DESIGNER SPOTLIGHT WITH
September 1, 2020
Let’s start at the beginning. What is your design history or formal training and how did you get involved in Bridal?
I’ve been passionate about fashion for as far back as I can remember. I guess everything was predetermined on a subconscious level, so I always believed I was a designer. It never even occurred to me to go to school to learn, I just dove in at the age of 17. Growing up in the Mississippi public school system, I was rarely challenged. I was also ADD and to this day find it hard to focus on anything I’m not interested in. Teaching myself, draping, pattern making, sewing, embroidery, etc. gave me focus and helped me to stay in the moment. Years later when I would take on interns from F.I.T. and the NYC Fashion High School, I realized how much further along I was at their age. My self-taught skills have served me well along the way. I fully understand how someone like Donna Karen would quit fashion school for just knowing they already were a designer.
When I moved to New York City I launched ‘Robert Bullock Hats shortly after I arrived. Within a few months I was honored to be featured on the cover of WWD and was proclaimed as one of the best new up-and-coming accessory designers. Shortly thereafter, I entered menswear, launching a line at Neiman Marcus. Then in 1993 I partnered with Steven Birnbaum and Birnbaum & Bullock, a Couture Bridal Collection was born. We were known for our hand embroidery, brilliant color accents, 100% silk fabrics, and alternative styling. Each gown was true Couture made to each bride’s measurements no matter if the bride was from our atelier or from a boutique we sold to. Then in 2009 I wanted to reach a broader audience and so I launched Robert Bullock Bride. This allowed me to design more gowns at an affordable price and bring joy to Brides who could not afford a Couture Gown. I did this without compromising style or fit. I am blessed to say Robert Bullock Bride is my most successful venture to date.
Where do you find inspiration for your collections? Are there any specific designers you take inspiration from?
This is the one question designers get asked the most. I crack up most of the time when someone goes on and on about how they rode a camel through Morocco or something and how all the local color against the Camel… blah, blah, blah. Inspiration is all around us, but we see what we choose to see. There have always been little light bulb moments in my life where I saw something as simple as an ornate door handle or as grand as a skyscraper that would inspire me. When I had my menswear line, I designed buttons with bugs on them. Yes, a small tiny bug inspired me. I also find inspiration from other designers. Why not? Nothing is truly original, only your take on it makes it you. I absolutely love looking at the Haute Couture Collections twice a year. Art and Fashion collide, and it is a visual challenge to pick what will trickle down and possibly start a trend. In Paris I saw the Jeanne Lanvin exhibit which was amazingly inspiring. To look at her garments from the late 1800’s through the 1940’s and see the quality, technique and designs that are still relevant today is tremendous. Alexander McQueen was a genius as well as so many other living designers like Jean Paul Gaultier. I always admired how Karl Lagerfeld never stopped working and had a great eye for spotting street trends and integrated it into high fashion. He was able to turn a stale Chanel brand into something fresh and sought after by younger fashionistas. I always respected him for that.
Younger generations always inspire me as well with their street style. To see new groups of young people from all over the world descend on NYC each Fall with their own personal groove always gives me a fresh view. My son is almost 25 and has a small vintage business. I love that our styles are so different and how he puts outfits together in ways I would never think of. He inspires me too.
What type of bride or look do you design for and why? How would you describe them?
I design for all women; I embrace the beauty of the woman’s body and want to create a gown that a bride feels gorgeous in. My size chart starts at zero and goes to wherever it needs to go. Fit is important to me and that’s why I fit on a curvy woman, so more women are able to try on and see themselves. I also allow brides to customize my gowns to reach a broader range of dream making. But, if I had to describe the bride who generally chooses my gowns, I would have to say, “effortless.” Someone who wants to shine without disappearing in their gown. I’ve always said, “there is a fine line between a bride wearing a gown and the gown wearing the bride.”
How have brides changed since your began designing?
Brides continue to change all the time and my designs continue to change with them. One thing that has changed is that women are used to being comfortable in their day to day life and most want to be comfortable on their wedding day. My designs reflect that with lighter fabrics and gowns that allow movement. Another thing that has changed is that brides love to accessorize to create a look that is all their own. I have designed many gowns which I call “blank canvas” gowns that look stunning as they are, but can be changed in many ways depending on the accessories each bride selects. I have seen my gowns go from the beach, to the garden, to the ranch, to a castle, the list goes on and on. Recently we have also had brides that would like to show a bit of sex appeal but I prefer a bit of hidden sexy, an unexpected slit, a dip in the neckline and that tight fit at the small of the back, subtle. There is a difference between actual sex appeal and wearing a sexy garment.
