Q & A With Monte Durham of 'Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta':

You're the Fashion Director for Bridals by Lori, which has its own show on TLC. But you came from a hairstyling background. How ever did you end up on TV?
Monte: Isn't that funny? Long story short: I worked with Elizabeth Arden for 12 years as a hair director. Then I became her culture trainer... setting the standards for guest services in all the spas. One day they were having a bridal show next door by [wedding gown boutique] Priscilla of Boston. Priscilla [the owner] said "Monte, why don't you sell wedding dresses?" I said, "I don't think so." Well, I started selling Priscilla. Lori [Allen, owner of Bridals by Lori] came in the showroom, in new York, she looks me over and she goes, "Who are you?" "I'm Monte Durham, I'm the Image Director for the designer." And she says, "Uh-huh. You'll be in my store next week." I went in the back and was talking to the girls -- who is this woman out front telling me what I'm gonna be doing and my schedule? Yeah. I was in her store the next week. And we became best friends.
What wedding dress trends are you loving right now?
Monte: We're seeing a little less structure in the gowns... a return to a more organic feel. The mermaid, which has long ridden the fashion circles in bridal, has seemed to step aside a little bit. And while the girls want a little body conscious around the waist and the hip, they're wanting that soft movement below the knees instead of that exaggerated look.

When you go mermaid... let's face it: Some of them look like Jessica rabbit, and some of them are built like a plank of wood, straight up and down. So when you get into this soft shape and accenting the waistline, then it really is easier to wear because you're not restricted in movement, and you're not restricted to showing your shape. Movement is easier, dancing... if you're going by car to your ceremony site and back again to your reception, then that gown is much more comfortable.

And we're seeing a lot more embellishment. A lot more needle work, a lot more beading work... but the beading has translated back to belts, earrings, hair accessories. So we're seeing the gowns not as embellished as they were. But if they are it's concentrated, whether it be a side embellishment, a bodice embellishment, or somewhere else on the dress. But not a fully beaded ball gown, as it once was.
So mermaids were the "it" silhouette. Is there a new mermaid?
Monte: I think not. We do see a mix of everybody. Full skirt, not a full skirt, embellishment, that varies from person to person. The one thing we do see is the sweetheart neckline, the ivory, and we're seeing a little bit more of a sweep in the train instead of a full train. Like a cathedral train. So we're seeing a chapel more than cathedral.
Is there a trend you wish would go away?
Monte: I don't like over-showy anything. Whether that's a man or woman. So I don't like an overabundance of beading, I don't like an overabundance of cleavage, I don't like anything that's taken to the extreme.

I try to remind girls of this: When you're choosing this gown, its first and primary job is to get you married. It's not a ball gown to go dancing, and running through the fields, and play golf or tennis in. of course it's meant to be comfortable. But it's your wedding gown -- not T-shirt and cap and jeans for the weekend. So you're going to stand up in front of God and friends and family and say, "I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you." That's an incredible thing to say to somebody. And the fact that you found somebody to say that to is unbelievable. Make sure that gown pays homage, and it foes its first job: It's your wedding dress. Do you feel like a bride?
What about lace? Lots of girls think it's fusty, but I love it.
Monte: Me too. I think it transcends the chapel, the church, the mountains, the cabins, the creeks, the oceans. I just think it transcends everything. And you get texture without being showy. I'm a big fan of that.
How can a woman tell if a dress is really "the one"? Is crying required?
Monte: They don't always cry, but I tell you what they do. You can always see that look of satisfaction. That look of discovery. That look of excitement. It's like, "Oh my god, I get to wear this dress on my wedding!" Or, "My search is over, I found it." Or some will cry and say, "I can't believe this is the dress I'm going to be married in."

But some brides expectations can be distorted -- We all grew up reading Cinderella, and Snow White and all that. So that can flavor our opinion of what we're going to look like. It's not unusual for a woman to come in and say, "I really want to feel like a princess." There's nothing wrong with wanting to feel like a princess for one day.

We try to build up people's confidence. And we always say, "You wear the dress, don't let the dress wear you." But there's got to be a very humbling moment in there for me. There's got to be something in there that shows me that this truly is the right match. And you can try on dresses expensive, not expensive, Italian silk, Chinese silk... You really see it doesn't matter. What matters is that connection between that garment, that ceremony, and that moment. And that's when they all line up.
Awkward... If someone loves a dress, but you think it's not for her, do you tell her?
Monte: I do! I think that's part of my job. My mission is to ensure you look great, with a good fit, and good fabric, within your realm of budget and your own taste. There are some shows where a girl comes out in a mermaid and it's ruched all the way down, and then shoots out at the bottom. And her friends were just going crazy for it and I go, really? She looks like a caterpillar to me. Explain to me what I'm not seeing. Because I'll ask. Maybe I'm just not seeing. Maybe I need to be taught. I need to say yes to the dress. So I'm open minded -- but I'm pretty strong willed.
I think everybody needs a Monte. But we can't all be so lucky. What advice would you give to brides on the dress hunt?
Monte: I tell girls about the three Fs: We want to look at the fabric. Are you marrying in spring or fall? I know nothing really matters now, but it really does. Being on the beach in a beaded ball gown looks a little odd. But an organza A-line fluffing with the waves looks normal. So look at the fabric. Are we choosing a fabric that will transcend into your environment and ceremony site?

