnership with Kay Jewelers, which consists of diamond engagement rings and wedding bands.
I approach every season like, ‘OK, I’ve done that, how can I move it forward? How can I keep it exciting? I’m really excited about newness in bridal all the time.
She's dreamed up countless trends over the years while remaining true to where it all began. “I have to say, my favorites are still my lace dresses,” she admits. “I also love how brides are embracing my printed gowns. I started doing that several years ago and now I can’t do a collection without [including] two printed dresses.” And with each one, she continues to raise the bar. “I approach every season like, ‘OK, I’ve done that, how can I move it forward? How can I keep it exciting? What other techniques can I bring in? Can I develop new fabrics?’ I’m really excited about newness in bridal all the time,” she said.
Lhuillier is on the heels of showing her Fall 2022 collection at Bridal Fashion Week, and she gave us the inside scoop on what to expect: "You will see epic proportions in the next collection. I just feel like people are ready to go over the top, so you’ll see it’s very light and ethereal, but it’s grand. You’ll also see some high-low hemlines [and] a lot of epic sleeves. I’m still continuing the trend of convertible dresses because I do believe that’s here to stay."
With all that she's accomplished, Monique Lhuillier and her empire are far from slowing down. So what's still in store? In short, world domination. “I’d love a bigger international presence," she said. "I’d love to open more retail stores around the world and want to improve our digital platform. I’d also like to proceed in the beauty space because I feel like it works hand-in-hand with what I do and how a woman feels [on her wedding] day. The beauty look is part of fashion, so I’d like to marry that together." In fact, one of the biggest mistakes Lhuillier thinks a bride can make on her wedding day revolves around her beauty look: "If you wear your hair down all the time, don’t put it up on [your wedding] day," she said. "Wear it how you style it yourself, just more elevated for that day."
I daydream about walking down the aisle next May as a Monique bride and asking the luminary how she'd accessorize my gown (you didn't think I'd tell you which one, did you?!) was the perfect way to end our interview. For now, I'll keep her advice between us, but one thing she said I know for certain: "When you put the gown on, it makes you feel like the best version of yourself."