I am so excited to introduce you to Alix Kivlin, the designer for Celia Grace, the only eco-friendly, sustainable wedding gown company in America! Celia Grace was formed by two long-time friends, designer, Alix and Marcie Muehlke, after Marcie found herself unable to find a wedding gown that fit her sustainable values for her wedding day. After traveling overseas to meet with various local fair trade producers skilled in creating luxury wedding gowns, Celia Grace partnered with multiple small producers in India and Cambodia to create these beautiful, ethically made, non-mass produced wedding gowns giving each bride added beauty to her big day. Ladies (and gentlemen), these gowns are not only gorgeous, I've seen and touched them, but they have amazing and wonderful stories behind them. Do yourself a favor, and click over the to the website to meet a few of the artisans that make Alix's designs come to life. Alix is pictured below (on the right) with business partner, Marcie.
How long have you been designing wedding gowns and how did you get started?
I come from a background of designing womens sportswear with major brands for the past decade in NYC, and had never considered going bridal until creating Celia Grace with my partner Marcie Muehlke. It was a very organic transition that started with a Thanksgiving holiday brainstorm about different fair trade markets and where there were holes, and acknowledging that most people had very little concept of what fair trade was and stood for (everyone thinks of coffee or chocolate, but never luxury wedding gowns!). We saw a big gap in the bridal market, it was either custom made or mass produced polyester gowns which surprised us. Marcie and I did loads of research into the bridal market, business models, fair trade producers, and our desired design aesthetic, which then rolled into me swatching, sketching, draping, and designing our collection and traveling overseas a few times to work one on one with our extraordinary producers in India and Cambodia. I am so in love with our collection and our mission, it's been a beautiful evolution of my design career and to feel confident sticking to my values, which can be very hard to find in fashion.
Do you have any advice for young designers looking to design wedding gowns?
Listen to what brides/women want for their big day. It's such an epic day in a woman's life and they aren't compromising how they look, it's valuable to get real feedback. Look at real womens bodies and know who you're designing for. Don't scrimp one bit on knowledge of construction, draping, how fabrics move and form to the figure (or don't), and how to design something beautiful yet comfortable to wear for 10+ hours. The inspiration gathering, designing, picking fabrics, and creating embellishments side of bridal is the most creatively fun part, but in the end it must be made impeccably and your customer needs to "oooh" and "ahhhh" over how she will look and feel on her one big day - that's the pressure!
What is your favorite thing about working in the wedding industry?
Everyone I have met and worked with is incredibly friendly and happy. There are no fashion-ista attitudes to be found! Pleasing the customer is incredibly wonderful too; knowing how beautiful and proud she will feel on her wedding day in a Celia Grace gown I created. I'm very privileged to work in the fair trade sector, so I work with producers I personally know and build bonds with. I see the love they put into each dress and feel very fulfilled knowing exactly how each of our gowns are made - beautiful dresses, made by talented workers, for beautiful brides on their big day - doesn't get much better than that.
Besides making beautiful dresses, you guys do so many great things at Ceclia Grace, from using sustainable materials, to giving back, to helping women by providing jobs. What do you find the most rewarding and impactful?
As I mentioned above, I find it incredibly rewarding to literally see the love and care put into each handcrafted dress, seemingly woven into the fibers of the materials. All the details going into the gowns are indigenous to the specific locations where they are produced, making the collection very unique and keeping with traditional practices. For example, there's embroidered netting from eastern India, 100% natural dyes and specific folding techniques to create patterns from western India, organic cotton from south India, heirloom silks traditionally woven on hand looms from Cambodia...all these craft details that can't be found in other places in the world.
Our impact can be seen on both small and larger scales, another rewarding aspect not just for myself and our customers, but for the workers themselves. With working on wedding gowns our seamstresses continue to learn and fine tune precise skills and master their trade. We work with some womens organizations which provide them with regular jobs and fair pay in regions where women aren't commonly working, thus giving them great opportunity to not only master their trade but to be rewarded for it with steady work and pay. Celia Grace donates a water filter to a local family with each wedding dress sold, again, giving these women and their families the right they deserve to live well with clean drinking water. On a larger scale, our producers can better care for themselves, their families, and their community. With the money they have earned they can put this back into the economy, afford schooling for their children, not fear of going hungry, save for their future goals, and travel on their vacation time off.
Is there any specific inspiration for the 2015 collection?
I can't say there's a specific one inspiration, but I do keep within a romantic, slightly vintage, slightly bohemian focus. I am often inspired by nature, which is reflected in our floral embroideries, the shibori folding and dying which looks like light dancing on rippled water, our slubby raw silk looks like super feminine and sheen tree bark, and beading patterns to mimic waves and flowers. Because we work with smaller producers this does slightly limit what materials I can use in the designs, and working within those boundaries actually helps to keep the design process focused and cohesive.
Which is your favorite gown from the collection?
The Bella Gown (pictured below)!! This dress makes me want to get married! It has the shibori folding and natural petal pink ombre dye from the hem fading into white. I love everything about it: the color, the organic rippling pattern, the overlapping strapless bodice, the flowing column skirt, and it has pockets - which is an absolute must for everything I wear, wedding or not!
And one more fun wedding question, in your opinion, what makes a good wedding great?
Ooooo good question...I haven't had a wedding (yet!) so I'm basing this on personal hypothesis, but I think a truly great wedding is one where you feel 100% comfortable, not just in your dress but in every decision and action that takes place, and with every person present at the event. Too many brides seem completely petrified, or overwhelmed with details they can't fix, or bitter about a guest they may have been pressured to invite, and I occasionally hear women complain that so much of their big day seems like a blur because of all the small details they were fixating on. I think if one feels completely at ease and at peace with what they've planned and what decision they are making with their partner, they will have a day of being able to value and relish every joyful moment, and have the ability put a positive spin on the things that may go not according to plan.
Thank you so much, Alix for sharing your story!