Arts and Culture

Bride and Joy: Guillermo Pharis Brings His Bridal Fashions to Denver

A chance to show at New York Fashion Week changed Pharis's life.
A chance to show at New York Fashion Week changed Pharis's life. Courtesy of Guillermo Pharis
Guillermo Pharis knew from a young age that he wanted to be a world-famous fashion designer. But for a middle-class child growing up in Honduras in the ’90s, it seemed impossible. The only designers in the country, he says, were those wealthy enough to either study in Europe or fund their own careers.

That didn't stop a teenage Pharis from bragging that he would be the biggest name in fashion to come out of Honduras. Now 33, Pharis has achieved his lifelong dream. He currently owns two internationally successful high-end dress lines, which are on display in his recently opened Denver showroom and sold in shops around the world.

Pharis's conviction to become a designer bloomed from watching fashion shows on TV as a child. "We had FashionTV on our cable, and I remember — I was probably between ten and eleven — I always was fascinated by Christian Dior shows, Christian Lacroix, Balenciaga, Karl Lagerfeld," he recalls. "Those were my favorite ones. I would say that really marked my awakening into fashion and art, and the form of art that fashion is for me."

Raised by his mother and aunts, Pharis was drawn to women's wear from the start. "I never had that image of a father — I remember seeing my aunts and my mother," he says. He became particularly fascinated with bridal designs, and obsessed over a copy of Martha Stewart Weddings given to him by a neighbor.

By age twelve, he was sketching wedding dresses during class. "All middle school, I would be drawing sketches," Pharis says. "It was not allowed, because I went to a very strict Catholic institute run by nuns from Long Island. It was an old-fashioned Catholic education, and it was so unacceptable to be drawing in the back of my notebook." Although his teachers and family discouraged his artistic pursuits, Pharis's determination remained solid.
Bridal and evening wear designer Guillermo Pharis opened a boutique in Denver this year. - COURTESY OF GUILLERMO PHARIS
Bridal and evening wear designer Guillermo Pharis opened a boutique in Denver this year.
Courtesy of Guillermo Pharis

"When I finished high school, [that's when] I really knew. Before that, I was just experimenting. It was something that was just in my mind," Pharis recalls. "My family was skeptical; they wanted me to be that typical person who has a job to make some money and one day buy a house — all those things parents want. But I didn't care about those things. I cared about my dream."

No one in Pharis's family had ever showed an interest in the arts, and according to him, professional artists outside the wealthy elite were rare in Honduras. So he studied what he believed was the closest thing to fashion design: architecture. "I knew that that was related somehow to creativity; I knew there are some architects that are designers," he says of the decision. "It was what was accessible to me. I would be making models, but I always somehow related fashion to it. I remember I was doing a project making a house, and before I built a house, I drew a dress on the floor."

His attempts to incorporate fashion into his architecture assignments were ridiculed by his professor and peers. "The architect asked me, 'Why do you always do weird things like that?' That really affected me, because most of them were homophobic, and that made me feel really bad sometimes," Pharis says. "They tried to tell me that I was doing something wrong, when what I wanted to do was just connect my passion with something I wasn't enjoying. So after a year, I quit and started following what I really wanted in my life."
Pharis started sketching wedding dresses at age twelve. - COURTESY OF GUILLERMO PHARIS
Pharis started sketching wedding dresses at age twelve.
Courtesy of Guillermo Pharis

He was able to study fashion at Universidad Creativo in Costa Rica, and returned to Honduras after finishing his degree. "In Honduras, I started doing my first runways, and at a very young age, I started getting a lot of recognition. That was the boom of my young career," he notes. In 2010, he started his label Gia Atelier, named for Gia Carangi, a famous model who died from AIDS-related complications at 26. His designs were shown on runways and sold in shopping centers all over the country, and he even had a show on national TV giving fashion advice.

After making a name for himself in Honduras, in 2014 Pharis got the call most designers can only hope for: He was invited to show his collection at New York Fashion Week.

Once Pharis landed in New York, he never looked back: One visit to the famed Fashion Institute of Technology changed everything. At 26, he enrolled at FIT and finally felt that he would be able to take his dream to the next level.

"By then, I already had a good portfolio. For my young age, I had done a lot already. But let's be honest: I wasn't where I thought I should be. But I was going somewhere. When I enrolled in FIT, the opportunities came," he says.

After his first year at FIT, Pharis landed a job working for acclaimed American designer Dennis Basso. Over the next few years, he continued to work for popular fashion houses, including Monique Lhuillier, Carolina Herrera and Calvin Klein. His experience with the established designers gave him invaluable insight into the business of fashion.

"In New York, you learn a lot. You learn how to work in a big corporation, how design and development go together, how you can also dream to have something like that," Pharis says. "When you have the idea of being a fashion designer, you dream to be like [Alexander] McQueen or all these big names. But there is a lot more behind it. If you want to actually make this your career, you have to see it from a different perspective. Business and creativity have to meet each other somewhere in the middle in order to actually make sense."

