We talk Bride by Design with Heidi Elnora!


Bride By Design premieres tonight at 9/8CT on TLC.

If you’re a fan of TLC’s famous BrideDay Friday block of bridal-gown goodness, you’re sure to love its newest addition, Bride by Design, starring Alabama-based fashion maven and Season 2 Project Runway contestant Heidi Elnora. But there’s lots of insight and inspiration here for avid fashionistas, too.


“I am super excited, because it really takes the viewers into my world and seeing what it is to be a designer — all the processes and all the love and time that goes into a dress,” says Elnora, who graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2002 and opened her design business four years later. “It’s the ultimate bridal show in my eyes. … A lot of my guy friends love fashion, too, so with Bride by Design, it gives that fashion approach about what it takes to create a dress, too!”

We caught up with the proudly Southern charmer and married mom of two a few days before tonight’s series premiere to discuss what drives her to create a one-of-a-kind gown — and experience — for every bride who walks through her door.

Channel Guide Magazine: You did Project Runway and had the successful Bride by Design special last July — but share with me how you were approached to do a full-fledged series.

Heidi Elnora: After Project Runway, I’d actually been approached by different producers about having a show, but I wanted it to be the right kind of show and I wanted to create something that was positive and had a positive vibe. We need more positivity in this world and that’s who I want to be.

I met this adorable producer named Zayna about four years ago and she said, “I want to showcase your talent and what you do in Alabama and I want to do it in a positive way that’s fun and happy and silly” — all those things that I am. So we shot the sizzle reel four years ago and I was just really wanting to be on TLC. That was the network that made the most sense to my brand, so we waited patiently for TLC and when the time was right and perfect and the stars aligned, it happened. So it’s been a really long journey, but anything worth having is worth waiting for!

CGM: The show also demonstrates that a custom gown doesn’t have to cost more than something off-the-rack. How important was that element to you?

HE: Well, on our show, there’s two different processes. There is definitely the true “custom” which you’ll see goes behind the scenes with me doing the initial sketch and TLCselecting the fabrics and the fittings and all that goes into something that’s more the couture, custom feel.

But then I also offer my line called Build-a-Bride, which is awesome. I created it in 2008 because I would notice that brides would come in and they would love the idea of custom but they didn’t have the custom budget. So I was like, “How can I help you? What can I do to get you to where you need to be?” So that’s how Build-A-Bride was created and it’s been awesome. Brides who are on a budget get to have this couture, custom experience and build their dress from scratch by choosing one of our basic, pristine white dresses and some of over 25 add-on pieces.

People are like, “This is so much fun!” and I’m like “Good! It’s supposed to be fun!” Bridal shopping is about fun. It’s supposed to be a wonderful, happy time in your life and that’s what Build-a-Bride does for that particular type of bride.

CGM: The Build-a-Bride line is kind of genius … I would have loved to have had something like it at my disposal when I got married.

HE: Look, I just hang out in my hayfield in Alabama trying to do things that make sense to me, so thank you for that compliment. When I started my company in 2006, I noticed a need for this one basic dress, the Coco Marie. It’s a sweetheart neck, fit-and-flair, low-V back with a chapel-length train and I’ve fitted it 1,000 times over the past nine years. So instead of reinventing the wheel, I said to my friend and pattern maker Carolyn, “Let’s just develop this dress so when brides come in we have it available.” And we did.

Then over the years we noticed more brides come in and they’d want different silhouettes so it grew into a fleet of 15 dresses.

CGM: Tell me about naming the dresses. I’ll admit I spent far longer on that page trying to figure out who they were named after than my boss would have probably liked. But I found literary figures and authors’ names there, actresses … it was irresistible.

HE: Because I am from the South we have a lot of double names, so all of the girls have — I call the dresses ‘the girls’ — have two names and they are all created after someone who inspired me. So my first collection was named after my mom, the Valerie Lynn and the Eleanor Bailey. So the Coco Marie is actually named after a DJ friend of mine — a guy named DJ Coco and his wife is Nicole Marie. That is one of our best dresses.

The Anna Beth, that is named after one my best friends at Carters when I worked there designing children’s clothes and she was in my wedding. So each dress is named after a woman who inspires me. whether they are one of my relatives or a girlfriend or someone that I have met on this journey. They tell me that they are so honored I named a dress after them and I said, “Well, you are an important person in my life! So every dress has a story; it is not just a SKU number. It has a personality and they are inspired by a beautiful person.

But I do like to mix them up. One of our dresses is the Ollie Alice because she reminded me of Alice in Wonderland when she fell down that rabbit hole. I like to have fun with it. It doesn’t have to be so serious.

CGM: Take me through your process of building a custom gown — always materials first, as we see with Tia in the premiere, or does it vary?

HE: It definitely varies based off the bride’s personality and that is something that you will learn about me. So usually what happens is, when a bride comes in and she wants something that is truly custom work — the couture side of design — she will come in and we talk about it. She will bring in her inspiration and I will help her to focus on the true elements that she wants. Oftentimes the bride wants a true custom dress because she has all these ideas and can’t find them anywhere else. I ask them a lot of questions and once they figure out elements of other dresses that they like, then I will begin to sketch out my ideas and show them fabric.

