Interview with Local Couture Designer Elizabeth St. John

Elizabeth St. John is long-time native of the Washington, D.C. area who has built an incredible local couture business and a client list to match.  Known for her stunning (and romantic) bridal work, as well as show-stopping evening gowns, she has become a household name in not just the local fashion scene, but across the world as well.  But as with all designers, there was a beginning – something that inspired them to become who they are today.  This is what this interview is about – getting to know Elizabeth (Liz to her friends), how she started, what her first piece was, what inspires her and a sneak peek into the future.

Elizabeth St. John (middle in black) with part of her collection.

How long have you lived in the D.C. area?

My parents moved to DC when I was 2, which you could say, makes me a native.

How did you get your start as a designer?

My mom is a master tailor, and I pretty much grew up in her workshop.  But, it wasn’t until I was living in NYC that I decided to give designing a serious go.  My first collection was of children’s dresses, mainly because all my girlfriends were having little girls, and I wanted to gift them something special…

Was this something you always wanted to pursue?

Designing seemed like second nature to me.  I love making things, so it wasn’t really a conscious choice at first but now, it makes me happy to see people wearing my pieces – especially my wedding gowns.   I like the idea of their grandchildren looking at pictures of them on their special day, knowing that I had a tiny role in making that possible.

What was the very first piece you designed?

That’s a tough question, I’ve been making “tube-sock Barbie evening gowns” since the 70’s!  My very first collection piece was a faux fur (Dalmatian dot) coat (for a 2 year old), that was reversible to Zebra stripe.

What inspired you to create that piece?

I find inspiration in unusual places… (my current collection colors are inspired by a picture I took of a tidal pool in the Hamptons – pic below).  As for the little coat, I wanted it to be a fun piece –  a combination of a two year-old and of the many looks Brad Pitt wore in “Fight Club” ;-)). It was fun, and the little girl that it was designed for, Sophia, was just a sweetheart.  I thought it fit her personality perfectly.

“My current collection colors are inspired by a picture I took of a tidal pool in the Hamptons.”

You are known for bridal and ball gowns.  What else do you design?

Locally, I think most people know me as a bridal designer,  but I also design evening wear and have an extensive special occasion children’s wear line.   My pieces are sold in over 24 boutiques across the country.

Your collections have obviously evolved and you have done a ton of custom work.  What do the bulk of your customers primarily come to you for?

I have such a variety of clients that it really is a mix, but for the most part, I would say special occasion pieces.   Anything from wedding and black tie gowns, to custom pageant gowns and children’s formal pieces.  

Angie Goff at Crystal Couture

What is your favorite piece you have designed? 

I have a habit of falling in love with whatever piece I may be working on at the time.  I work a little differently than many designers, in that I don’t sketch a piece in advance but instead, I have an idea of what I would like for the piece (i.e. mermaid evening gown, a soft and flowy wedding gown, etc.), then find inspiration from the fabric as I drape.  It’s this personal process that makes me really focus on each piece.  I have to LOVE the outcome or it never materializes.    

What was the inspiration behind that?

My collections are usually based on “a state of mind” for inspiration.   The collection I’m working on now, for example, is based on feeling “feminine & elegant”.

If possible to name or discuss, who are some of your favorite clients to work with?

That’s a tough question.   Everyone is unique and I love the feedback I get from working with clients directly (as opposed to boutiques), but I think my favorite clients are the ones that can give me a general “feel” for what they want (sexy, glamorous, polished, etc.), and allow me to create something unique for them.

What is your favorite color for a gown?

RED.   Something happens when a woman wears red.

What is your favorite fabric for a gown? 

I only work in silk.   Right now, I’m loving the ethereal feel of chiffon.

What style looks flattering on every woman?

A V neckline is always flattering on everyone.

Where can we shop your collection?

My full collection is available locally at Soliloquy Bridal in Herndon, Terri Lynn Bridal in Bethesda or via my studio in Silver Spring.   There are also boutiques around the country that carry my collections – the full list is on our website

Where has your collection been featured, in regards to media?

We are currently on the cover of Eco-Beautiful Weddings magazine (see cover below).   We’ve also been featured on the Martha Stewart Weddings Website, Brides Magazine, Italian Vogue, the cover of In-Touch Magazine (Teresa Guidice’s wedding last summer), Elegant Bride, Modern Bride and numerous other magazines and websites.

What does the future of label look like?

I have so much fun designing that I’m hoping to introduce a lingerie collection to complement both the bridal and evening collections sometime in 2013.

Can you give us a hint of what we can expect in 2013?

Lots and lots of GLAMOUR!  😉


More pictures are below.

Pink Rocks the Runway – Elizabeth St. John Left with Founder of Pink Jams, Christa Floresca, right.

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