Houston Modern Luxury - 2005

hstn-cover-1005The Radar: Wedding
By Tim Moloney

VEILED AMBITION Cute Luvi Wheelock’s bridal-couture boutique is a vision in white

Until recently, the couture-conscious Houston bride hadn’t many options for one-of-a-kind gowns. Well, her big has arrived, with the much-publicized opening of Casa de Novia Bridal Couture, a sleek sunlit salon just off Allen Parkway between River Oaks and downtown. Owner Luvi Wheelock, a 25-year-old stunner with an eye for design and an ear for what customers want, created the store to reflect the way she would have preferred to buy her own gown before her marriage last year.

“I had the hardest time finding a dress that I liked,” she says. “You go into these boutiques and department stores and look at rack after rack, and nothing seems to stand out. And then there were all these ‘big dresses’,” laughs the diminutive fashionista, who favors streamlines, modern designs. “Those aren’t really me.”

Born in Nicaragua, Wheelock moved with her family to Houston when she was six months old. After graduating from TCU, she found herself working at a bank in the trust department, complaining to her new husband Carlos a lot. He said, “Well, why don’t you open your own store then?” she recalls. “I’d always been into fashion and I’d always wanted to have my own boutique, so this seemed like a fantastic opportunity.”

With Carlos, a private banker, cheering her on, she found herself on the phone with designers, setting up appointments and making travel plans to see their collections. In short order, she had agreements with Palazzo Bridal and Liancarlo – both Houston exclusives – as well as Elie Saab, known for his creations for Halle Berry. “I try to pick designers that no one else is carrying,” she explains, “and then work one-on-one with brides to find the perfect dress.” Couture gowns are priced from $2,500- $10,000.

Choosing whose lines to carry is the toughest part of the job, says Wheelock, since she’ll only carry about 25 dresses at a time. “it’s difficult to narrow them down,” she says, “but it’s fun.” One of Wheelock’s chosen is Junko Yoshioka, designer for Bonaparte NY. Her style encompasses sweeping silhouettes, asymmetrical cuts and the bold juxtaposition of the finest silks with uncommon textures such as leather and wool. They’re not for everyone, and that’s the point.

“What I admire about Junko is that she has built her company on her own, from sewing dresses in her living room to opening a showroom on Spring Street in SoHo,” says the boutique owner. “She has such incredible energy and determination, in addition to being an artist. She’s become a friend and a guide.”

Besides inspirational designer-friends, Wheelock is also blessed with some good karma in the very walls of her 2,000-square-foot store on D’Amico Street. Turns out that years ago the space was home to Mare Ann Maxwell for the Bride, which outfitted previous generations of bold-faced brides. “It’s a crazy coincidence,” says the young entrepreneur, “but I think it’s a good sign.”