A Bridal Fashion Newcomer Stages A Grand Debut

bridal fashion week

Anifa Mvuemba, the founder of the clothing brand Hanifa, presented her first bridal collection, inspired by a luxury wedding complete with a cocktail hour and after-party in Middleburg, Va.

On Sunday, at a grandiose country resort, some 200 guests were seated inside a massive tent draped with white curtains, the sun peaking through the ceiling and onto their faces. They had flown in from New York, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles, which is not unusual for the typical big city fashion show. But this was in Middleburg, Va., an hour away from the Washington airport.

That’s the kind of ride-or-die community that Anifa Mvuemba, 32, the founder of the clothing brand Hanifa, has cultivated. Guest lists at fashion shows usually include celebrities, influencers and media, but this one largely comprised longtime friends, supporters and family members, including five siblings, who were willing to travel for the show.

Hanifa has a fervent fan base, loyal to Ms. Mvuemba’s vibrant dresses and knitwear. It can sometimes be hard to be creative with color while getting dressed, to divert from blacks, whites and neutrals and find bright pieces that are cool and chic. But she made it easier, appealing to people who are willing to invest in quality pieces that don’t cost thousands. In her fall 2023 collection, tops start at $125 and pants at $169.

Now, Ms. Mvuemba is expanding into the bridal space. She inadvertently closed Bridal Fashion Week, which took place Oct. 10-12 in New York, presenting her debut collection outdoors at the Salamander Resort and Spa, a Black-owned, women-owned luxury resort in Middleburg.


The event, which was set up like a wedding, began with welcome drinks indoors. Women in matching pink custom Hanifa jumpsuits greeted guests, many of whom were dressed in cocktail attire from Hanifa’s previous collections.

Then, guests walked over to the tent for the runway show, stopping along the way to take selfies in the sun as a string quartet played renditions of John Legend’s “All of Me” and Taylor Swift’s “Love Story.” The theme of the show was “Love at First Sight,” and Opemipo Olowomeye, a writer, read a love poem out loud at the start of the show.

“I wanted to wow people,” Ms. Mvuemba said in an interview a week before the event, sitting on a folding chair outside a studio in New York during the final day of fittings for the show. “I wanted to do something unexpected, and I wanted everyone in the audience to fall in love with the gowns.”

Then came the after-party, where the D.J. was spinning Pharrell’s “Beautiful” and Usher’s “You Don’t Have to Call.” Guests enjoyed truffle pizza, chicken sliders and champagne.

“I’m really about experiences and doing the most,” Ms. Mvuemba said.

She said she had structured the event that way because she wanted to highlight the thriving Black wedding culture in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area, known as the DMV. She invited wedding makeup artists, hair stylists and event planners. Ms. Mvuemba even hired a wedding planner for the show, B Astonished Events, based in Washington. She is getting married herself, sometime next year. In May, she and her fiancé welcomed a baby girl.

She is inspired by couture classics like Schiaparelli and Valentino, and finds herself drawn to bridal design because of the “attention to detail.”

Ms. Mvuemba, a self-taught Congolese designer, was born in Nairobi, Kenya. Growing up, she lived in Washington and then all over Maryland, where she is based. Representing the DMV area is important to her, she said. Her last runway show, in November 2021, was at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. Her atelier is in Rockville, Md., and half of the models in the bridal show were based in the area. (The other half were based in New York.)

“I love that the show is in the area because a lot of fashion people from the DMV area tend to move outside,” said Bahgi Solomon, 34, a wardrobe stylist and event planner from Washington who attended the event.

Perhaps an advantage of presenting in Virginia, away from the fashion week calendar, is that guests do not need to rush to the next event. At around 30 minutes, it was a long runway show. The bridal collection was replete with sculpted shoulders, cinched waists, jacket structures and feathers. Ms. Mvuemba said she had designed the dresses for “the modern woman” and had intentionally avoided lace. “You see lace all the time,” she said about bridal collections. “I wanted to challenge myself.”

Ms. Mvuemba had her first bridal client in 2016. A friend from her church in Gaithersburg, Md., was soon to be married, and had heard that Ms. Mvuemba was making clothes and taking custom orders. So she asked Ms. Mvuemba to make her wedding dress. The dress had a satin underlay, a lace overlay and layers of tulle at the bottom.

“It was overwhelming,” Ms. Mvuemba said. “Since then, it’s been a journey of trial and error. It’s been a journey of understanding the craftsmanship of making a gown.”

Back then, she was a one-woman business, struggling to fulfill orders. Now, she has a studio with a team of 20 patternmakers and seamstresses. Starting a bridal collection has always been a dream for Ms. Mvuemba, and finally, “it was the right time,” she said. “Financially, I can support it.” Her first bridal client attended the show with her husband.

But there were still challenges for Ms. Mvuemba as she prepared for her bridal debut. Hanifa is known for being a size-inclusive brand, but it took time to grow accustomed to bridal sizing and make sure her sample gowns properly fit each model’s body.

“I kind of understood why brands use size 2 for a lot of things, bec