As the owner of Elizabeth Leese Bridal in Addison, it’s Elizabeth Leese’s (’17) job to keep trends top of mind — and set a few of her own. At her boutique, the fashion design alum creates custom pieces, as well as yearly collections, that complement each bride’s unique vision.
“I was drawn to bridal because of the one-on-one interactions with clients,” Leese says. “It’s something that you don’t see in the rest of the industry — there might be 50 to 100 people between the designer and the client. Getting to hear what brides envision, and getting to see their reactions, is irreplaceable. It’s so sweet.”
It’s little surprise that Leese is taken by the singularity of custom-designed clothing — as a young girl, that’s exactly what inspired her love of fashion in the first place. Her mother, an artist, planned family vacations that centered around museums. It was during a getaway to San Francisco, where they visited the de Young Museum, that Leese saw a Vivienne Westwood fashion exhibition. Westwood, who is credited with bringing modern punk and new wave fashion into the mainstream, was known at the time for creating collections that most notably took inspiration from the paintings of Jean-Honoré Fragonard, François Boucher and Thomas Gainsborough, as well as historical British dress, including the 19th-century bustle. Leese was hooked.
“I loved how Vivienne Westwood set herself apart,” she says. “I just fell in love with the idea that fashion could be a career, and that it was for me.”
In 2012, Leese enrolled in UNT’s fashion design program, where she says she learned about every facet of the industry in which one could specialize. She was particularly inspired by associate professor and fashion design undergraduate program coordinator Anny Chang, who “pushed us to be better designers, work harder and really finetune our craft.” It was Leese’s experience as an undergraduate that solidified her desire to pursue bridal design.
“In one of our intro courses, we learned about ‘fast fashion,’ and if you know anything about fashion, you know what a blemish that is on the industry as a whole,” says Leese, who as a student interned in the bridal department of Nha Khanh, where she was mentored by fellow fashion design alum Khanh Nguyen (’96). “I was drawn to the idea that people still cared about their wedding gown, that women would keep it forever and maybe pass it down to their daughter or granddaughter.”
On the heels of her own wedding, for which she custom designed her dress — “I remember cutting it on the floor of my apartment and using lace from my mom’s wedding gown,” she says — Leese officially entered the bridal design business, with Elizabeth Leese Bridal opening its doors in September 2016.
Since then, she’s worked on numerous gowns for clients throughout the U.S. Leese, who takes inspiration from architecture and nature, ensures that each dress has a one-of-a-kind flourish.
“Once a gown is made, I reserve it as an exclusive. So to reproduce it, I try to find a way to incorporate some differences to make it unique,” she says. “Every bride is so different, we end up with designs all over the board. Everyone has a unique vision for themselves and their big day.”
As her reputation grows, Leese is committed to providing the kind of mentorship Nguyen gave her. She offers three-month internships to students in fashion design and merchandising, with many interns selected from UNT. “Work for big and small companies,” she advises students, “and get a mentor.”
In the years ahead, she has plenty of ideas for the future of Elizabeth Leese Bridal. First and foremost is ensuring custom remains the heart and soul of the brand — she always has, after all, gravitated to the unique.
“It’s how we started,” Leese says, “and that precious time with clients is something I don’t want to give up.”