When he graduated from FIT in 2017, Pharis was working for the luxury women's wear company SemSem. The following year, he left to develop his own collections. He knew he wanted to return to his first love: bridal fashion and evening gowns.
Pharis graduated from the esteemed Fashion Institute of Technology with a specialty in bridal and special-occasion designs. - COURTESY OF GUILLERMO PHARIS
Pharis graduated from the esteemed Fashion Institute of Technology with a specialty in bridal and special-occasion designs.
Courtesy of Guillermo Pharis
Pharis's evening and bridal designs are intricate, sophisticated, elegant and bold. Never one to shy away from hard work, he embraces laborious techniques and rejects the minimalism he sees in the work of other modern bridal designers.

"I know people that are doing bridal, but they don't do the kind of bridal I do. They prefer to make something more simple, more boho, and I prefer to make something more glamorous and more complicated. I always knew, since I was little, that I was very interested in difficult things — things that challenge me, things that were mostly impossible. Maybe that's why I am where I am," he muses.

Pharis finds inspiration in fashion's most opulent eras. His mood boards are filled with snapshots of Old Hollywood actresses, New York Upper East Side socialites from the ’50s and supermodels lounging at Studio 54. "My inspiration can come from anywhere," he says. "From experiences, from things, from movements — like how a curtain drapes, how a woman moves, how the lighting hits the corner of a building. All those little things, somehow I can put them together and make an idea."

But Pharis is not just an artist. He's also a businessman, and therefore designs with real women in mind.

"It's very couture, but I believe that it is wearable, because I need to make wearable, beautiful things," he says of his design aesthetic. "That's how I feel my collections are: glamorous, very sophisticated, but very wearable."

He's the first to admit that his designs may not attract everyone, and he's okay with that. "You need to like elegance," he says. "If you don't like elegance, I might not be the designer for you. You need to be somebody who wants to make a statement, someone who wants to deliver more than just a dress. There are so many dresses out there, and so many designers, and so many brands — it's so polluted. So we have to make sure that we deliver something unique."

Many of Pharis's designs feature long, decadent trains. - COURTESY OF GUILLERMO PHARIS
Many of Pharis's designs feature long, decadent trains.
Courtesy of Guillermo Pharis

In 2019, Pharis launched a new collection, Whisper Bridal, and rebranded his original Gia Atelier line as Gia New York. To celebrate, he hosted a show of both lines that took place next to the midtown Manhattan building that once housed Studio 54. Within months, his collections were selling in 36 stores worldwide, mostly in Asia, with a flagship Whisper Bridal store in Hong Kong and a wholesale office in SoHo. But soon after, the pandemic shut down the world.

"We had a great show, and then COVID hit a few months after. It affected me mentally. The pressure, the disappointment — it was there every day," he says. He felt stir-crazy in lockdown at his studio apartment on Wall Street: "It was terrible. I went crazy, completely. My mind left my body."

Anxious to leave the cramped city, Pharis and his husband, residential architect and interior designer Andrew Pharis, relocated to Denver in May 2021. Guillermo opened his own showroom on Speer Boulevard, opting to name it Guillermo Pharis Bridal. "I wanted to be more recognized in Denver as myself, the designer, rather than working behind Gia New York," he says.

To celebrate his first holiday season in Denver, Pharis is holding a fashion show at the newly opened Void Studios, at 1790 South Bannock Street, on Saturday, December 11. He will be the first designer to christen the space, which is owned by JJ Constantine and Ahmad Al Salih. Pharis previously worked with Constantine in both New York and Denver, and thought Void Studios would be the perfect home for his runway show.

"What I love about Void Studios is that it's the first platform to deliver high-end results to the Denver area and Colorado in general. The people working at Void have some of the best technology in the state for photos, for filmmaking, and the people involved are very professional," he says.

A gown from Pharis's 2021 Whisper Bridal collection. - COURTESY OF GUILLERMO PHARIS
A gown from Pharis's 2021 Whisper Bridal collection.
Courtesy of Guillermo Pharis

Pharis also wanted to support an inclusive, immigrant-owned space. "As a non-white person, it's very important to put together [an inclusive space] — not just the idea of having people of color, but also having an awareness of how important it is to be inclusive," he explains. The show has to reflect not only his personal values, but also his clientele, he adds.

"The idea of being inclusive with this show is very important because of the time we're in and the type of fashion I do. People think I only do [clothing for women], but I am extremely inclusive, with gender-fluid clients, lesbian clients, the LGBT community. It's important that this show reflects not just what I sell, but who I am as a designer."

The night will kick off with a cocktail hour at 6:30 p.m. before the first of two runway shows starts at 8 p.m. First, Pharis will show looks from Gia New York, including bridal, evening wear and ready-to-wear, and after a brief intermission, he'll present all bridal looks from Whisper Bridal. An after-party will start at 9 p.m.

Pharis promises that the event will be a night to remember: "It's not just a boring white-dress show. It's going to be a little theatrical, with a ’90s twist and a very unexpected finale."

To learn more about Guillermo Pharis Bridal, visit his website or schedule an appointment to stop by his Denver showroom, 2785 North Speer Boulevard, #4. The Holiday Couture Fashion Show at Void Studios is on Saturday, December 11, at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $35.
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Cleo Mirza recently graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in English and anthropology. She enjoys good food, cheap wine and the company of her dog, Rudy.
Contact: Cleo Mirza