On September 24th, my design partner Chalo Hancock and I participated in The National Bridal Market Chicago. There, we ran into Belle Manjong, the owner of Boutique by Belle in Charleston, West Virginia. I didn’t know she was going to be in Chicago, and she didn’t know that we were going to be there either, so it was such a nice surprise when we ran into each other.
We first met Belle in New York in April when she visited our booth at The Knot Couture Show, and we immediately hit it off. We loved her spirit and her energy, and her all-female team. I think it’s safe to say she loved our designs and energy as well; not to mention our dear friend and muse Aluad Anei, who for the last six months had been our model.
I think everything happens for a reason, and we were meant to meet initially in NYC and then again in Chicago. It was then, in Chi-town, that Belle approached us to help her with a project that was under strict confidentiality. Belle and her team had been hired to style a wedding, but not just any wedding — Gucci Mane and Keyshia Ka’Oir’s wedding! The process was being filmed for BET’s reality show “The Mane Event”, which documented the process of planning the lavish $1.7M wedding.
So amazing getting to work with these women!! Thank you @keyshiakaoir for trusting us with your bridal party on your big day!! Congratulations to you and @laflare1017 – all the best!🙌💖🥂. Thank you @boutiquebybelle @kathyromero and @bet for this amazing opportunity. #christopherpaunil #fashion #madeincanada . . . . 🥂 #Repost @bet with @repostapp ・・・ You know @KeyshiaKaoir’s bridal party has to be snatched for The Mane Event tomorrow! Watch hip hop’s wedding of the year LIVE at 10/9c! #TheWopsters
At first, Belle asked us how feasible it would be to create seven custom gowns for a high-profile celebrity wedding for the middle of October…yes, only three weeks away! We were told that the bride wanted her whole bridal party in white gowns and that she wanted each lady to look like a bride. So basically, we were asked to create seven custom wedding dresses in under three weeks. Chalo and I played out every scenario as we contemplated this: do they all want a different design; do they want custom fabric; what are their sizes; do we have the capacity to add this production on all of our current orders to accommodate these seven gowns; do they all live in the same city; to finally how do we get their measurements and make sure they’re accurate? There were more unknowns than knowns, but it was exciting.
After careful deliberation and meeting with Belle and her team (the amazing Jillian, Kait and Julia), Chalo and I agreed to take on the project. It was then that we found out whose wedding we would be working on.
Our first two days in Chicago for bridal market turned out to be pretty eventful, to say the least. We got straight to work with designing and sending sketches back and forth with Kathy Romero (the wedding planner), filmed a tutorial video on how to take measurements and sent them to the bridal party, and thus the process began.
When we were back in Toronto and Keyshia was happy with the designs for her bridal party, we ordered the materials needed and headed to New York for another bridal show – The Knot Couture show. September and October were exciting as we were in Chicago one weekend, then NYC the following weekend, and in Miami the next, all while making sure that production for hip hop’s biggest wedding of the year was going smoothly.
As with production, there is never a shortage of hiccups. Our fabric got held at customs for two days, and then we were left with only five days to complete these seven custom gowns – and of those five days, three were spent in Miami where we do not even have a studio set up. We were presented with challenge after challenge throughout this process, and with the help of our team and people we could rely on, we were able to get it done! Thank God for sewing machines that can be packed into suitcases!
The experience is one that I will not soon forget, and I can’t wait for the next super exciting, high-adrenaline project! I’m thankful that The Mane Event gowns turned out beautifully and that it was a huge success; I truly believe that when you set your intentions for a positive outcome and send out positive energy into the universe, the universe responds favourably.
Christopher Paunil is a celebrated Canadian designer and an instructor in the Fashion Design Diploma at Toronto Film School . Having worked since the age of 14, Christopher is experienced in various aspects of the fashion industry, from pattern-making and uniform and costume design, to teaching in non-profit and educational environments. See more at www.christopherpaunil.com or follow him on Instagram