Seven years ago, Esé Azénabor made her debut in the Dallas fashion scene. Bright-eyed with passion, she pressed pause on her graduate pursuits at Southern Methodist University and went full force into designing her first ready-to-wear collection — without any financial assistance or immediate support. For four years the Nigerian designer struggled, despite outward appearances of success, and almost called it quits.
“From 2012 to 2016, it was a big struggle,”Azénabor recalls. “But things finally took off in 2016, and I told myself that I should really keep doing this.”
From the outside looking in, she was the golden child. With standing-room-only shows boasting the who’s-who in the front row, Azénabor was quickly becoming a household name. Her impeccable attention to detail, elaborate beading and heavy embroidering were immediately recognizable and clear to all that a star was born. But this was not the path that she was molded to take.
The Azénabor name was deeply rooted in the areas of medicine, law and engineering. As an accounting major from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada, she robotically followed her predetermined path. But destiny continued to knock, and a move to Dallas proved life-changing for the soon-to-be celebrity designer.
Fast forward to the present, with a larger-than-life atelier, a now blossoming bridal business and customers spanning from the United States to Canada to London and Dubai, the dedicated artist shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. After the birth of her daughter Elah this past May, Azénabor immediately bounced back into action and into designing a new collection.
“I came back that day to the showroom after I left the hospital,” she laughs. “Listen … I had my baby during wedding season. When I came back, it was crazy busy and I had to focus on a new collection.”
Unexpectedly, the Esé Azénabor brand has flipped to virtually bridal, with a smaller percentage dedicated to evening wear and haute couture garments — a drastic change from her earlier beginnings many years ago. Designing for celebrities like Pat Smith, Real Housewives of Dallas star LeeAnne Locken and Instagram influencer Brandi Holmes — these viral sensations have helped to boost the shift.
"I’ve seen a lot of tears in my showroom, but it’s such a blessing. I can honestly say — I get paid in gratification.” — Esé Azénabor
“This is the busiest I’ve ever been in my whole career; bouncing back after my baby shows me how strong I am and how strong I can be,” Azénabor says. “Right now, it’s crazy busy.”
Nostalgia also weaves its way into the designer’s continued success, as designing for current brides helps her to relive the feeling of her 2017 wedding to now husband Eric Grembowski.
“Designing for brides takes me back to my own wedding; I know how it feels,” she says. “They often tell me, ‘I know you can bring my vision to life.’ And then we do. I’ve seen a lot of tears in my showroom, but it’s such a blessing. I can honestly say — I get paid in gratification.”
Even more gratifying is the notion that an Esé Azénabor bride is not difficult to spot. Her brand makes a definite splash. The custom gowns are often avant garde, ethereal in their makeup, with crocheted lace detail and intricate beading throughout. Always Instagram-worthy, her designs not only capture, but also captivate audiences' attention. Focused on 2020, the designer will present an all-new bridal collection at the Ritz-Carlton on Sept. 29, alongside the award-winning menswear label, Don Morphy.
Inspired by her daughter (who makes her feel "like she’s in heaven”), the show will unveil 25 new bridal gowns. Still etched in the signature glitz and glam, the collection will feature multitextured fabrics, plus a combo of soft and hard lines for a romanticized luxurious appeal.
The hot new trends in bridal will hit the runway, including 2-in-1 looks, detachable garments and extravagant beading — all on the must-have list for any bride in 2020.
“Most of our brides are now looking for a 2-in-1 look,” the designer dishes. “There’s a ceremony look and a reception look, but they want it all in one dress. So think detachable pieces or detachable trains — it all needs to reveal a different look but in one design.”
And in Esé fashion, the designer is also planning her annual women’s empowerment celebration for Nov. 24, benefiting Action for Compassion. Cover model turned creative director Jenna Jenovich is but one of over 40 influencers slated to grace the runway.
“There’s more coming your way,” Azénabor teases of the show's details. “You’ll just have to wait and see.” As a city that has witnessed the emergence of one of its more recognizable designers, it can be said that the future will be well worth the wait.