Katherine McDonald was just six years old when she decided she wanted to be a clothing designer. Watching the scene in Disney's Cinderella where the mice make the long-suffering heroine her gown, McDonald turned to her mom and said, "I want to make dresses."
McDonald made good on that promise, sewing dresses for junior high dances, designing a gown for a friend's debutante ball, and making casual dresses throughout college. Upon graduation, she landed a job in corporate America, and her design dreams seemed all but forgotten — until co-workers started requesting their own versions of her handmade clothes. Within a few months, she quit her day job and started hosting trunk shows around Charleston for her newly launched clothing line called LulaKate.
It's been nearly 10 years since those humble beginnings, and LulaKate has grown into a highly esteemed boutique bridal company with a bright, spacious showroom on King Street. The company's designs, including wedding gowns and bridesmaids dresses, are sold in stores across the country. Most recently, McDonald has made a return to the ready-to-wear market with a small capsule of dresses that are perfect for work, luncheons, or garden parties.
McDonald's initial shift from ready-to-wear to bridalwear happened after the recession hit and she was forced to choose between the two lines. Because many of her loyal customers were getting married, she went with bridal. "We were at that age where people were starting to get married, and people started asking me to do their bridesmaids dresses and then people started asking me to do their wedding dresses," she says. "Then bridal just took off."
Now she makes bridal alternative and specialty bridal gowns as well as customizable bridesmaid dresses in 34 different colors, five different fabrics, and various options for necklines and skirts.
One thing all of her creations have in common: a classic silhouette. Inspired by her mother, who was a Pan-Am flight attendant in the 1960s, McDonald works to maintain a timeless, feminine shape with all of her clothing. "I really believe in classic styles, especially in the bridal industry," she says. "I think the worst thing you can do is look back on your pictures and think, 'Oh my gosh, look at that puffy sleeve,' or, 'What was I thinking with that big bow in my hair?'"
That classic aesthetic carries over to the ready-to-wear line, which McDonald plans to update every few months with eight to 12 new designs. McDonald says the most popular piece of her six staffers is the long-sleeved colorblock shift, which also comes in two prints. The collection also includes a strapless maxi, a graphic black-and-white halter dress, and a short-sleeved white shift dress. Many of the shapes are adopted from the bridesmaids collection, then given a fresh feel with more casual fabrics and modern details.
Right now they're available online only and made to order by the company's sewing house in New York City's garment district. "We don't want to wholesale our ready-to-wear right now. By offering the collection exclusively online, we can have a nice product at an affordable price point," she says. "We throw in a little bit of trendy things, but you're never going to see anything that you can't wear for at least two or three seasons."