What pieces are you most excited about in your recent collection? (We know it’s hard to pick just one!)
Well, I love that when I started in Bridal, my partner and I were the first ones in the industry to start the square neck trend. I’m excited to see it back. Therefore Amanda (named after the consultant who won my contest and got to co-design it with me) and Hera, two very different gowns with a version of a square neckline are on the top of my list. Dean is another because I love working with my 4-Ply Crepe and Dean has a great fit and a very interesting back bodice without princess seams or darts. Another is Iris in a Glazed Shantung, a true ball gown with a dropped waist. I have always loved a dropped waist and how it elongates the torso and shows the waist to high hip transition. It’s very flattering on many body types and I look forward to the industry expanding on it.
How has your style evolved over the years?
This is a tough one. I started designing unique bridal gowns, two-piece ensembles in 1993 when no one thought to create a two piece. Stores would purchase 3 tops and 3 bottoms and have 9 combinations to sell from. The bride could choose to have it made as a gown or keep it two-piece. Stores would add more pieces each season to expand their selling ability. By the time other Bridal companies caught on, it was 80% of our sales. When they flooded the market with 2 pieces that could only be paired with each other, brides lost interest. By that time, we had moved on. I feel I always try to stay ahead of the curve if possible. I love when styles or trends go full circle and I can make something I designed years ago, fresh and new again by changing it slightly. My standard of quality and fit has not wavered, but I am always on the lookout for new fabrics and laces to work with. I love a classic gown with a modern twist.
Do you have a favorite design you’ve created over the years and why?
My, all time, favorite was a two piece Couture gown with a black Silk Velvet skirt and a black Satin square-neck bodice. The leaves in the embroidery went from blue centers to black edges. It was masterful and my design partner and I got a great deal of pleasure creating it. The bride was married in a castle in Scotland.
Along the way I’ve had hundreds of favorites. Because I love texture and dimension so much, I have to say Aanya is a fave at the moment as well as a few others. The fabric has a soft and playful texture. It’s super chic with a stylish sleeve and the skirt is available with or without a slit. Photographers love to shoot it because of the fabric and movement. It’s not traditional by any means but then neither is my personality.
What are some of your favorite experiences since joining the bridal community?
First and foremost, you get to be a part of every bride’s favorite day. A lifelong memory. Second: the relationships with industry people. I’ve been friends with store owners and many designers for years. I think I said it in one of my blogs, but people on the outside see it as such a huge industry and so glamorous yet on the inside it feels so intimate and real.
When I owned a bridal salon in NYC and worked personally with brides it was rewarding to go through the process with them and their families. Looking back now, even some of the most difficult family challenges I had to council were enlightening and educational. One father of a bride, who was a psychiatrist, dubbed me an honorary psychiatrist on the day he picked up her gown. Lol. All rewarding.
Our world has changed a lot this year. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?
I have always been a “plan B” person so when things in “plan A” don’t work out, I don’t fret, I just move right into “plan B”. The pandemic took my team and I to “plan F” or “G” possibly, but we finally found our groove. I’m lucky because I love my staff and they know how to take charge when they see me falter. My Sales Director, Tonya Chapman, keeps everything moving forward and understands store owners (she was one for 15 years) and their needs. It’s constant communication and honesty. One of us is available, at all times to our accounts. We get it now more than ever, if a store can close a sale on the spot by communicating with us, we need to be there. I’ve even been doing FaceTime calls with stores during appointments to meet the brides and answer questions concerning changes. We and our amazing factory go above and beyond to accommodate rushes, custom changes, split sizing and any other needs our stores and their brides have.
My Marketing and Social Media Director (Stephanie Dufour) has been working closer with our stores to cross pollinate our posts and have consultants wear my gowns for posts. We have done socially distanced, small photoshoots to show new styles to keep presenting fresh new gowns to our stores and consumers just to name a few directional changes. I am always ready to change or pivot when needed. I actually like change and think as devastating as this last several years have been for both political reasons (tariffs) and the pandemic, we are learning and evolving. I wouldn’t be in business for so long if I wasn’t willing to adapt to change.
What three words best describe you or your company?
My company is me: