How Monique Lhuillier Built a Fashion Empire

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Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Fashion designer Monique Lhuillier and her husband, Tom Bugbee, discuss how they built a fashion empire. They speak with Pimm Fox on "Taking Stock." Bugbee is CEO and co-founder of Monique Lhuillier Inc. (Source: Bloomberg)

You are here for new york fashion week.

You are based in los angeles.

You were saying that from a from an early age, you knew this was what you wanted to do.

-- you were saying that, from utterly age, you knew this was what you wanted to do.

-- from an early age, you knew this was what you wanted to do.

As i grew up -- you were in the philippines.

I came to los angeles to go to fashion school.

When i started looking for a wedding dress 20 years ago, i felt like there was a void in the marketplace.

That's what started our company and how we got into bridal first . when you said 19, your husband here kind of rolled his eyes.

You know it is 20 years.

You are an accountant by trade.

You have an accounting background.

How did you come to be part of the fashion empire.

We will get to the proposal in a second.

I was intrigued.

She had a great passion for fashion.

It was a great opportunity to build a company and build a brand and be together and travel the u.s. and the world.

It sounded like a fun idea.

Now, monique, that being together part is quite important.

It was the proposal of marriage and your subsequent search for a wedding dress that started you on the path to bridal could tour.

What happened?

I went to fashion school first pick -- first.

I love fashion.

I was a young bride looking for a wedding dress and i felt like there was a void in the marketplace.

Right after we got married, six months later, i came up with my first sample line in bridal.

Not knowing the business, we said, ok, let's build it from scratch.

We went to all of these different stories that supported us and carried the line.

Editors noticed.

It was step-by-step we built this brand.

For the first seven years, it was solely bridal.

Then we said, why are we dressing only around the special day of the wedding, we should dress her for all special occasions throughout her life.

We started doing red carpet and special occasion dressing.

Now we are happy to say we have started the lifestyle category.

We do a bunch of other collections.

We are going to talk about that.

More on the bridal couture and the bridal collection.

You have said that what you do is you take very traditional fabrics and very traditional materials, but you use them in a new and modern way.

I think it is very interesting to start with something that has tradition and history.

It is how i cut it and it confuses a more modern touch into the dresses, which i think is what brought us to where we are today.

I think it is a passion of creating these beautiful pieces.

I cannot describe it.

It just happens when i have fabric and i drape it on a form.

After you've created this wonderful dress, what does something like the top could tour -- top bridal couture down go for -- top bridal couture gown go for?

From my sickness -- signature collection, it would be something like $4000 to $20,000. we have another collection that starts at $2000 to $4000. i have a couture line, one-of-a-kind, where i come and work with the bride, and it is true custom, multiple fittings involved, and that starts from $30,000 and up.

Now that you have the bridal piece working, just step back for a second, how do you decide where to go next with the collection?

It started with her wanting to do something more than just working with white and ivory.

Going into special occasion eveningwear was a natural extension so that we could capture the customer again.

It is a very similar product in the construction, the type of product qa -- of fabric you use.

But it costs more money.

You are branching out, you have to raise more money.

How do you do that?

How do you go from one step to the next?

We have been slow and deliberate.

We have taken small steps.

We did not just jump into it and start showing at new york fashion week.

We came up with a small collection and tested it with retailers and slowly built season after season.

I think in our third season, we took the plunge and came to new york and showed at fashion week.

Is an overnight sensation, but it has -- it is an overnight sensation, but it has taken 10 years to get there.

Tell me about what is going on with the world of celebrities.

What we hear about high-end fashion, we talk about the red carpet.

So much attention is paid to wearing fashionable items.

I'm fortunate that a lot of celebrities continue to wear my dress is on the carpet.

What that does is -- it droop -- drew barrymore, reese witherspoon, halle berry.

It has helped us grow internationally.

People recognize my work.

The first lady, michelle obama.

A big honor for me to dress the first lady lady.

It was a dream come true.

What was it like when you get to meet michelle obama?

A lot of secret service.

Did you have to go through metal -- through a metal detector?

I can't really talk about it.

It was a highlight of my career.

Tell me about the athletic wear trend we see.

Under armour signing gisele bundchen as the model for activewear.

That's a big trend in the fashion business right now.

People want fashion to be more organic and not so forced.

I feel like the infusion of athletic cuts, whether it is something i'm wearing today, something more sporty-infused in high fashion is very interesting -- our product is made in america.

We have a factory that we set up in los angeles of 200 artisans.

For me as a designer, it is so interesting to look -- to walk in and carve out what the dress is going to be.

The process has been wonderful.

Is it challenging to find the right level of skills, the people that have this background, the experience?

It is getting harder and harder to find the skills of talented artisans.

We also train people.

We have been doing it for 18 years.

When we were starting in the business, we were lucky to inherit some talented artisans from other countries that were closing in los angeles.

We had that pool to start with.

Then it was trial and error, pushing it, how we make the product better, and he kept evolving.

One of the exciting things -- and it kept evolving.

One of the exciting things is the brand has to keep elevating itself.

When is the show in fashion week?

Tomorrow night in lincoln center.

You will be in the front row or backstage worrying?

I will be backstage with butterflies in my stomach.

Seeing the girls line up.

Taking it all in.

I'll be in the front row.

You're going to check the

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