What started off as a hobby—making clothes for dolls at the age of 8—has become a full-time career for Esé Azénabor in her expanding Design District studio. More than a decade ago, the Nigerian dress designer made the move from Canada to Dallas to pursue her undergraduate degree in accounting at SMU. With a bit of savings and a lot of support from friends, she launched her eponymous line in 2012. Now her haute couture designs can be spotted on red carpets, worn by big names such as Taraji P. Henson, Tyra Banks, Michelle Williams, and Thalía.
Brides fly in from across the country to have their wedding dresses custom made by Azénabor and her team of 26. From sewing to beading to finishing, everything is done in-house over the course of what is often a monthslong process. The gowns are neither simple nor expected; a recent black wedding dress left not a dry eye in the room.
Her new Lotus evening gown collection was inspired by the aquatic flower. “I saw blooming, color, and life,” Azénabor says. The designs feature bright blues, yellows, emerald greens, and fuchsias. “My Dallas women like something a little cleaner,” she says of the pieces, which are architectural in design. The intricate beading and heavy embroidery she often employs for Middle Eastern and New York clients are replaced by sharp shoulder silhouettes and layered peplum skirts.
As for the wedding collection, “a big trend right now is the two-in-one look,” Azénabor says. This option allows brides to convert from ceremony to reception with one dress; the transformation is often achieved with a removable layer.
Azénabor’s own wedding dress was one of her first convertible designs. She knew it would take her at least a year to make, so she started working on it before her now-husband even proposed.
“I wore a 50-pound dress down the aisle,” she says with a laugh, describing the beaded, sleeved design she wore for her New Year’s Eve wedding in 2017. “It was very heavy, very dramatic. I was crying because I saw my husband waiting for me at the end of the aisle. But my guests probably couldn’t figure out if I was crying because I love my husband so much or because the dress was just too damn heavy.”
This story originally appeared in the August issue of D Magazine with the title, “Tulle of the Trade.” Email [email protected].