Bridal gown designer Natalie Harris, owner of Damsel White Label Collections and Custom Design, has been playing dress up with dolls her whole life, it's just that now her dolls are soon-to-be married brides instead of Barbies. Harris grew up in rural Indiana and remembers that before she could sew, she would glue scraps of fabric to her dolls to make their dresses.
Harris participated in 4-H in her hometown, taking on sewing projects every summer. When she got to high school, teachers created an independent study course for her that allowed her to delve further into sewing and design. "By the time prom came around and I had a head full of ideas about what the perfect dress should be, the deal was sealed," she tells us. "I consider myself blessed...and maybe a little cursed...to be one of those people that do what they do because they must."
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Harris' first job in the industry was with a bridal manufacturer in Houston. "There I learned about the needs of retailers and discovered a passion for listening and fulfilling the needs of modern brides." From there she went to work in a bridal salon for five years. "The owner understood I would be great in sales because of my design background, and we had an understanding about my little side business, it was just custom work at the time."
Eventually, that understanding came to an end. "I still maintain that our target customers are different, but I had to make some tough decisions about whether I was hindering myself by not marketing in the places they were. Luckily, they canned me. That was the push I needed to begin taking myself seriously as a brand."
In January, Harris moved Damsel White Label Collections and Custom Design into the Silver Street Studios. "We've been growing exponentially locally, so we'll see where that takes us!"
What She Does: "The matter of a job title is challenging, and I haven't found one that suits me yet,"" Harris tells us. "Perhaps Bridal Fashion Design Entrepreneur? I wear every hat from owner, creative director, graphics, sourcing and production manager to marketing, retail and wholesale sales, fulfillment, customer service, webmaster, and a handful of others I'm taking for granted. The only things I don't do anymore are the actual patterning and sewing. I hope to eventually transition to a greater concentration on Creative Director/Designer, which will come from hiring on staff.
"I'm working on creating my own lace pattern, having been inspired by the personalization in Kate Middleton's gown which featured icons from the four United Kingdom countries, the clover, thistle and rose. Mine will likely incorporate skulls. That almost summarizes me perfectly. A detail subtle enough to look perfectly romantic as the church doors open, but totally unexpected, often rock and roll.
"My devil-may-care design from this season was a mikado, a silk twill that resembles denim, fit and flare with stitching, distressing, seaming, and even a pocket like jeans. Having a bride order that one was ultimate validation. Having her opt to line it with a custom print featuring punk rock concert posters affirmed that what I'm hearing when these women say they want something really different."
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Why She Likes It: "Current trends toward more stylized weddings and the new perspective of tradition as inspiration rather than mandate really allow for so much creativity. Damsel White Label will definitely benefit from the timing. My Heights-Montrose-EaDo bride-to-be shares my appreciation for this fresh approach. It's allowed me to experiment not just with color and silhouette, but using unexpected fabrics and textures, even creating original prints, and custom rhinestone embellishment. I have one gown's corset made of treated real oak leaves."
What Inspires Her: "[My clients] are my muse. It is their individuality and confidence that make my collections so experimental and eclectic. That spirit is certainly a common pulse that beats throughout my collections."
If Not This, Then What: "I am working my dream gig. I'd said that I'm one of those people, who for better or worse, must do this. It's what I've been working toward since high school. I vaguely recall thinking maybe I'd be a lawyer when I was a little girl. There was a job-shadow in 10th grade with a graphic artist, and that may still be my backup, but that would be settling. Anything else would be."
If Not Here, Then Where: "I have no intent to leave Houston. It's my home. Economically, this is a great city in which to be a creative entrepreneur. There is a lot of talk about all that the Houston fashion scene is not, and though it's taken me eight years, I've pulled together an infrastructure with everything I need. It's all here. It's just that there's no Garment District with neon lights flashing we're here! There's exciting action lately to change that, though." What's Next: On the national level, Harris recently hired some regional sales reps Damsel White Label will be debuting in retailers across the country this year.
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Here in Houston, Harris is currently in design overdrive. "It was our intent to do one collection per year, as is typical for smaller bridal brands, but a month ago, my anticipation of the Bridal Extravaganza show got the best of me. I had to laugh at myself and create the hashtag #overnightcouture because I've been just spewing out new samples, the one exception to not sewing anymore, nearly daily lately. I go down to the studio after my toddler is in bed, emails for the day are returned, and I make my magic. It's so satisfying that I don't even mind the insanity of my schedule - for the short term!"
For information about Natalie Harris and Damsel White Label Collections and Custom Design, call 832-472-2517 or visit damselwhitelabel.com.
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