Photo by Eliesa Johnson
Tara LaTour takes the Runway
The rooftop of the NoMad Hotel in Manhattan was trimmed in gauzy curtains that blew ever so lightly in the city breeze. Tuxedo-clad ushers greeted guests with the hotel’s signature Petticoat cocktail (Sichuan peppercorn–infused gin with apricot liqueur and lemon) before showing them to seats along an aisle covered in tapestried carpets. Violins played. The whispers stopped. A bride appeared in a strapless heavy satin dress. Then came another, in a lacy bra top with full skirt. And another, in a navy blue wedding gown.
The mother of this envelope-pushing 2015 bridal fashion collection is Tara LaTour, a Minneapolis-based bridal fashion designer. Her name may not yet have the power of a Vera—even in her hometown—but LaTour’s first-ever runway show at Bridal Fashion Week in October drew editors from all the major industry magazines, as well as top bridal shops and wedding planners from around the country.
Buzz surrounded LaTour even while she was a student at Parsons The New School for Design. Before Minnesota had a chance to claim her—before she’d ever actually sold a dress to a bride—one of LaTour’s designs was featured in Brides magazine.
That gave her the confidence to leave an assistant design job with a big dress company and start her own business back home in Minnesota. LaTour says she knew she needed the support of her family more than the fashion world. And so, far from runways and magazine editors, she’s been steadily building her brand—first from an office in Chaska and more recently out of a studio in Northeast Minneapolis.
Each Tara LaTour dress is constructed entirely by hand with top-of-the-line materials and meticulous attention to detail—from pockets to exposed zippers to contrasting colored lining and bodices built with just the right amount of push and pull to hold a bride in while allowing her to breathe. It can take the better part of the week to finish one gown, and LaTour manages with just two assistants.
Her gowns retail for $4,800 to $14,000 and are sold beside Vera Wang, Monique Lhuillier, and Oscar de la Renta at 10 top bridal salons nationwide, including l’atelier couture bridal boutique in Minneapolis.
“I am so excited to have Tara LaTour’s voice amidst the other esteemed designers,” says l’atelier owner Amanda Kautt. “Tara’s structure is impeccable. I appreciate the use of fabrics often found in ready-to-wear, on bridal gowns. It allows for more originality and a new point of view.”
That’s perhaps the highest compliment you could pay LaTour, who isn’t afraid to take risks in a traditional field. It’s not unusual for her designs from two seasons ago to outsell pieces from LaTour’s latest collection, as brides take their time catching up to the designer’s inventive point of view. It’s what has made her a darling of bridal magazines, even with her limited reach.
LaTour’s 2015 collection was conceptualized as she drove along Highway 100, listening to “After the Storm” by Mumford & Sons.
“It’s about knowing what to live for. And I started bawling,” says LaTour, a fast-talking, cheerful, yet no-nonsense former dancer and dance team coach whose topknot is her signature.
Dissecting Mumford & Sons’ lyrics made LaTour think of family, and in a flood of emotion, she went home and sketched 80 designs.
That eventually got pared down to the 13 runway looks LaTour showed in New York. Unlike many designers, LaTour isn’t afraid to dramatically switch up her look from season to season. So last year’s simpler, heavier fabrics gave way to texture and lace and unexpected flashes of skin—like the showstopper of the collection: a backless ball gown with a hand-painted gray and white plaid skirt.
“I’d love to see brides take bigger risks, go against the grain,” LaTour says. “I think bridal should be an elevated version of ready-to-wear fashion.”
Her fashion-forward styles and use of color have gotten LaTour noticed among mothers of the bride and women on the gala circuit—a clientele she says she’d like to grow. Taking her designs from wedding aisle to red carpet is another goal on her exhaustive to-do list, which includes designing ready-to-wear, a lower-priced line, and other brand extensions. LaTour wouldn’t say she hopes to out-Vera Vera Wang, but she doesn’t deny it either. To this point, she’s built the brand on her own, without investors. Going forward, she’s not ruling anything out.
“I’m really good with change,” LaTour says. “And I’m ready for something new.”