Once that is all accomplished and they have signed off on it, then I will go in with Carolyn and we will start to make the pattern and Leslie will start sewing up these patterns in muslin and we will do fittings and make sure that the basic foundation of the dress is perfect. Then we cut into the nice expensive fabric and sew them up!

CGM: Your seamstresses, Carolyn and Leslie, are a stitch. Like two additional moms. How’d did you find them?

HE: I have been with Carolyn — or Carolyn has been with me — for nine years. She texts me my horoscope every morning of my life and I love it. It brings me joy. And she brings me fresh eggs from her farm every day — which is good because I have two young sons and a big strong husband and they eat all those eggs. She is precious. She tells my mom she is my second mom — and she is.

Leslie has been with me for three years. She is definitely more of the mom who is like, “I don’t want to do that!” but at the end of the day Leslie has a heart of gold. She will bend over backwards to make sure that every bride is pretty. That is the thing about those ladies: They have such sweet hearts. They really care for their brides and they are passionate about what they do. I laugh every single day with them. I call them my old bears, because they are — Carolyn [below, right] is my grizzly bear and Leslie [left] is my panda.


CGM: Tell me about your client base — from all walks of life, all parts of the globe? And will we see that reflected in Bride by Design?

HE: It is all walks of life, all parts of the globe! What I think makes me special as a designer is I can become any girl I need to become. I can become a New Yorker. I can become a West Coast girl. I can be your Southern bride. I can be your girl from Miami. I can be all those girls.

And as a designer I do have a certain design aesthetic — I like things to be a certain way and I like things to be clean. I like things to be fitted. But I can be clean and fitted in different areas so you are going to see a variety of personalities, a variety of dresses. I love that I can step out of my comfort zone and what I traditionally do to create something that is unique and opens my eyes to see even more possibility. It helps me to develop every day as a designer making me stronger and better at my craft.

CGM: In the teaser for the series, we see a girl present you with a teacup as her inspiration — and that is it. Is that about as spare as it gets for your launching point, or do you get that sort of thing all the time?

HE: I oftentimes get that! I love the randomness of things! I am like, “OK! Let me figure out what exactly we are going to do with this teacup!” Once again, it’s back to that conversation with the bride of figuring out why that particular item is so important to them and why that particular item represents them as a bride and what they are wanting to achieve in their wedding dress. We definitely get all kinds of different things over the years and I love it. It doesn’t happen constantly but it is one of my favorite things — what is going to come out of that purse?!

CGM: In tonight’s premiere, we get to see you be a source of support and loving guidance for Kayla, who was missing her mom. Priceless part of the job?

HE: It is what I was meant to do and I don’t know how many people in this world can say that. This is who I was meant to be. I get to serve my brides and I get to be a witness to them and a friend to them and someone who shares their journey. It is very humbling being in the position that I am in — and sometimes it is hard because you know life isn’t easy and people hurt and I hurt for them. I always try to be very compassionate because I care. I want them to feel special on their day and know that they are loved and that, even after people have gone on, they’re still here with us.

Kayla was a very strong girl and she was very excited about her wedding day. I spoke with her several times since the show and she has become a dear friend. It was a very sweet moment — you could feel her mom’s spirit with us and it was really beautiful.


CGM: Do you have brides who have returned to you after the wedding and asked you to create other custom pieces for them? And are you open to that?

HE: Yes, definitely! One of my brides, her husband was on the PGA tour. Amanda Dufner and Jason Dufner. I did her wedding dress and then her husband was in the President’s Cup a few years back and she had me design a dress for the red carpet. I already knew her body and sense of style so I designed that dress for her. I had another bride whose husband is also on the PGA — Webb Simpson and Taylor Dowd Simpson — so I did her dress for the Ryder Cup.

It’s nice because I get to know these brides and, as I said earlier, they all become my friends and when they are needing something fantastic for a red carpet event or for a very special moment in their life, they know they can trust me and they know I will create something fantastic that is special to them.

CGM: Before I let you go, what trends are on the rise in bridal couture … and what trends do you wish would just go away?

HE: Girls now, they want to have something that is fitted, but yet they want something that is comfortable. So I am seeing a lot of lightweight fabrications for sure. Not a lot of big, huge, full ball gowns and heavy crinoline. It is a lot of lightweight organza, silk chiffons, silk crepe — things that are visibly lighter and lightweight and breathable. Definitely a trend. Girls are also wanting some type of coverage over their shoulders. Especially for this year, they are looking more to that.

In term of bridal trends, it all comes and goes. There is nothing that I would just wish would go away, because it is going to come back — it is going to come back anyway, so you might as well like it all, or learn to love it and figure it out.

Bride by Design airs Friday nights at 9/8CT on TLC.

Images/video: Discovery Communications

1 Comment

  1. I love you concept…but what about us plus size women…never is there a show that actually realizes that size 6 isn’t the only bridal size…it takes some women lots of courage to just buy a real dress..imagine wedding dresses are at least a size smaller…I am getting married in November of this year..moved to Athens Alabama, and all my family is in Florida..I haven’t even gone shopping because being new here I don’t have any friends yet…I love your site..and your show..but please don’t forget us beautiful women of size…you could possibly make more than just a dream come true…you could make that woman feel the most beautiful not matter her size or weight….Thank you for reading…

    Scared to look for a plus size wedding dress….

    Sheri Wetzel

    904 537 4819

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About Lori Acken 1195 Articles
Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.