Bridal Designer Katie May’s Winning Style

This Bridal Designer Makes Our Wedding Dreams Come True

Written By: Tyler Holland Bridal Designer Katie May’s Winning Style
Photographed By: Gil Cope

In the past, there were few styles to choose from for a bride to be. Though the gowns were beautiful, there was not much opportunity to represent your individual style and stand out from the crowd. This is what designer Katie May has set out to change. One of May’s missions is to give modern brides what she could not find on her big day. Now, nontraditional gowns are only growing in popularity as modern cuts and backless gowns are becoming highly sought after. Located in Los Angeles’ Fashion District, May has access to some of the best talent available, beautifully executing each piece and bringing them to brides at reasonable prices. Continue reading to discover how May got her start in the industry, what’s next for her and her company and what continues to drive and motivate her.   

Q: What started your interest in designing?

Katie May: My nana, Daphne, used to be a model and travel the world, and as a result, she had an incredible closet. After school, my sisters and I would go to her place and play dress up. She taught me about fit and design and really got me into fashion. At one point, I wanted to make my own clothes, so I began making patterns out of newspaper and eventually got an Elna sewing machine at 15. This was when I really started making clothes.

Q: How did you get into designing wedding dresses?

KM: Getting into bridal was actually accidental; my whole business is because of my family. I got married six years ago and didn’t know much about bridal designs or fashion, if anything at all. I found out that there was a vast difference between the cheaper and more expensive dresses and tried to find my own style within the existing field, but found it difficult. When my sister got married, I wanted to design a gown for her and give her something I couldn’t find when I was looking. That dress started everything. I took wedding photos and posted them on my blog and from there, someone took the photo and pinned it on Pinterest. That started the demand and from there my business grew. I wish I could thank the person who posted that Pinterest picture for this.

Q: What was it like starting your own business?

KM: When I started my business, I was living in Japan. My sisters would go around LA searching for samples and sending them to me and whenever I came up with designs, I would show them to my sisters and get their opinions before proceeding, and still do this to this day. They have always been there for me and have always been eager to help. That is why my new collection will feature all our middle names (May is my middle name). I truly believe having a great family if you’re lucky enough is the greatest gift on Earth.

Q: What makes nontraditional wedding dresses stand out?

KM: Individuality. For the first time in bridal, I feel there is more range, allowing people to show off their individual style. Online shopping and Pinterest have helped a great deal with this and have opened people’s’ eyes to the possibilities that are out there. Brides are so excited now because of all the new options available from all over the world. Getting to express your individual style is important, especially during your wedding. If you don’t wear something that you really love, that truly represents you, it can put a damper on your big day.

Q: When picking out a wedding dress, what should the bride pay the most attention to?

KM: Go with your gut and get what makes you feel the most beautiful.

Q: Most only wear their wedding dress once, but for those who want to find opportunities to wear it again, what do you recommend?

KM: Get a really good tailor. Many of the gowns are so beautiful that only wearing them once would be a real shame. A good tailor can alter them and get them ready for everyday life after the wedding. Beyond that, it’s up to your imagination. Make it your own.

Q: What is your favorite dress you’ve worked on so far?

KM: The Princeville is my favorite. It was for my sister Kristine and was the first gown I ever designed. I have a great emotional attachment to it. When I first started I only designed for people I knew and have good memories about all of them, so beyond the Princeville, it’s hard to say if I have a favorite. The Geneva and Vienna are beautiful and would be close favorites if I had to choose.

Q: Do you have a dream dress? A certain style you’ve thought of that you want to create some day?

KM: What I haven’t done that I want to do is a Jersey edition. It hasn’t been done before and I expect it to be well received by my bridal base. I also believe 3D printing will play a huge role in bridal in the future. In 15 years, I believe you will be able to 3D print dresses and am excited to see this develop and see where it goes.

Q: What is your greatest motivator?

KM: TED Talks is one of my greatest motivators. I listen to it to and from work every day. It inspires me to challenge the norms and since I started listening, I feel I have become even more driven to put my all into my designs and company. My team is also a major source of inspiration. They work so hard. I want to continue working hard for them and provide additional opportunities.

Q: What is the ultimate goal of your company?

