Living in Mississippi often means watching fashion greatness from afar. Or reading about it online or in the magazines. This past weekend, however, something a lot more local happened in the bridal fashion world that could have been expected in New York, or Miami. Neither of those, actually. Just the nearest Belk Department Store! Yes, my local Belk in Dogwood Festival Market held an awesome event featuring a bridal trunk show from an up and coming designer named Faith Thornburg. I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with her before the big event and find out more about the woman and the brand.
When did you decide to become a fashion designer? I knew in high school that I wanted to be a fashion designer. I didn't knowbridal, evening wear, or special occasion. I just knew that I wanted to design. I went and I visited one school Savannah College of Art and Design, and I fell in love with it. It is the only school I applied to. I had my heart set on going there and I got in. I started right into fashion and quickly realized that I wasn't sure if ready to wear was something that wanted to do anymore.
So I kind of got discouraged and thought about switching my major to something like fibers or interior design, something creative still, but just not fashion. And I stayed in Savannah that summer and Savannah is such a hot spot for weddings. There is a wedding on any corner on any Saturday, you pick it. So, I just fell in love with the romance in the air...
And it's also very picturesque...
Yes it is. It really is. And there is so much great inspiration in Savannah. So, from then on, I started focusing my projects on bridal based. So, while everyone was doing ready to wear projects, you know maybe it was a project to just develop a new line with six looks...So while everyone was doing sportswear, ready to wear...whatever they wanted to do, I was doing bridal. So that was probably the second year in school that I decided.
Who were your influences in terms of designers? It varies from season to season. And it varies on whether it's bridal or ready to wear. As far as like blending things together, I love Marchesa. They do their couture stuff and they have bridal as well. Their textures and their fabrics are amazing. And I think that's kind of what I go for as a designer. It's not necessarily, "I'm going to create this really cool unique silhouette." I'm going to use this safer silhouette and I'm going to create this awesome new texture based off thais fabric. And I think Marchesa kind of does the same thing. you know everyone has cool, different silhouettes also, not saying that they don't but...I love Marchesa, Oscar de la Renta, all the classics. I have loved Valentino for a long time. But I think Marchesa is my favorite right now.
I read that you won the prestigious Belk Designer of the Year Award. How would you say winning the award changed your life or added to your career? Well, before I did this, I was making everything myself. So, all the dresses that I had were done by all the patterns, the draping, all the sewing, and, of course, all the design work was all me. But now since I'm working with Belk, they really helped me find production companies to get things into production. So, I don't have to make everything anymore. Which means that I can take my business down to bigger stores and Ic an go to the stores and say "we can make these sales now, because I have production who can help," whereas beforehand, it was taking me months to get one order fulfilled. So, now I can hopefully go to market in the Fall and show my collection to new actual bridal boutiques and get the dresses in the stores. if I hadn't won the Belk Competition, then I definitely wouldn't have had the ability to do that quite yet.
It's great to that they offered you that freedom... Yeah. Definitely. And now I can focus on other things. Instead of selling everything myself, I can devote myself to growing and making the business kind of come alive.
Kind of widening the base... yeah. Exactly, which is great.
Every girl dreams of having a designer gown for her wedding. How will Belk help the modern bride achieve a custom look? What we have in the trunk show is ten samples. So that gives girls the chance to kind of see what can happen. You know, what kind of bodices are out there, what kind of skirts are out there. What kind of fabrics they can use and they can take those ideas and blend them together and make this beautiful custom dress that they've always dreamed about. And then, you know, I'm here to guide them and to design a modern looking dress. So that way, they're not just thinking a basic strapless a-line dress like you see everywhere else. I can say "Oh, I see you really like that silhouette, well what if we did this to around the waistline and make it a little bit more modern and a little bit more edgy. So, it's not your typical bridal gown. So with all that together, I think that they will definitely be able to get the custom dress of their dreams.
So, cost is always a question when it comes to this. Because, of course, we have all seen shows liki "Say Yes To The Dress," and girls come in with the mentality that "I can buy anything I want," but there is a budget in most cases. How much will the bride expect to pay for your designs in terms of price range? The dresses start at about $2,000. The ones in the collection start at $2,000 and they will retail going up to $7,000. A custom dress could be anything. If its very very simple, it could be within that range. But if it's going to take more work, and creating a new pattern and all that, it's definitely going to go up from there. But with that being said, the fabrics are 100% silk. My production is done by the same production company that does things for Diane Von Furstenburg and Oscar de la Renta., so these are the big name designers that you find at New York Fashion Week that are making the same exact stuff. So you're getting what you pay for. That is definitely for sure. And a custom dress is one of a kind and a lot of work goes into them. They are beautiful dresses and I think that when you see and feel the fabrics, you definitely notice the difference.
