Photo by Stacy Richardson
Reality television show Bride by Design follows designer Heidi Elnora as she sketches, sews, and styles custom creations for brides from her shop in Birmingham, Alabama. Now, she’s bringing some of her southern charm to Minnesota. The TLC star will be in town this weekend for a meet-and-greet as part of her trunk show event at Flutter, which runs May 1-3. In celebration of her first visit to the Twin Cities, Mpls.St.Paul Weddings spoke with Elnora about the life-changing event that altered her career path, her new dress line Hello Darling (which Twin Cities brides will be the first to try at the trunk show), and tips for brides thinking about going to custom route.
Camilla Darling, from new line Hello Darling
A big life event prompted you to begin designing wedding dresses. Tell me about that.
I had just been eliminated from Project Runway and was designing children’s clothes at Carter’s in Georgia. After one of my shifts, I was hit by a drunk driver. My mom was a nurse in Alabama, so she brought me back home to help me heal. Even though I was in a bad accident, it was such a blessing, because while I was in Alabama, I met a man named Jeff Baker, who is now my husband. Six months later, I put in my two weeks’ notice [at Carter’s], moved back to Alabama, and started thinking about what I could do here that would allow me to be a designer and create things that I love. Being in love, I thought, “What is a woman going to cherish more than her wedding dress?” So I started designing wedding dresses in 2006.
And now you’ve grown into three lines! Where do you get your inspiration?
There’s Heidi Elnora, Build-A-Bride, and Hello Darling, which was just released. It’s great because I love the different sides of me. Hello Darling is really about my Alabama roots, and inspired by my childhood growing up by the river and in nature. Build-A-Bride is kind of made for the all-American girl. I was a cheerleader and a ballerina, so it has this girl-next-door vibe. The silhouettes are very clean and simple, but you have the freedom to design your own dress and take ownership of what you do. That inspiration comes from the everyday girl just wanting to have something special. Then there’s Heidi Elnora, which is inspired by my trips to Paris when I’m looking at all these amazing fabrics and details and handwork. There’s more texture, more movement, more beading, that kind of feel. So, there’s all kinds of different things that inspire me, and depending on what collection I’m working on, I just try and get in that head space and become that girl.
Ashley Diaz design from Heidi Elnora line
How does the process differ when you’re designing a gown for your collection versus designing a custom gown for a bride?
Oh, it’s completely different. With the collection, I’m just designing for myself, what makes me happy. When I’m designing for a bride, I’m designing for her, what makes her happy. So my brain totally switches gears, because what I want and what I think is beautiful and interesting may not appeal to all brides. It’s always a fun challenge to figure out my bride and what it is that she really, really wants.
Be honest: What do you enjoy more? Designing for yourself or for a bride?
I enjoy working with the brides, honestly. I think the reason is, as a designer, it challenges me to really get inside a bride’s head and figure out what she wants. To be able to help a bride so she feels the most beautiful on her wedding day is why I do this. Of all the days that you want to feel beautiful, it’s on your wedding day. There’s nothing like it. Having a bride send me a thank you card that says, “Heidi, I can’t tell you how much this experience changed my life,” that’s what really counts to me.
What advice do you have for brides who may be considering a custom gown?
Do your research for sure, because when you say custom, you are putting your ideas in someone’s hand and hoping that what’s in your brain comes out to be a reality. For me, when I sketch out a bride’s dress, it’s going to be 100 percent what I sketch. So it’s very important to research what it is that you want. Research different fabrics, different silhouettes, and different shapes so that you know when you go into this that everything you truly want is what you’re getting. Also, try on dresses beforehand, go to a fabric store to see what you like and what you don’t like, check out designers, go on Pinterest, and pull out as much information as you can. It’s easier for a designer to interpret what you want and make it really beautiful.
What should brides look for in a custom gown?
Fit, for sure. You also need to determine if you want texture and, if so, what type. Texture can be created by lace, by appliques, by manipulating fabrics. And lastly, what you want your overall look to be. Once again, look for inspiration and do your research. You may come in thinking you want all this texture on your dress or that you want it to be a ball gown, and then you realize that you really love the simplicity of a long, cathedral-length gown. You don’t want to overwork the dress and you don’t want to underwork it. It’s really just finding that happy medium between the basic shape and the elements you want for your overall look.
Chloe crop top on Sophie Paulette, Build-A-Bride
What trends are you noticing in the bridal world right now?
We’re a generation that likes things that can breathe. Girls are definitely wanting to be comfortable and not so restricted so they can dance. I also think we’re going back to more traditional looks. They’re not wearing anything that’s too fashion-forward. It’s not like sleeves are the big thing or ball gowns are the big thing. It’s not that way now. It’s all about what brides want and they’re not heavily following trends. They’re just kind of being who they want to be on their wedding day, which I think is really cool.