Second, we look at the fit. Do you look better in a mermaid, do you look better in an A-line, a ball gown, or do you look better in empire and princess seams?

The next important thing is fashion. Can you pull off the fully beaded sheathe dress? Are you built like Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy to wear a satin slip dress cut on the bias and lined with 100 percent Italian silk? So we want to look at those three Fs. And if we can get two of those lined up, we're pretty good.
Veils: yes or no?
Monte: I tell a lot of girls: When you turn around and your guests turn around and they look down that aisle, be sure to give them both barrels. And both barrels, believe it or not, is the veil. Whether it's across your face, drags in a panel behind you, or it's just a cage veil, give it to them. Because that's what people think a bride should have -- traditional or not.
What are some of your favorite -- and least favorite -- celebrity wedding dresses?
Monte: Queen Elizabeth's mother had to have the ugliest wedding dress, and looked the worst on her wedding day that I've ever seen.

If you're looking at wow factor, Elizabeth Taylor, when she first got married, was beautiful. The cinched-in waist, and the French Alencon lace up around her neck with the collar on it... And then of course Grace Kelly. It was all antique lace. It is still the number one attraction at the Philadelphia Museum when it's brought out to be on display. She's just the epitome. The little tiny pearls, and the cap to hold her lace veil. She carried a prayer book with an orchid on it, I mean just everything was so very tasteful.

And my girl Jackie Kennedy's dress wasn't bad, but the hoop skirt -- in later life she said it reminded her of a '50s lampshade. Her inspiration was Audrey Hepburn. Jackie wanted a very clean, chic look and the Kennedys suggested that she wear something very traditional. Interesting enough, Jackie wore no earrings. Nor are they in her formal portrait.
You covered the royal wedding. What did you think of Kate Middleton's dress?
Monte: I'm gonna pat myself on the back... Before I left for London, I called it and said I think it's going to be Sarah Burton with Alexander McQueen. So I ran around London knocking on doors trying to find out, and I interviewed all these designers that had been doing dresses for her prior to her engagement. They felt sure she was going to wear one of Diana's favorite designers. But I felt she was a little edgier than that. Was it anything out of the box? No. Was it expected? Yes. V-neck. Her favorite shape. Fitted waist. Another favorite shape. Soft A-line. She never wears very straight clothing. Fitted wrap dresses are very popular for her.

At the cathedral, when she steps out of the church, the one thing that didn't work for her as well... When Lady Di was married, she went to St. Paul's. You have to go up the stairs and ascend into the cathedral. At the Abbey you descend and walk straight in. So while there's beautiful pictures of Kate stepping out of her carriage, there's nothing like that veil blowing in the wind and that 15-foot train whipping behind Lady Di on the stairs as she goes up into the cathedral. So, note to self: Pick your favorite photo and let your photographer know where you want him to stand.
Sometimes brides leave the shop empty-handed. Do you ever find out what happened?
Monte: Believe it or not, a lot of those girls will come back on their own or they'll just bring mom and try on the gown and purchase it without all the hoopla behind them. I don't know if it's because they're being filmed, or because their people are acting out... With any important decision, sometimes we just need to step back, clarify and re-validate what we're doing, where we're doing it, and how we want it done. The one thing you don't want to do is walk down the aisle wearing one dress but thinking about the other one.
You're known for "jacking up" brides with hair and accessories to complete the look. And now you have your own MONTE haircare line. Where else can we get the "Full Monte"?
Monte: We're doing 'Say Yes to the Prom' with TLC! The dresses are donated, and we say "yes" to a prom dress. I go in say I think she needs a floppy side bun, or I think she needs a braid, and then we walk through a manicure and makeup, and we get these girls all jacked up. They come down the red carpet afterwards and there are thousands of people cheering them on. We kiss them and send them off to prom. It's beautiful, it breaks my heart... I'm very excited to be a part of that again this year.



Monte Durham is the Fashion Director for Bridals by Lori in Atlanta, GA. See him on 'Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta' Fridays 9|8c on TLC.

To pick up his MONTE haircare products, go to TLC's 'Say Yes to the Dress' Shop. Or, find a hair stylist near you.