Fashion DesignerThe Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, CA
Monique Lhuillier is a Beverly Hills fashion designer whose clientele reads like a glamorous inventory of the gossip-column A-list: Angelina Jolie, Reese Witherspoon, Sara Jessica Parker, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, and Sharon Stone among many other boldface names. Lhuillier creations were featured in a "Fantasy Weddings" episode of Oprah and on the pages of the fashion magazines like W, In Style, Modern Bride, and Elle. Her fashions have appeared on Sex and the City and Will & Grace, and she even designed both of the gowns Britney Spears wore for her ill-fated wedding to Kevin Federline.
The child of wealthy French, Spanish/Filipino parents raised in the Cebu area of the southern Philippines, Lhuillier inherited a sense of style from her mother and developed an eye for fashion through extensive international travel, mainly to Paris and Los Angeles. At age 15, while attending the Chateau Mont-Choisi boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland, she decided to become a fashion designer and obtained a catalogue for the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles. "As soon as I got the catalog and video I was thinking, 'This is for me!" said Lhuillier.
Lhuillier completed the basic FIDM course and earned a merit-based scholarship to attend the advanced program, focusing on the luxury market and specializing in bridal and evening gowns. She gives FIDM a lot of credit for her success. "I didn't even know how to cut and sew before I came to FIDM," said Lhuillier, who currently employs five other FIDM graduates and frequently attends alumni events.
She also met Tom Bugbee, her future husband and business partner, at FIDM and, after graduation, took a year off to plan her own wedding and contemplate the future. "I realized there was a huge bridal industry and that I could be part of it," said Lhuillier.
Searching for her own wedding gown, she also realized that there was a dearth of couture-quality companies in L.A. So, after her wedding she began contacting seamstresses, showing her designs, and attending trade shows, including one in Las Vegas where she picked up six accounts. "Then I knew I was on to something," said Lhuillier.
Lhuillier launched her first bridal collection in 1996, and a year later her husband took control of the company, a successful collaboration that has branched out to evening wear and a complete ready-to-wear collection. Her designs retail for $2,500 to $45,000, at Monique Lhuillier flagship salons in Beverly Hills and Minneapolis, and at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and other specialty shops.
Accolades include the 2001 Glamorous Bridal Designer Award, the 2002 Avant Garde Bridal Designer Award, the 2003 Wedding Dresses Magazine Designer of the Year Award, and, in 2003, induction into the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Plans for the future include a line of footwear and additional boutiques in international destinations.
Lhuillier has donated money, gowns, and imagination to many philanthropic endeavors, including Little Black Dress, for Stop Cancer, and the 50th Annual Gold Coast Fashion Award Show on behalf of Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital. Lhuilllier gowns have also been auctioned off for hurricane relief, the homeless, and low-income families with AIDS.
But success hasn't erased memories of those early, edgy days at FIDM. "When I was a student I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I was full of dreams and knew I loved clothing, but I was also scared," said Lhuillier. "I was fortunate that I could start my own line and risk it all."