Nov. 06, 2023
Madeline Faccenda Gardner, Fashion Design ’79

I’ve designed wedding dresses for Morilee since 1985. When I started, I designed 18 dresses a year. Today, Morilee produces tens of thousands. We sell globally in 75 countries.

In the ’80s, pretty much everyone wanted a satin gown with long sleeves and maybe a V-neck. Now brides are so diverse! Some want a classic Audrey Hepburn look, and some a gigantic ball gown with lots of sparkle. We have plus-size wedding dresses, gowns for same-sex weddings—sometimes, one bride is on one side of the store, and one’s on the other. I like including everyone. As a designer, that’s fun because it’s the full spectrum.

Recently we decided to start a couture line because it was time for something new and fresh. We start with the highest quality fabrications—hand-painted Italian silks, laces from France. The silhouette is more extravagant. One gown is all beaded tulle, with huge organza flowers on the hem. A wedding is a bride’s red-carpet moment. It means so much to them; it really does.

“I feel like I still go back to why I started: I love lace and beading.”
 —Madeline Gardner

When I was at FIT, we did everything by hand. Oscar de la Renta was my critic, and I hand-sewed and hand-blocked everything. He was such a mentor, so giving. He chose two of my outfits for the final show.

Today, when I get a box of laces from a supplier, I just feel so happy. Each one is like a blank canvas. I’ll think, “What am I going to do with this?” I’ll lay it across my desk. I’ll start thinking, “This belongs in a slim silhouette,” or, “How will it work in a neckline, or with some sparkle under it?”

Somehow, this simple piece of lace just comes to life.

—as told to Alex Joseph

Gardner has served as head designer for Morilee for 37 years. The brand’s new couture line offers intricate details, luxurious fabrics, and flattering silhouettes for all body types.