Weddings are one of the most sacred times in the lives of many. From the proposal, to the planning, the ceremony and the memories made, it is a deeply significant occasion that one remembers for the rest of their lives. But, arguably, one of the most important parts of a top-knotch wedding is the stunning dress.
The wedding dress of choice is the culmination of what the bride wishes to convey and how she wishes to be remembered by all who witness the union of her and her partner.
EBONY recently reported on the breathtaking wedding of Tony-nominated actress Danielle Brooks to her now husband, Dennis Gelin. The couple was married in Miami at the historic Alfred DuPont Building and their two-year-old daughter Freeya Carel was the flower girl.
The newlyweds not only made waves for the splendid event to commemorate their nuptials but for the one-of-a-kind dress worn by Brooks.
EBONY caught up with Oluwagbemisola “Gbemi” Okunlola— the 27 year-old, London-born founder of Alonuko and designer behind the viral gown worn on Brooks’ special day—to learn about her plans to shake up the niche luxury wedding dress space.
EBONY: Tell us a little about yourself.
Gbemi Okunlola: I’m self-taught and never took any courses or programs to be where I am today which all started from my interest in sewing. I started sewing at the age of 11 and later on officially joined the world of fashion around 16 or 17 years old when starting my business, Alonuko. We launched in 2013 and as of now, we’ve released 4 bridal collections with a new one releasing in a month.
What inspired you to start your fashion design journey ?
My mom used to make dresses and at the time I wasn’t interested in that. In secondary school, I took a design tech class that I enjoyed. From there, I just started to create any and everything such as shoes and jumpers. After a while, sewing turned into a hobby which I was able to develop into a serious skillset. From there, I turned my love of sewing into a business.
There’s no limit to what I’m open to designing but I started designing bridal wear unintentionally. I had caught the interest of a woman I was making bridesmaid dresses for. She stated “if you can make a bridesmaid dress then you can definitely make a wedding dress.” I was initially unsure but accepted the challenge. After that experience, I made a wedding dress for another woman, and I soon began to realize that I really like the process of creating a wedding dress. It was much more enjoyable for me as opposed to creating regular evening dresses. For a wedding dress, you’re able to spend more time crafting the signature piece and the process allows you to be more creative.
However, I plan on introducing more eveningwear pieces into the brand’s collections and expanding our influence on the women’s wear side of fashion.
Each dress you design is gorgeously adorned with a very signature, sleek design. Who or what are your main inspirations when designing and in fashion overall?
For a lot of our dresses, you will find that they have quite delicate leafy, floral patterns. Those are the embroidery designs that I create myself as all of our patterns and fabrics we create from scratch.
To the naked eye, it looks like a pretty good design with a nice pattern. But then when you take a closer look, just ask “what’s the meaning behind this?” A lot of the pieces end up telling stories, specifically for that dress, and for the collection as a whole.
For example, with our “Freedom” collection, we established and identified patterns and shapes that spoke about freedom in different ways. That includes things like a stream of water flowing free. There was a lot of inspiration from the Tollgate Massacre in Nigeria in 2020, in which we incorporated little accents like teardrops in the midst of the embroidery designs. We incorporated the concept of growth as well so blossoming flowers highlight the essence of that. There are a bunch of elements that speak to freedom within each piece of that collection.
You’ve received a lot of praise and attention lately for the stunning work you did for actress Danielle Brooks’ wedding dress. How did that collaboration come into fruition?
We actually got in contact with Danielle through a referral from a concierge service we were familiar with that planned Danielle’s wedding. Danielle was very intentional about the vendors she was using and wanting to ensure that they were Black owned. She was shown our most recent collection and she absolutely fell in love.
I was so happy that she allowed us to have creative freedom so we were able to direct where the dress was going, visually.
She’s so sweet work with and made the experience so personal. She insisted on contacting me directly and we built a strong rapport. She did the whole process directly with me and my team, which is unusual when dealing with a celeb. She was really so sweet and humble. She ended up inviting me to the wedding. The whole wedding day was just beautiful for her family and husband.
Can you describe the response you’ve received from the public and what it’s felt like to receive the feedback globally?
It’s been lovely, really nice. Whenever you get praised widely or something goes viral, it’s so lucky. I think one of the best things from this experience is that they credited everything correctly. We’ve been featured many times before where they might forget to credit us or have our name featured on the wrong page. By the time they fix it, the hype has come and gone. Danielle is super particular and has made sure that everything is properly spelled and credited. There’s been no information that’s wrong or diluted. We definitely got a good response in terms of inquiries, bookings and follows. That’s generally what you would pretty much want.
A lot of Black women, specifically, can relate to Danielle. I think the gown really spoke to people because we’re used to seeing white women who are pretty much a size 2 or a size 8 in these gorgeous gowns.
What are your hopes for the continuance of your brand and career as a Black woman in fashion?
Coming into the fashion industry, I understood that there was a lack of representation especially when it came to people with my similar background—especially being of African heritage, being British and being so young. If you look at the general assortment of people who are in the fashion industry as a whole, it’s a lot of men. If it’s not a male in power, then it’s going to be a white person. If not, then it’s going to be an older person in charge. I don’t adhere to any of those boxes.
I’m very conscious of how our pieces are displayed to the world so I want to continue being intentional and as inclusive as possible. I would love to see more doors opening for people in this industry.