06/14/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT
It didn't take Monique Lhuillier long to reveal her flair for fashion. As the very young daughter of a French consul in the Philippines, she attended her parents' parties several nights a week. "Even when she was 2 she wouldn't let the nanny dress her in just anything," says her mother, Amparito. "By 12, not only did Monique choose her own clothes, she started choosing mine."
These days Lhuillier, now 32 and based in Beverly Hills, applies her sense of style to A-list celebs, decking out Sarah Jessica Parker
in sequin-hemmed tweed, Angelina Jolie
in dramatic black silk, and Janet Jackson
in a sexy satin halter dress. "I always feel glamorous when I wear Monique's designs," says Jamie-Lynn DiScala, another fan. "Her clothes are so feminine, flirty and timeless."
Before she turned her attention to red-carpet strolls, Lhuillier designed for walks down the aisle, beginning with her own 1995 wedding to accountant Tom Bugbee, now CEO of her $15-million-a-year company. A recent fashion school grad, she bought her own gown off-the-rack but designed lace dresses for all 25 women in her bridal party, moving back in with her parents in the Philippines and enlisting local tailors to execute her creations. After the wedding at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey, Calif., "I had business cards waiting for me at the front desk," says Lhuillier. "They were left by people asking if I could design for their weddings. That's when I knew I could make a business out of this passion of mine."
Her parents, Michel, 62, now a jeweler, and Amparito, 61, a designer, were also convinced: They fronted her $20,000. Soon she was dressing fashion-savvy brides, including Natalie Imbruglia and Kimberly Williams.
But after five years, bored with "white and ivory," she expanded her palette to include the colorful frocks that have caught Hollywood's fancy. Still, Lhuillier remains devoted to her wedding clientele: She can often be found kneeling with a red pincushion in the dressing room of her L.A. boutique, handing Kleenex to a choked-up mother-of-the-bride (Bachelorette
Trista Rehn's mom was a weeper). Stars, she says, "get the same attention as I give a bride." And brides are treated like stars: "They should feel the most beautiful they've ever felt."
Allison Adato. Alison Singh Gee in Beverly Hills