Meet today’s FACE of the South, wedding gown designer Heidi Elnora. From small town Alabama to Project Runway Season 2 and back, Heidi has patterned her life after fashion. In 2006, she launched her eponymous brand of wedding gowns, which are known for polished lines and superior details. Staying true to her roots, Heidi employs local garment artisans to craft all gown details by hand. Heidi’s unique designs can now be found in 23 boutiques across the world, including 14 Nordstrom locations. Her work has been featured in Brides, Martha Stewart Weddings, Lucky, The New York Times syndicate and more. SB Birmingham Editor Catherine Romero caught up with Heidi recently and shares their conversation here today:
Where did you grow up? What brought you to Birmingham?
I grew up in the small town of Morris, Alabama, but in the community of Sardis. Love brought me back to Birmingham.
Tell us how you got started designing. What led you to specialize in wedding gowns?
This is the longest story in the world, but here it is short and sweet. When I graduated from Central Alabama Community College (CACC), having gone there on a softball scholarship, I was awarded a presidential scholarship to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), where I studied fashion design. After graduation, I was blessed to get a job at Carter’s in Atlanta designing children’s wear. While at Carters and after Project Runway, I was struck by a drunk driver, and my Mom, who is a RN, brought me back to Alabama to help me heal. I met my precious husband, Jeff Baker, while I was home. We fell in love, and 6 months later I put in my 2 weeks’ notice at Carter’s and headed home for good. While at home, I contacted a local magazine and told them that I was a wedding gown designer (even though I had only designed one wedding gown in my entire life!) and a Project Runway alum. They offered me a 4-page spread. So, I called my mom and my boyfriend (now husband, Jeff) and said I have decided to become a wedding gown designer. It worked out beautifully, because for years, I would design women’s wear in the evening and have all of these runway shows, but I never sold any of my clothes. My clothes are an extension of me and I wanted the person wearing my clothes to cherish them as much as I did. I decided what better person to cherish my creation than a bride!
So what was Project Runway really like? Who was your favorite judge?
Project Runway was an experience to say the least. It is a reality show, but sometimes reality isn’t as “real” as it may seem, given all the directors and other people on the set constantly telling you what to say and do. I personally liked Nina Garcia. She was straightforward, yet kind. She delivered the positive then the negative. I felt that she truly wanted to see each of us succeed.
Where do you find your inspiration for designs?
All kinds of things inspire me. A trip I took to Paris this past February inspired the fall 2014 collection that I am currently working on. The collection consists of dramatic hems and fabric manipulation and is adorned with sparkles, just like the Eiffel Tower during the evening.
What did you love the most about designing your own wedding gown?
It was gowns, actually–I had 4 of them! There are so many sides of my personality, I just kept having a fashion show all night long. It was perfection.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I was never allowed to say the word can’t or quit any sports when I was a little girl. My parents taught me that I could do anything that I set my mind to and that to be successful, you had to keep going even when the going gets tough.
What advice would you give to others?
Stay true to yourself, your family and your roots. Pray for God’s guidance in all that you do and listen to what He has to say. He will always guide your path. “Faith over Fear” is the motto that I live by.
What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
I love to draw and paint. Sometimes I will spend 12+ hours just sketching. The left side of my brain just turns off and my right brain proceeds to have a party!
What did your bedroom look like as a teenage girl?
It was super arty. My mom allowed me to create a mural out of fashion magazine clippings on my bedroom walls. I basically created my own fashion-forward wallpaper.
What are you listening to these days?
I listen to the most random things. Each day is a fun surprise for my ears. Currently, I am really into Cindi Lauper. Lots of days, I listen to a variety of Pandora stations.
What books are you currently reading?
I am not really a book reading kind of girl. However, I do get WWD (Women’s Wear Daily) each day so that I can stay fresh to what is happening in the fashion industry. My iPhone is attached to my hip so I am constantly reading what is happening in the world.
Do you have any personality quirks or irrational fears?
There are so many random things that I do and say. I have learned to try to think before I speak, but sometimes it is still just a cluster. When I get really excited about something I say it over and over again. I say random words like “totes” (which stand for totes my goats and means I agree on something), “sugar booger,” (so I don’t say ugly words) and “heavenly days” (when I am like, seriously, that just happened!).
If your house were on fire, what’s the one non-living thing you would grab?
My artwork. I have a painting that I purchased while studying abroad. It’s by artist who stayed in the same insane asylum as Van Gogh. It’s creepy, yet beautiful. (I would also try to grab all of my artwork from college and my favorite pieces that I have purchased over the years.)
Name three things you can’t live without (excluding friends, family and God).
My Prada bag, the month of October, and my iPhone.
Thanks for sharing, Heidi! To learn more about Heidi and her gorgeous gowns, visit www.heidielnora.com.
And a big thanks to Beth Hontzas for today’s fabulous photos. Learn more about Beth at www.bethhontzas.com.