Edgy, elegant, and irreverent are a few words to describe Danielle Frankel’s modern bridal collection. Behind the label is founder Danielle Hirsch, whose distinct vision and artistry are evident at a mere glance. Her unmistakable aesthetic stems from her experience at Vera Wang and Marchesa before launching her brand in 2017. But the New York-based designer is guided by more than raw talent and an innate sense for the contemporary. Achievements like being the first-ever bridal designer to be nominated (and winning the runner-up prize) for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and having Zoë Kravitz in one of her designs for her wedding weekend, are indeed accolades. But her customers are the very heartbeat of her growing brand. After four years in business, the Danielle Frankel bride has evolved, as has Hirsch’s desire to create pieces that suit more than one specific taste. For the designer, it’s about offering a comprehensive range and devising fashion moments that feel authentic to every type of bride.
“I design for a very independent woman who really cares about the craftsmanship of her clothes,” she explains via Zoom interview. “My pieces really speak to the person who is tactile and likes to see how the pieces are made and what finishing details are added.” Having set out specifically to design bridal from the very beginning, Frankel works closely with her customers, listening and learning from direct feedback that many designers never have the chance to hear. Below, Frankel shares more about how her brand has evolved and why she’s more focused on the work than any hype.
Tell me about the Danielle Frankel bride and how she’s evolved since your brand’s launch in 2017.
With this collection specifically, we went in a more elevated direction. It was a really fun collection to develop. We’re maturing as a label, so you see that in the collection as well. We’re getting smarter. We understand more about what our brides want from us. I think we’re more in tune with what’s going on in the wedding world than we have been in the past just because of the growth.
From launch, your brand has been a go-to for cool versions of classic and elegant dresses. While you’ve maintained that aesthetic, I’ve noticed the details have become more ornate. Can you describe your process and how you straddle simplicity and drama so well?
I think our evolution has happened in that we meet with our brides here [in our NYC atelier]. We’re really lucky that we meet with so many women who are getting married and hearing their feedback. So, it allows us to really understand the recipe as to what needs to go into a ‘perfect’ bridal gown.
[My current] collection was really a response to studying the texture and language of flowers. Taking something that so many of us find beauty and inspiration in; dissecting the architecture of flowers to evoke the silhouettes and structure of the collection was a fresh approach for me.
Time of year and location certainly help guide brides in a particular direction with their wedding dress, but indecisiveness can so easily take over. How do you work with brides in this situation?
I try to think of the collection in a way where we as consumers have many different sides of us when it comes to the way we dress. We try to fill in the blank as far as, I’m getting married in the South of France, what am I wearing there? I’m getting married in The Rainbow Room, what am I wearing there? So, we [work to have] touchpoints with every single type of customer.
When we initially launched, [the vision] was very targeted and specific. I kind of want to expand and widen the audience and the reach, and consumer base. So, we kind of put ourselves in the clients’ shoes and said, what do these women really want?
Did you have a city bride in mind with your debut collection?
I don’t know what it was. It was an urge, I think, to put out an aesthetic that wasn’t necessarily missing from the bridal industry, but I definitely think I have the voice and education behind me, and it was getting that out there, and it’s just evolved with the clients and their needs.
Do you find brides come to you with their venue in mind, or do they love a particular gown first and take things from there?
It’s something where every woman is different. I will say you cannot convince somebody who has something in mind to go anywhere else. So, if it is 90 degrees outside and she wants to wear wool and be entirely covered because that’s the kind of gown she wants, you’re not convincing her otherwise. She will suffer to make sure it happens.
That’s the funny thing about women getting married. When you have a certain vision of yourself and what you’re going to look like that day, no one can take that away from you. So there’s that.
But I do think people are incredibly conscious about the location, the venue, and all of those things. The pandemic has really taught us if you are a bride, you are a bride. You’re not going to pare yourself down or make your budget smaller or anything like that to fit in this pandemic wedding type of look. You want to be a bride. I think that says a lot about women getting married, that this is still your moment. The hope is that you’re not going to do it again, so you want it to be as impactful as possible.
As you’ve evolved your line’s offerings, you’ve partnered with Manolo Blahnik on a shoe assortment and started offering jewelry. How are you continuously thinking about evolving with each season?
I’m definitely about slow growth versus trying to do too many things, and I try to go with what’s working. We partnered with Manolo because so many of our clients were asking what shoes they should wear. So, [each expansion offers] answers to these questions. We want to resolve all of these [questions and needs] within the wedding industry. I think that’s part of our success. We’re not trying too much that’s out of our comfort zone and really trying to dissect specific things within our strong suits and still cater to the woman. With brands that are growing, you see that it’s because they have a different poise or opportunity to cater to a certain kind of client, so we follow suit with that.
How have moments like Zoë Kravitz wearing one of your dresses or being the first-ever bridal designer nominated for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund impacted your design approach, if at all?
Press opportunities are sort of like the way VC funds work in that you invest in so many opportunities hoping that one sticks. So on our end, it’s very much exhausting as far as how much output there is with every press opportunity, and when you don’t get it, it’s like, ugh, I can’t sleep at night. But then you get the one, and from the outside, it looks fantastic because most people don’t know the would-of, could-of situations. So, that to me is always very funny, and something people don’t talk about. It’s such an interesting thing as a designer to constantly feel like you’re not always hitting the mark. Then someone asks you a question like [this and] you’re like, oh, right, I forgot about the CFDA and Zoë Kravitz just because you’re thinking about everything going on in the moment.
What I’m getting from you is that these are wonderful moments that have happened for you, but you’re really ingrained in your consumer.
I would agree with you. Our whole strategy is, I’m in the atelier. I’m on the floor with my clients. I’m really connected to their process of making the garments and making them beautiful and invested in that part. With these press opportunities, they’re always wonderful. But when you’re a bridal label, it has to be so specific for it to really stick. It has to be the right moment.
I think that really comes through in your collection, but I have to ask about when you referred to bridal being “a dirty word” in a previous interview. Can you explain that a bit more, especially as a designer that’s deeply connected to your customer and process?
It’s not necessarily a dirty word to me. I think it’s a dirty word to the fashion industry. It’s just not the glamorous part of the industry that people are constantly interested in because if they’re not a bride, they don’t really care.
How do you, if at all, encourage brides to experiment with silhouettes or details that might feel outside their comfort zone?
When we work with brides in the atelier, we let them guide us with what they are gravitating toward; ultimately, this is their journey. I like to look back at brides who have worn Danielle Frankel and see how they become reference points for other women. I love to see brides go from client to muse.
Talk to me about what you’re working on now and if you have trend predictions for brides post-COVID and in 2022.
I think people are going to have more elaborate and ornate weddings this year, post-pandemic. We will explore this world in a more fantastical way through design. These weddings will certainly be more over the top, even if they are in an intimate setting.