We all start somewhere.
I started covering fashion back in the early aughts at CNN.
The first fashion designer I ever profiled was Monique Lhuillier. *(pronounced Loo-Lee-Ay)
That was 2005.
In a way, she was just getting started... and so was I.
The designer who started humbly with seven dresses has grown Monique Lhuillier into a global lifestyle brand.
She makes everything from jewelry to lingerie to wedding invitations. She has a whole home line with Pottery Barn. There’s a full ready-to-wear collection.
And, of course, the wedding dresses that made her famous.
And now, Monique Lhuillier is celebrating 25 years in business.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: When we were deciding what to do for our 25th anniversary, we decided, "Okay, it's time to put a coffee table book out."
We decided Rizzoli was the right fit for us. And we were in our offices on March 2nd, like "Okay, we can't wait to be working together." And then eight days later, the world shut down. This is March 2020.
ALINA CHO: Ah, right.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: And we worked on this entire book over Zoom.
So, it became my COVID project.
ALINA CHO: I went through every page of the book, and it is gorgeous. It’s like a walk down memory lane. Like, "Oh my god.” I've worn some of those dresses.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: You were there from the beginning, and you wore them beautifully.
You supported us and believed in us from the beginning. So, thank you for that.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: I grew up in the Philippines. My father is French, and my mother is Spanish Filipina. My mom did a lot of charitable work. She was a very hands-on mother. She entertained a lot. My father was a diplomat in the Philippines. They’re still there.
ALINA CHO: Your mother is and was quite a style icon.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: People always say that she was one of the best dressed women in the Philippines. I never saw her without earrings or lipstick, even at the breakfast table. And so, I think she was what sparked the love of fashion in me as a young girl.
ALINA CHO: Of course.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: She also made children's clothing. And so, she would dress my sister and I and my siblings, and people would ask them to style their kids, too. She had that flair.
ALINA CHO: So, you fell in love with fashion at a very early age, however, it really wasn't until you got married that you decided, "Oh my gosh, this could be a business."
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: Correct. So, I ended up going to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, here in Los Angeles. And when I was graduating, I got engaged to my husband Tom and I started looking for a wedding dress and I realized that there were limited options. As a young bride, I was 22 looking for a dress.
ALINA CHO: And there wasn’t anything out there you wanted.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: There were very traditional gowns, with those big, leg-of-mutton sleeves and very large skirts. And then there was this ultra-minimal look. I felt like neither one was me.
ALINA CHO: Right.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: I was the girl in the middle who wanted pretty close to the body with a touch of tradition.
So, I decided to start in Bridal. We got married in 1995. In 1996, I had seven dresses in my first collection, and we began. And when I say we began, it was a trade show with a booth, no contacts and just hanging my dresses. And that was the beginning.
ALINA CHO: How would you describe what is now known as the signature Monique Lhuillier wedding gown?
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: Traditional with a modern twist.
My dresses are very ethereal, and they move. Even when I do a lace dress that's cut very close to the body, the structure inside is very lightweight so you feel like you're floating in the room.
My bride is never overwhelmed with one of my garments. They’re very ethereal and feminine and modern.
ALINA CHO: In the book, I was looking at all the celebrities you dressed. I think people don't realize, even to this day, that even though you work tirelessly on a project with a celebrity for a high-profile event — say, the Oscars or the Golden Globes — you never really know until they walk the red carpet that they're going to wear your gown.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: That's 100% correct. You never know until they step on the carpet. They may feel different the day of and go with option two, so you never know.
ALINA CHO: But it always feels great, doesn't it?
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: It always feels great because for us, we never had a marketing budget or advertising. So, when you see one of our dresses on the red carpet, that's recognition for the world to see my work.
It’s always a big honor. Celebrities have so much to choose from. The fact that they're very loyal to my brand and my work, my designs, that's priceless.
ALINA CHO: You can’t buy that kind of publicity.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: I want to speak about the Golden Globes in 2019. I did not know I was going to have that many ladies representing me on the carpet. Heidi Klum was one of them.
And then Emmy Rossum arrived.
ALINA CHO: Wow.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: But then they kept coming. I'm like, oh my goodness. Then I saw Isla Fisher.
At the end of the night, we had eight people on the carpet which is unheard of.
Everything fell into place.
And my phone was ...
ALINA CHO: … blowing up.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: Blowing up. I was like, what is going on? What was so wonderful was that each girl was styled to perfection. It was a really amazing night.
ALINA CHO: A designer's dream come true.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: 100%.
ALINA CHO: You've collaborated with everyone from Kay Jewelers on rings…
To Hanky Panky on lingerie.
You have your own fragrance.
You've collaborated with Pottery Barn Home.
Did you ever dream, or was that always in the back of your mind, “I’m building a global lifestyle brand?”
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: Well, in the very beginning, when we started this brand, my dream was to make beautiful dresses. We didn't even have a business plan. As the dream was coming to life, I saw the whole lifestyle and I didn't want to stop dressing my woman on her wedding day. I was like, “What does her home look like when she gets married? What does her child's room look like when they start having a family? What does her wardrobe look like once she doesn't need a wedding dress? What do you wear underneath the dresses?” That's how the lingerie came.
ALINA CHO: Of course.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: We do the ring because without the ring, there is no dress.
Once I had the authority with the [wedding] dresses, people started trusting me with all the other elements. It always starts with the details of the dresses, which I pull from. You'll see it in my Pottery Barn Home collections, you'll see that in the intricacy of the tabletop or the bedding, it all starts with the fashion.
ALINA CHO: I don't know how else to say it, it's so Monique Lhuillier.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: Right? Also, we never rushed it. This is 25 years of building this brand. Once we had a solid following and a solid aesthetic that people understood and accepted, then we went into the next category.
ALINA CHO: I always say when it comes to longevity in any industry, my philosophy has always been slow but steady wins the race.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: Correct. I couldn't agree more.
ALINA CHO: The last thing I would ask you is, does anyone mispronounce your name anymore?
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: They still do because it's not the easiest.
ALINA CHO: Every once in a while.
MONIQUE LHUILLIER: But now, when people introduce me, "This is my friend, Monique Lhuillier," they're like, “Oh, I know your designs.” It's so nice to have that recognition and that validation.
ALINA CHO: You started with seven dresses and here you are today. Bravo.