So, they actually get that couture level experience? Absolutely, it really is couture level in Belk. Which you would think...
And I think that just shows the dynamic attitude that Belk has taken in the Southeasten region, that they want their customer to get the ultimate service experience... Yeah, you're going to get the same thing coming here that you're going to get if you were to go to Bergdorf's in New York where they would do the same thing for the same price you can get it here (Belk)...
Tell me more about your Mercedes Benz Fashion Week experience in NYC. Showing a line on such a huge stage must be an honor? It was so, nervewracking (laughs...) The front row was all these celebrities. And supermodel Iman was there. You know, just to think those people saw my collection is amazing. But how I got there is a pretty amazing story, also...
I was still in college actually. When I got the opportunity to go. So at the school, ELLE Magazine had been doing this, they said it was a documentary series, and so they had been filming me as well as several other students that I was in class with. And they said right before we left for Srping Break that they were so impressed with us that they wanted to put together a show of the best students. They didn't give us a number. We didn't know if it was 2 students or if it was going to be 50 of us. We worked extremely hard. And they interviewed all of us. It was such a process. They narrowed it down to 21 of us. And thyey took us to Fashion Week and we got to show our collections. They put everything together with Maybelline New York. We had real high fashion models. There was a Red Carpet. We were at the Lincoln Center, just like all the other designers. And they were going to give one student a $25,000 grant. There were judges who were designers. And they had buyers from all the big department stores. But it was an event. And the editor in chief of ELLE Magazine got up after the show and said that they had chosen a winner. It was me. so, I was able to use that grant to start my own line straight out of school. and from then on out, I got contacted by Charleston Fashion Weekand they wanted me to headline. So, I got to do that...And I got contacted by Belk...
So, it becomes a whirlwind of opportunity...Yeah it's been one thing after...as soon as one thing ends, and I feel like "What do I do now?," all of a sudden, something else comes. And so it's been so great. It's been a wonderful, wonderful year.
I can absolutely see the joy coming through you, and it's amazing that when you start somewhere, you never know where that place is going. Yeah, you definitely...I mean, you have to have faith in yourself as a designer that things will happen and they will be great and one things will lead to the next, just like it has.
When does the bride's custom dress arrive at her local Belk store? If they order something custom, it's definitely going to be a few months because we will have to make a whole new pattern . We will have to do a mock up of the dress to make sure everything is correct. And then we will go into the real dress itself and get that constructed and ready to go. If she orders something from the collection that I have with me at the store, we can get that to her in a few weeks. It's just a matter of telling production "oh, we have an order in a size 6 in style # 624, and they just whip it up.
What makes a Faith Thornburg design stand out? Well, if you put my collection up to another designer, another bridal designer, spicifically like Vera Wang, you're definitely going to see a difference. My dresses are not your typical bridal gowns. I mean, we do have your basic dress. We have the shorter dresses that can go, you know, instead of a wedding, it can be for your rehearsal dinner. They can be for your bachelorette party. You can wear them again. so, it's not your typical bridal that you're going to find in your regular bridal store. But I think that it's modern and new enough and it's exciting enough that people are eating it up right now. They love it, because it is different. Nobody wants to be a cookie cutter bride anymore. Nobody wants to just have, you know, your plain strapless white dress and look like the next bride. They want something that sets them apart and because my dresses are so different and modern, everyone loves that and love that their personalities will come out and that they won't look like a bride clone.
I am excited to see their reaction (to the show). If they want to try on the samples, they are more than welcome to. They don't need to be afraid to touch them or oogle over them. They can do much more than that.
Or think that they are going to break something if they touch them...(laughing) Or that a siren will go off, like at a museum...
As I departed, I went back to the area that was set up for the bridal show, starting in less than 20 minutes from then... I couldn't help but think that I had just spoken to someone who had many more shows ahead of her. Belk has found the pulse of modern bridal fashion through this collaboration with Faith Thornburg. This is the New South, chic, effortless, thoroughly modern, and trend setting. Bridal will be a much more elegant place with Faith as a breath of fresh, new aesthetic. Faith is based out of Atlanta and has several more stops in her Belk Custom Trunk Show tour. Look for it in a city near you.
Till we shop again,