EDMONTON – Lace, pearls and crystals course through Isabela Milanâ€™s blood.
For the past 35 years, the Edmonton wedding gown designer has followed in the footsteps of her female predecessors. Her little, self-named store located in Bonnie Doon Mall is part of a long, winding history of glittering bodices and ruched fabric that can be traced back all the way to 1830.
Although wedding dress styles have changed since then, Milan hasnâ€™t completely given in to modernity. She continues to devote herself to the traditional wedding dress that harkens to a time of princes and princesses, chivalry and tradition.
â€œ(My inspiration) comes from royalty,â€� Milan says over the phone from her shop. â€œIn every part of history, the women dress very feminine and very appropriate. I have all my inspiration from the palaces and cathedrals (in Barcelona). Europe is an incredible inspiration. I donâ€™t go back every year, but I go back once in a while.â€�
This season marks Milanâ€™s third on the Western Canada Fashion Week runway. Born and raised in Barcelona, an area of Catalonia with medieval history and architecture, the 60-year-old seamstress first learned to stitch and unstitch at the age of four from her grandmother. Today, Milan creates everything from bridal and ball gowns to prom, graduation and quinceanera gowns. She has even spent more than 20 years designing dresses for the Miss Universe Pageant.
Milanâ€™s current 12-piece collection, which will be showcased at WCFW on Sept. 20, finds itself borrowing from Celtic tradition. Milan says her gowns were inspired by Canadian Celtic singer Loreena McKennitt and will feature â€œmore fantasyâ€� than usual. Adorned with lace and beads, belts and capes, each will reach the floor as it simultaneously reaches back in time to showcase a touch of Celtic history.
Although fashion runs in the family, Milanâ€™s career in design wasnâ€™t always supported by her family (a more lucrative career in fashion importing and exporting was preferred). She was discouraged by many people, but stayed in it because she loved it.
As a result, sheâ€™s supported her childrenâ€™s interest in being part of the family business. All three of her kids grew up in the store; even her boys learned how to sew. Although Milan says they need to â€œlearn a little more patience,â€� theyâ€™re fully capable of starting a menâ€™s line when theyâ€™re ready.
When it comes to taking over the family business, however, itâ€™s Milanâ€™s daughter Nina â€” already designing under Milanâ€™s label â€” who is being groomed for the job.
â€œ(Nina is) the new one. The next one. She deserves every bit.â€�
Nina, along with a handful of students taught by Milan at her private academy, has been invited to New York Fashion Week in the spring. Milan couldnâ€™t be happier, and always makes it a point to provide them with a simple piece of advice she grew up following.
â€œI tell my students that learning doesnâ€™t occupy any space. Learning is always good no matter what, along with dreaming. You have to dream what you want in life before you can get it. Everything in this world was a dream at some point in somebodyâ€™s mind. If you can dream, you can design and you can make things other people never did.â€