How do you go to sketching and dreaming about designing buildings in Korea to having your wedding dress designs strutting the catwalk in Portland, OR? Well, you fall in love.
At least, that is what Portland wedding dress designer Sunjin Lee did! She met her husband (who also acts as her business partner in many aspects) in Paris, fell in love, and ended up trying on tons of wedding dresses with unhappy results. Her decision to try her hand at making her own wedding dress is what brought her to today, just a few years later!
Of course, that is boiling down a romantic, long-distance relationship down to the nitty gritty there. The couple stayed contacted for nearly two years after meeting in Paris, Sunjin in university in Korea while her husband was in the states. The whole thing was sort of a romance that you’d read in a modern storybook. Strong female lead from traditional background with no intention of getting married really meets dashing, talented, and smart young man in a town far from both their homes. They fall in love to be parted by schedules, plans, and obligations. The young couple work for years, traveling back and forth, keeping their spark alive until they are reunited again. I’d read that book.
I had the amazing opportunity to visit Sunjin Lee’s studio in Portland, Oregon to see her work and her work space. I also got to talk with her for an hour about life, love, and her passions. Her studio walls give glimpses into her love of architecture, Paris, fashion, and wedding dresses. She has bookshelves packed to the rafters with wedding and Vogue magazines. Two full walls lined with tulle, silk, embroidered, and beaded dresses. A wall covered in gorgeous sketches of buildings. It is a sight to see.
Sunjin Lee pointed out the sketches to tell me a story about meeting her husband. She pointed out a sketch looking up at the Eiffel Tower. All of the sketches are gorgeous.
“Wait,” you drew these!?” I asked. Yep, she drew them.
She tells me about going to school and training for a career in architecture. You can see her love for great architecture in the dresses she designs. She uses strong lines in many of her bodices, she plays with the shape and structure of the dresses using fabric and structure. She tells me how she lets designs of the past inspire her work. She points out a gorgeous high-low wedding dress with 3/4 sleeves, “this shape was popular in the fifties.” It is neat to see her crafts playing together so nicely.
Sunjin Lee tells me how she got started in wedding dress design only 3 years ago. After trying on several wedding dresses she didn’t find exactly what she wanted. She also found out that having someone make her a specialty dress would take much more time than she had. So, she thought about what she wanted and decided that she could do it herself. And, boy did she!
She actually wore three wedding dresses throughout her wedding day in Hawaii. One of the dresses was a Nicole Miller dress (actually, the same dress I wore on MY wedding day!) and the other two dresses were of her own creation. She shows me one of the dresses she wore that had a mermaid skirt and had been hand-beaded by her with thousands of sequins and beads. She showed me how the beading worked its way up the skirt so it shimmered like water on a mermaid’s tail. Perfect for a beach wedding.
I promise that I’m trying to convince her to publish the photos of her own wedding day so we can all see the dresses in action!
Sunjin Lee’s work space is a home-sewer’s dream. She has a huge table ready for cutting, bolts and bolts of fabric piled beneath it. Ribbons, beads, threads, and other sewing supplies are available everywhere you look in the room. She shows me one of the items she seems most proud of… a shadow box with a dress sketch and material swatches.
“I give one of these to each of my brides with swatches of the material used to make their dress and a sketch of the dress they are wearing,” she explained. It would be an absolutely treasured keepsake for any bride.
The young Portland wedding dress designer has been creating her dresses for around three years. She now has two collections of dresses to her name, have seen her dresses on brides, received the 2013 Best Couture Gown Designer award from Oregon Bride, and will see them walk the runway this Friday’s Mimosas & Gowns Portland Fashion Week Bridal Show. Tickets are still available for the show if you’d like to see her work in person!
A BIG thank you to Sunjin Lee for letting me peek into your studio space and for chatting with me for so long. You are an instant friend!
Disclaimer: I was not paid for this interview and studio tour. I am a part of the Portland Fashion Week’s Style Collective and will be receiving free VIP tickets to visit the shows. However, no post requirements were asked of us and this post was all my own idea and Sunjin Lee’s awesome story. All opinions are my own. Tickets to Portland Fashion Week are still available! Purchase tickets now to get in for just $20 or pay $30 at the door. There are 6 shows in total, 35 pop-up boutique shops, and 3 after parties. I hope to see you there!