In an atelier in the middle of Los Angeles, over 68 artisans work on every detail from cutting and sewing to beading and finishings. Over 3,000 hours later, it’s finally finished—“it” being just one of the show-stopping pieces in Monique Lhuillier’s Spring 2018 collection. The gown consists of strand after strand of silver fringe beads—12,000 to be exact—that shimmy and sashay with any bit of movement. A work of art, no doubt, and, based on the weight alone, a workout for some.
The mastery behind Lhuillier’s designs originates in her Los Angeles atelier, something that is becoming increasingly rare in the fashion industry. “All the pieces in the collections are American-made products, something I am proud to say, and the craftsmanship is top notch,” she notes during our phone conversation. As one of the few in high fashion to have chosen the west coast as her home base, it is important to note this was no accident. Lhuillier grew up in the Philippines until she moved to Switzerland to finish out her high-school years at boarding school. It was there, at age 16, that she realized fashion was her calling. With family in the Los Angeles area already, she decided to pursue a degree in California at the Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising, a non-traditional locale for someone seeking to pave a path in high fashion.
Once she received her degree, she gravitated towards bridal in an attempt to fill a gap in the market that she discovered by way of trying to find the perfect gown for her own wedding day. Eventually this led to designs in evening wear, and, most recently, separates, that go from day to night as well as accessories, including handbags and shoes. Lhuillier has stayed consistent in her aesthetic over the years, always drawing inspiration from floral prints and botanicals, and incorporating the more ethereal and feminine fabrics, such as laces, tulles, and chiffons.
Her knack for combining femininity with an edge is what keeps her loyal customers coming back season after season for more. Lhuillier eloquently describes these women as “confident, well-traveled, and quite worldly; women who don’t let trends dictate their style.” With them in mind, she draws her inspiration from everyday living, where even a beautiful piece of fabric or piece of art can trigger a vision. Travel, too, plays a vital role.
Growing up, Lhuillier loved to travel, and although she has roots in Los Angeles, it isn’t the only city that holds a piece of her heart. She is half French, from her father’s side, which brought her to Paris every summer as a child. So when Lhuillier was looking to try something new for her Spring 2018 collection, naturally she thought of moving her show to Paris. Not only is it the fashion capital of the world, but she knew the clothes would truly be brought to life against the backdrop of a city that is so architecturally rich. She also knew that showing during Couture, when plenty of her international clientele were in town, wouldn’t hurt either.
Lhuillier’s Spring 2018 collection can best be described as a love letter to Paris—an intricate, elegant, and refined nod to what the city’s fashion means to her. All 38 pieces shown exude romanticism and grandeur with the appearance of signature botanical prints; an abundance of ostrich feathers on skirts, dresses, and capes; dramatic, glimmering chevron embroideries; and iridescent, sparkling sequins on simple shifts.
Just as impressive is Lhuillier’s ability to seamlessly incorporate consistencies between the Spring 2018 and Resort 2018 collections, the latter of which was photographed while in Paris as well. Although subtle, the similarities can be seen in her use of feathers and florals. This is a strategic play by Lhuillier: both collections will overlap in stores, and maintaining a sense of continuity when the two collections will hang side by side is of upmost importance to her.
Although we here in the States will get to see many of these pieces next year on the floors of department stores or in one of Lhuillier’s flagship boutiques, it’s not so clear whether we will be lucky enough to see her show in New York. When asked whether she will continue showing in Paris or come back to New York for Fall 2018, she simply stated that she wasn’t sure just yet. Between huge successes coming out of her show in Paris and the romantic parallels between her designs and the City of Love, can you really blame her? I know I certainly cannot.