Walking into Debra Moreland's office at Paris in Northside
, you don't notice the fact that it's a black room without any windows. In fact, walking through Paris, you wouldn't guess a lot of things about the company until you learn about the scope and success of it. It's almost hard to believe that what appears to be such a small production is actually a multi-continental cooperation that has Moreland—much like her famous wedding cake jewelry—sitting right on top of the bridal world.
With products placed in retailers in over 30 stores in the United States and in over ten countries across the world, a celebrity client list that would make Joan Rivers jealous and featured in multiple television and editorial spots, Paris—a couture bridal wear shop—has come a long way since its humble beginnings... but not too far.
Designing high end bridal wear—from tiaras to cake jewelry to hair pins to barefoot sandals—wasn't what Moreland—designer, owner and six time title holder of the Bridal Accessory Designer of the Year—had in mind for her future as an artisan. Trained in the fine arts at the Cincinnati Art Academy, Moreland had always looked at the making of jewelry as a lower art form, but beginning in 1989 with a headpiece design as a wedding gift for her sister-in-law, Moreland learned to embrace jewelry as art and embarked upon what would become a tremendous endeavor.
"I had no interest in bridal wear, but I made a headpiece and thought I could make money doing it at home," Moreland said.
With an unexpected monetary award from a class action lawsuit, Moreland was able to create and place an ad in a local publication. Shortly after the ad ran, Moreland couldn't pick up the phone fast enough.
"I knew literally nothing about bridal wear, but because I am an artisan I was able to make a nice ad, which made me look bigger and more important than I really was," Moreland said with a smile.
Through what became a constant flow of local brides looking for something new, Moreland was able to gain more skills, allowing her to push the creative envelope.
"Everything in the late '80s and early '90s was made of really cheap plastic pearls and cheap bundles of flowers from China," Moreland explained while holding up an $0.88 bundle of white flowers from Wal-Mart. "I was making pieces which were more understated. I figured everything out on my own, and because of that I was able to go through a lot of back doors. I just approached everything from a creative problem solving standpoint."
After two years, Moreland's home was overrun with her creations and materials so she knew it was time to take her business elsewhere. She packed up and moved to the local Bridal and Formal, expanding her clientele. Shortly, Moreland came to the realization that she was offering something innovative to the bridal world and decided it was really time to make her mark.
"I called Bride Magazine
and spoke with the fashion editor. I told her I had something different and unique," Moreland explained. "She had no idea what I was talking about and she asked me to send it to her, so I did."
The headpiece made its way to a photo shoot with the fashion editor and was featured in an eight page spread of Bridal Magazine
, opening the flood gates for clients across the country.
Using other creative marketing strategies—such as making puzzles out of advertisements and sending them to magazine editors in hand-crafted boxes filled with Godiva chocolates—Moreland was able to gain recognition. However, it was not until the 1993 New York Bridal Market that Moreland really jumped into the bridal designer pool.
With oldest daughter Hannah in tow, Moreland drove to New York and bought a space at the market.
"My display looked completely different than anyone else there," Moreland said. "People really weren't sure what to think. It was kind of like going to a bakery and buying a car."
One buyer who approached the table, however, did know what to think.
"This woman was the manager for Vera's store on Madison Avenue and she wanted to buy everything I had," Moreland said. "I knew then that I had found my way in."
Moreland now has a design portfolio full of creations she has made for some of the top designers in the industry—including Vera Wang and Ann Barge—and is the go-to designer of the bridal accessory world.
From day one until present, even with other top fashion designers flocking to hot spots like New York and Los Angeles to stay ahead of the fashion curve, Moreland does it right from her shop in Northside. Located at what was formally B. David Jewelry, all of Moreland's pieces are designed and created by hand, in shop by a team of local designers.
By hiring local artists—many coming from the Cincinnati Art Academy—completing every step of the process [sans plating, which due to chemicals is done out of house] and continuing to solicit the help of her family, Moreland is able to keep on top of her game.
Husband, Neil, is the company photographer. A handy-man and avid guitar player and collector, he has had to learn a lot about his skill over the years.
"It's all a lot easier now that everything has gone to digital," Neil says, while holding up a photo of the most recent ad in Martha Stewart, featuring oldest daughter, Hannah.
From the original showing at the Bridal Market in New York to the Paris' latest advertisement in Martha Stewart's Living, Hannah has been the face of Paris. Modeling, however, is just the beginning of her attributions to Paris, as she has been everything from a store manager to trunk show representative.
Hannah's sister, Ruth, has also played a significant role in the company.
While on vacation, Ruth was sitting beside her mother who was working on a design. Ruth took the materials and placed them in a pattern that appealed to Moreland. This design went on to be one of the company's best sellers.
Keeping it in the family isn't the only key to success. Moreland attributes the fact that she remains local to Cincinnati to be a key factor.
"I really don't think something like this would work well in a place like New York," Moreland said, going on to explain that she believes in a much larger city, Paris would simply get buried. "I have such strong local ties. I'm originally from Middletown, I was trained at the Art Academy and we have a great house that we love and now we have grandchildren so we really don't plan on leaving. My husband and I have talked about retiring in New York, but we will see about that."
So although the Queen City may not have the Eiffel Tower, with Moreland around, we will always have a little piece of Paris.Photography by Scott Beseler
Paris workshop and showroom in Northside
Debra Moreland, provided by Neil MorelandTo receive Soapbox free every week click here.