Interview with Grace Lee-Lim, bridal gown designer of Lee-Lim

Wit: Where does your story begin? When were you first interested in being a fashion designer, particularly bridal?

Grace: I was interested in both fashion and interior design as a first year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The two departments required an application process come second year, so I had to choose one major to focus on. I decided to give fashion a whirl and applied to see if I would get into the program, which ended up leading to this journey and lasting passion for designing garments. Bridal design was also a similar situation in different ways. I graduated with a focus in menswear, but upon working under both menswear and womenswear designers in NYC, I felt as though neither fulfilled what I was searching for - garments that capture the essence of the individual without being restricted to trends or seasons. I came to this realization around the same time that I got engaged, so I decided to give bridal a try by designing my own wedding gown. I wanted to blend elements of menswear tailoring, women's ready-to-wear and Haute Couture together, and realized that I had finally found my niche for timeless, beautiful garments that allow room for a little bit of edge while embodying the woman wearing it. 

Wit: Your accolades are impressive. Can you speak to how your experience under CFDA award-winning designers, such as 3.1 Phillip Lim and Robert Geller, has influenced your collection?

Grace: Thank you! I was straight out of college (young and naive) when I landed in NY and started the fashion rat race. I was fortunate enough to have amazing experiences with designers, such as Robert Geller, who nurtured the minds and experiences of all his assistants and interns. Although Robert is a menswear designer, I learned about the sensitivity and sophistication in designing, excellent craftsmanship, importance of creating a mood and feeling, and the art of restraint - all elements that I aim to carry throughout my collections and overall brand.

Wit: How do you go about designing a wedding dress?

Grace: I always start with an inspiration and create a mood board that gives the inspiration some depth and life. I love researching, so once I have a solid subject to research, I dive into all the different tangents that surround the subject. I usually find several interesting elements that constantly speak to me, such as people, time frames, textures, phrases, colors, etc., and I start to sketch gowns that reflect those interests. I then drape different silhouettes and begin the process of elimination with the designs that I've illustrated, or hone in on the ones that I feel are strong.

Wit: Your first bridal design endeavor was your own wedding gown - gorgeous! Can you tell us about the design process? Tell us about your choices for fabric and style.

Grace: I was inspired by the coming-of-age motif of Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice, and designed the gown based on the idea of pivotal moments in a woman's life. My aesthetic is very much about the combination of traits that are structured yet soft, complex yet simple, and the silks and lace tat I chose were in reflection of that juxtaposition. The overall feel is very delicate and light, but the structured corset and inner foundation offset the gown in a whimsical way. I'm always interested in layering textures and fabrics - there are about five different silks, tulle, and lace together! My figure is very petite and straight (I lack all curves, especially in the hips) so I wanted to give an illusion for a more feminine silhouette than I physically am.

Wit: You state that your own bridal gown was a self-explorative reflection of your character. Can you explain further?

Grace: As I mentioned earlier, the time that I was designing my gown was when I was bemused about my career - I couldn't decide what I wanted to accomplish as a designer nor which field in fashion was right for me. In the midst of designing the gown, I was also making my move back to Chicago, starting a new job, and planning my wedding - many changes, to say the least! Sometimes I felt like I lost focus of who I was in the midst of all the movement, and other times I had moments of absolute clarity. I feel that these are common emotions that people, more often women, feel on a consistent basis when having to make (big) decisions in their life. I had to confront and embrace every part of my character that surfaced during this particular journey because it was a beautiful process of growth, even though it didn't seem like it at the time. And in that way, my gown grew from an idea into a tangible, edited dress that I hadn't expected it to become, which was the genesis of my brand identity; the important of not just the marriage itself, but celebrating the woman and her life before, during, and after her wedding day.

Wit: Describe the woman who will wear one of your gowns.

Grace: She is an independent woman who is very aware of herself - her strengths, weaknesses, emotions, or lack thereof. She is educated, even through self-education, and has an artistic sensibility and inclination even though she may not be an artist herself. I tend to cater to the working woman who has the knack for juggling many different "jobs" (be it a hobby or several vocations, or even being a mother).

Wit: When will your first bridal collection be launched? Where will brides be able to purchase your designs?

Grace: I am currently working on my first collection with the goal of launching this Fall. I will definitely let you know the different ways to purchase a gown once it has been finalized!

Wit: What are the greatest influences on your designs? Where do you draw inspiration?

Grace: I am deeply influenced from other art forms that I see, most especially films. However, I draw inspiration from some of the most random places, often times when I'm not searching for it. I can be listening to a song that I've heard twenty times and somehow on the twenty-first time, I'll hear a lyric that I've never given attention to and it'll speak to me and stay embedded in my head until I do something with it. Most times I'll just see details in buildings, textiles, and simple things that other people wear or say that stand out to me, and I document it to incorporated into my designs later.

Wit: Who would you love to design a wedding dress for?

Grace: I would love to design a wedding dress for Kate Lanphear - she is elegant and edgy simultaneously, and has a stunning sense of personal style. 

Photography by Anni Cee

Sketch by Grace Lee-Lim