Today’s interview is with Elizabeth Dye, a designer who makes absolutely breathtaking gowns and clothes, and sells her own line as well as others in her boutique in Portland, Oregon, The English Dept.
I am thrilled to have Elizabeth as our interview subject today because she is a designer and creator of what so many of us enjoy – beautiful clothes. I asked her all the questions I’d want to know from somebody of her talent, and loved her responses. Of course, I’ve included her beautiful designs and dresses throughout. Enjoy!
Who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?
My name is Elizabeth Dye. I am a wedding gown designer located in Portland, Oregon. I have my own boutique, The English Dept., where I sell my own dresses as well as a curated selection from other independent dress and accessory designers.
I think your job is amazing! What has been the most surprisingly awesome and difficult thing about it?
Working for myself gives me a lot of freedom, but it’s freedom to work! I never stop—there’s always more to do. It feels very fulfilling, but I occasionally have fantasies of a “regular job” where there are things like weekends. Then I remember that I make pretty dresses for a living and I snap out of it. I wish weddings weren’t the only occasion where most women let themselves indulge a fantasy of how they’d like to dress. I’d love to design everyday clothing with that same kind of magic, personal connection.
I know that you were a former law student. What prompted you to make such a big career switch?
In law school I realized that I really have to be making things—creative work is essential to who I am. It’s like breathing! I’m thankful to the law school experience for bringing that into focus.
Who are some of your favorite designers that you carry? How about some that you wish the shop carried?
Right now I love Ivy & Aster, a new line based out of Atlanta, GA. I’m excited to see more indie bridal designers coming on the scene and am always on the hunt for fresh designs that are in a boutique price point. I love couture bridal—Oscar de la Renta, Lela Rose, Vera—but my mission is to bring the design-within-reach concept to the bridal industry.
Left: Elizabeth Dye, 2010. Right: BHDLN, 2011
I know recently you had a little issue with BHDLN being “inspired” by one of your designs. I know that you haven’t been the only one who has encountered this. What are your thoughts on this type of behavior in the industry and how prevalent do you think it is?
Copying is everywhere, but it’s best not to get too worked up about it—just keep moving and creating. What I dislike about companies like BHLDN is that pirating the work of small designers (who are truly defenseless to protect their work) is their whole M.O. They could easily hire the talent they steal from—investing in design over time instead of knocking off or chasing trends is, to me, a more interesting and meaningful way to do business.
Who is the girl you design for? What is she like, and what does she value in her wedding dresses?
My girl has a playful sense of style and wants a lovely dress for her wedding but doesn’t necessarily think of herself as a princess bride. I like to think she has a good head on her shoulders but still wants to dance the night away.
Elizabeth featured in Brides magazine – her Giselle dress
Which is a designer that has a totally different aesthetic than you, but that you still admire?
Alexander McQueen. He is missed. He was a totally fearless artist and an inspiration to all of us.
A shot of Elizabeth’s studio, photo courtesy of Kate Maxwell
Luxury is a fast growing industry and has undergone massive expansion and price hikes in the last few years. What are your thoughts, as a designer, on the future of luxury and some of the prices that luxury houses are charging?
I just visited the Balenciaga exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, and it reminded me that there is always an audience for luxury, and there should be. The luxury arena allows extremely gifted designers and craftspeople to work at the top of their game. Status handbags, that sort of stuff, kind of bores me. That’s not really luxury—it’s just markup and branding. I would love to see a return to beauty, which speaks for itself and is always worth the sticker price. That’s when fashion becomes art.
Elizabeth’s Storyville Suite dress – it transforms from a long gown….to….
….a short party dress!
What are some of the key components that a reader should look for when shopping for a quality garment?
High quality natural materials, sure stitching, thoughtful details. Don’t be afraid to turn it inside out or ask where it’s made!
Finally, please share some parting words of advice!
Working in the bridal industry, I have learned how accustomed we’ve all become to wearing clothes that don’t fit! A dress, in particular, really needs to fit. It’s always worth paying more for fit—besides being more flattering to the body, good fit communicates confidence and good taste. If you just love a garment but it hangs on you, invest in having it tailored. You will wear it forever.
I loved this interview! Thank you so much Elizabeth for sharing your wealth of wisdom and beautiful designs with us all. I also included my favorite photo of Elizabeth for you all below – I am sure that we will be seeing her lovely creations more and more for years to come.