VOL. 38 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 28, 2014
From Russia with style: Olia Zavozina's unlikely rise to wedding gown stardom
By Hollie Deese
Nashville bridal designer Olia Zavozina, 29, never imagined when she was designing dresses for her Barbie dolls as a child in Russia that one day her creations would grace the likes of living dolls.
But the March issue of Southern Living, featuring Zavozina’s “Delia” gown on petite starlet Hayden Panettiere, is proof of just how far she has come.
Zavozina was 18 when she first arrived in Nashville as a foreign exchange student. It was the summer of 2003, and she attended Bethel University to improve her English before she was to return home to be a translator.
Zavozina was focused on getting her degree, despite having an affinity for design.
“Growing up in Russia, my parents didn’t believe that designing dresses was a real job,” she explains. “They told me I had to get my degree before I did anything creative.”
She admits to having a hard time adjusting to Nashville.
“When I moved here, I didn’t really have a family and I didn’t have any friends, so I was a loner,” she says.
One way Zavozina began to get involved in the community was singing in the choir at Bethel World Outreach Church in Brentwood, and each Wednesday, after practice, she would go to the nearby Starbucks. There, she frequently ran into Robert Campbell, who was working on his new creative venture at the time, Nashville Fashion Group.
Campbell went on to co-found Nashville Fashion Week, which begins April 1.
“It was one of those things where if we were going to keep running into each other we should at least know who the other person is,” Campbell, 30, explains.
“One day she invited me over to hang out and listen to some of her music and talk. She showed me this photograph of a doll dress she had made when she was 7 years old, and I told her I really thought she should pursue it. She seemed to have a passion for it.”
Her first collection
After getting that boost of confidence from Campbell, Zavozina went to work on some pieces.
Runway models show the different styles and designs in bridal wear that have made Nashville’s Olia Zavozina’s line stand out on the national stage. -- Submitted
“My American family got me a sewing machine for Christmas, and I didn’t have much money so I went to Walmart for fabric,” she says. “I would practice a little bit, then bought some unique, one-of-a-kind fabrics online and just draped them. I remember one jacket took me 80 hours to make because I had to make sure the seams were perfect and the pattern matched.”
But it was this carefully crafted jacket and others like it that really blew Campbell away and launched Zavozina’s fashion career in Nashville.
“She pulled out this jacket that she had made with this rich upholstery fabric, and I just remember being like, ‘Olia, this is amazing,’” he says. “This jacket was insane – I had never seen anything like it, even to this day.”
Zavozina took her line of jackets to the now-closed 12South shop, The Grove, and they all sold out. She also sold cocktail dresses at Hud Luxe, which at the time had two locations, one in Green Hills and one in Brentwood. Both are now closed.
As Zavozina’s supporters suffered through a flagging economy, she finished up her degrees, one in business administration and another in theology. She then went to Tennessee State University for a Masters in business, graduating in 2009. In 2008, she married.
It was her own wedding that actually inspired her to shift gears from ready-to-wear to bridal.
“For designers doing ready-to-wear, you have the pressure on you to come up with 50 looks every year, and I really didn’t have the money for such a large collection,” Zavozina says. “With bridal, I could start small and make custom dresses in the beginning for weddings and kind of grow into it. And it took off. As soon as the first dress was made, I really felt good about it.”
Once designer Zavozina’s home became overrun with merchandise, she opened her own shop in Edgehill Village, 1200 Villa Pl. #111. -- Michelle Morrow | Nashville Ledger
After making seven dresses, she drove to Delaware and back, meeting with buyers and showing them her product. She picked up her first boutique, Carriage House Weddings in Birmingham, Ala., which remains her best-selling store.
Zavozina took the feedback that she got during meetings on that trip, returned to Nashville and made the necessary tweaks before officially launching the line in late 2009.
She saved some money, and a year later she went to bridal week shows n New York and Chicago.
“I sold to four stores right there at my first market,” she says. “Those four stores invested in my line and kind of kept me going making dresses.”
The decision to open her 500-square-foot Edgehill Village boutique in 2011 came out of necessity.
Rachel Sigler in her Olia Zavozlina wedding gown -- Courtney Davidson Photography
“My house had so much merchandise. The dresses were everywhere, in the kitchen, in the living room, in the bedroom,” she says.
“The gowns were overpowering the house.”
She opened the boutique in June 2011, and she was selling dresses immediately. Local bride Rachel Sigler bought a dress for her September 2013 wedding, having met Zavozina years before through WAV, a defunct women’s networking group.
“I have had the pleasure of seeing her business grow from being a building in her backyard to her store in Edgehill,” she says.
“I didn’t really have a doubt in my mind that I would go to her for a wedding dress.”
Sigler says there is a lot of pressure to find the perfect gown these days, thanks to shows like TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress.
“Women feel like they have to have this special moment, and it kind of makes the whole shopping process a little bit intimidating,” she says. “But it was not at all with Olia.”
Sigler and her friends went to the boutique after work, drank some champagne and had a great time trying on dresses, chatting and genuinely enjoying the entire experience.
“Nashville is not a hotspot for fashion so I think it is very cool that she started in Nashville, is still in Nashville, is doing well and is obviously pretty supported by the community here,” Sigler says.
Campbell agrees that Zavozina’s commitment to Nashville has been great for the city, and thinks it was probably great for Zavozina, as well.
“Going to a bigger city that is known for fashion, you kind of get lost in the mix,” he says. “For Olia, or anyone in Olia’s position, a city like Nashville that is known for creative expression, but maybe in a different industry or on a smaller scale, definitely allows you the opportunity to test the waters and find yourself before the industry defines which way you should go.
“And then you can build your own clientele. Especially with the way that the Internet and social media has really connected us on a global scale, you no longer have to be stationed in one of the four corners of the fashion world.”
Not that Campbell doesn’t think Olia could have made it in New York. “Someone would have recognized her talent,” he says.
Zavozina’s gowns are gaining popularity nationally. In addition to the current Southern Living nod, they have been featured in Premiere Brides, Martha Stewart Weddings and People.
Shea Jensen, national bridal director at Nordstrom, which stocks Zavozina’s gowns in 12 of their wedding suites across the country, says she was drawn to Zavozina by her reputation as much by her designs.
“Olia was a designer that was well known in the bridal market, and as we looked to develop our gown offering, we wanted to be sure we offered brands and designers that our customers were familiar with, and Olia certainly falls in that group,” Jensen explains.
“Olia has a special appreciation for designing gowns that flatter a bride’s figure, and who doesn’t want to look her best on her wedding day?
Olia Zavozina: Nashville Bridal Shop and Custom Bridal Gowns
1200 Villa Pl. #111
“Our brides are absolutely thrilled and the response has been fantastic.”
Nordstrom has been hosting trunk shows with Zavozina for about a year, and Jensen says they have been very strong for the company and the response is especially huge when the designer is there to interact with the customers.
“Olia is a great partner for Nordstrom Weddings, and she is great to work with,” Jensen says.
“She always thinks of the bride first, and it’s a pleasure working with a designer and company who shares our appreciation for our customers.”
A Zavozina gown starts at around $2,000, and this year she plans to expand her couture line of wedding gowns, which will start around $5,000 and feature a beaded lace made exclusively for her.
“I tried to build something and create my own little world around me,” she says. “I am really proud of my growth here, and I really put my heart into working with brides.
“I always value my friends who come here and buy a dress because I know they can go anywhere.
“They can go to The Bride Room, or B. Hughes, and those shops are great and carry great designers.
“So I am very grateful to be in Nashville and to all the people who actually come and support my business, because without those supporters I would not be here today.”