Lhuillier designs for modern bride

Trunk show of wedding gowns to be held at Pikesville store

February 17, 2005|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

She's the wedding dress designer to the stars: Philippines-raised and Los Angeles-residing Monique Lhuillier, whose sexy but classy take on bridal and evening gowns has made her one of the hottest young designers in Hollywood.

This week, Lhuillier's talent train makes a first-ever stop in Baltimore, and more local brides will have the chance to be outfitted for their weddings by the same bridal gown designer who dressed Britney Spears and Kevin Costner's wife.

Today through Saturday, a representative from Lhuillier's company will be presenting a trunk show of her most current designs at Betsy Robinson's Bridal Collection in Pikesville.

The high-end bridal shop generally carries about 10 samples of Lhuillier's sought-after dresses. At the trunk show, brides will be able to see and try on three times that many.

"It's a chance for a girl to see almost the entire collection of a particular designer," says Joy Robinson Singer, manager and buyer at Betsy Robinson's. "Not everything she ever made, but more of the samples than our store can usually carry."

That means more of the lacy, sexy, modern show-stopping gowns Lhuillier gained recognition for last year - after pop-sensation Spears got married in one of her couture dresses and Sopranos star Jamie-Lynn DiScala landed on dozens of best-dressed lists for appearing at the Emmy Awards in a Lhuillier teal satin halter gown.

Since then, Christine Baumgartner wore a ruched, satin Lhuillier gown at her wedding to Costner, designer Kimora Lee Simmons wore a creamy Lhuillier gown to Donald Trump's wedding, and actresses such as Jennifer Connelly, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ashley Judd and Reese Witherspoon have been seen on the covers of major fashion magazines and at celebrity-packed events in sexy Lhuillier creations.

"She is extremely hot right now," Robinson Singer says.

Starlets buy Lhuillier's gowns, because she "understands sexy, conservative clothing that works well on the red carpet," says Robert Verdi of the Style Network's hit show Fashion Police. "That's an important place to have recognition."

And brides love Lhuillier's dresses for the same reason: They're neither too old-fashioned, nor too over-the-top sexy. In her gowns, Robinson Singer says, brides feel most like what they say they want to feel like on their wedding day: elegant.

"I would say my collection is classic and traditional with a modern twist," says Lhuillier, 33. "And modern doesn't mean minimal and sleek anymore. Modern means new techniques with traditional fabrics."

Lhuillier designs a lot of lace dresses, for example, but they're cut in slinky silhouettes, not prim christening-style gowns. And her princesslike ball gowns are elegantly complicated, with ribbons, tiers, unexpected colors or beading, and lavish bustling techniques.

"I think that people are attracted to my dresses because when they thought of bridal dresses, they were thinking very traditional and maybe a little boring," she said. "When they start looking and see my collection, they can see that bridal can still be fashionable and sexy and new."

It wasn't that way when Lhuillier started looking for her wedding dress in the mid-1990s. She tried on gown after gown, but nothing really struck the stylish, budding designer as the perfect dress.

"I just found it to be a limited selection," she says. "I thought it all looked the same."

Finally, Lhuillier settled on what she called a "too traditional," off-the-shoulder, lace ball gown, with a full skirt and rosettes in the back.

"If I was [getting] married today, it would be different," she says. Which is exactly why she started her line of bridal gowns in 1996.

Brides today want "opulence," Lhuillier says, and she wants to give it to them.

In Baltimore this week, women will find slinky dresses in chiffon, luxurious gowns in trumpet silhouettes, full ball gowns and many of Lhuillier's modern bridal separates - lacy, beaded or corseted tops mixed and matched with various skirts.

"You can really create a one-of-a-kind dress with [the separates]," she said. "There's something for everybody."

The designer

Monique Lhuillier, Hollywood's hottest celebrity dress designer, has a few words of advice for Baltimore's brides-to-be:

Don't bring too many people with you when shopping for the dress of your dreams.

Don't limit yourself to what you think you want, based on magazine spreads. Keep an open mind.

Don't over-accessorize.

Do focus on communication and keeping a sense of humor once the wedding is over and the marriage has begun.

Trunk Show

What: Monique Lhuillier designs

Where: Betsy Robinson's Bridal Collection, 1848 Reisterstown Road

When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. today, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Appointments are strongly recommended.

Call: 410-484-4600

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