KM: I’d love to be able to expand one day. This spring, a new line with signature backs will be made available through Shopbop, which could help with my expansion goals. I also love to design and want to continue to spend more time on coming up with new looks. Besides that, I want to figure out how to improve the industry and make positive impacts on the environment. We have made some changes, such as fabric garment bags and switching from plastic to wood hangers. We also have volunteer days twice a year, but want to find additional opportunities to help others, especially in Downtown LA.  

Q: What in the design world is getting you excited at the moment?

KM: Backless is really hot right now and designers are coming out with different ways of showing backs with different details. As far as what’s next and what isn’t being seen, the Jersey collection is something to look out for. I’m excited to bring this into production.

Q: Is there anything coming in the summer of 2016 we should be looking out for?

KM: Our new bridal collection Noel<<May<<Jean by Katie will be shipping by the end of the summer and will be online as well so it can ship worldwide. It’s made for a budget of $1, 200 or less and offers modern, effortless and incredible cuts and fits. It’s perfect for younger brides looking for something within their budget, but also modern and daring.

Q: What does the future hold for wedding dress design? Where do you see it four or five years from now?

KM: Bridal is changing rapidly and many contemporary designers are getting into it. These contemporary brands create a lot more range and will completely change the players in bridal over the next few years. I also believe online will play an increasingly large role and fast fashion will start to come into play as well.

Q: Which countries have some of the best designers at the moment?

KM: Israel, Australia and Colombia all have incredible designers that people should look out for.

Q: How do you de-stress when things get tough?

KM: Vent sessions with my sisters over the phone help me de-stress. My kids also help me relax after a hard day’s work. They are always so excited to see me. When I come home to them, I seem to forget all my problems.

Q: What would your perfect day be like?

KM: I would start by sleeping in. With two small kids, sleeping in is a real luxury. I would follow that by getting to work and not having many distractions so I can focus on designing. Designing is my nirvana. I can really get lost in it, which makes time fly by so fast. Sometimes this would be followed by going out with friends, but going home and seeing my kids is the real perfect end to a perfect day.

Q: Do you have any “bridezilla” stories and how do you deal with those situations?

KM: I have some. I’m very honest with both business owners and clients, even if they don’t want to hear it. I have even turned away business because I felt like I didn’t align with the customer. I think everyone should generally strive to be kinder and more reasonable with each other. It will make business run much more smoothly and creates a much more pleasurable environment all around.

Q: Are there any locations you’re looking at expanding into, national or international?

KM: International is my next big quest, since we already have great representation throughout the U.S. Western Europe and Asia are the major areas we are looking into.

Q: What is your advice to those looking at getting into designing wedding dresses or designing in general?

KM: My best advice: Don’t go to school for design. If you have it in you, you have it in you. Go to business school and focus on learning to operate a business instead. Many fail because they can’t figure out how to ship on time, for example.

Instant Motivator: “I recommend TED Talks if you feel like you are in need of motivation or you need something to push you through a rough patch. They are so motivational and have helped me out a great deal.”

Katie’s Blueprint for Success: “Don’t forget about those who are less fortunate. It is important to try to work towards bettering the local and global communities, as well as ourselves. Being kinder can go a long way.”

Top 5 Designers: Donna Karan, Riccardo Tisci from Givenchy, Tom Ford, Peter Dundas who is now at Cavalli but used to be at Pucci and Johanna Ortiz.

Favorite Day-Off Activities: “Since I have a young family, my favorite things often involve experiencing life through my kids’ eyes. I enjoy going to parks, cooking, baking, meal prep and using our imaginations. We are also learning the art of playing board games. The TV is hardly ever on, so we spend a lot of time together. I also enjoy driving down to San Diego to see my sisters and visiting family in Fallbrook.”

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Tyler Holland is a Southern California native, born in Los Angeles and spent his younger years between Los Angeles and Orange County. He has lived in several states and spent his High School years in British Columbia, Canada. He attended San Francisco State University to get his degree in International Relations before returning to Orange County. Tyler loves to explore the world around him and is always eager to seek out new experiences. Besides writing, his favorite activities include snowboarding, Muay Thai, playing bass guitar, dance and photography.

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