(Designers)

It's Personal For Bridal Designer Brenna Simmons

With each ethereal, nature-referential collection, Simmons explores a new facet of her identity.

Cedar & Pines
Nordeen wedding dresses

When Brenna Simmons began mapping the course for her bridal line Nordeen, she intended to fill a specialty niche. “Elopement adventure weddings had just started,” says the Los Angeles-based designer, remembering her 2019 nuptials to fellow camping and hiking aficionado Sab Shee. “We were getting married on top of a mountain, at like 13,000 feet, in Colorado.”

Simmons originally wanted to create her own wedding dress to harmonize with the rugged, organic terrain and fit her own innovative vision: a high-quality, versatile, and streamlined look with modular pieces. “Like a flowing wind,” says Simmons, picturing silhouettes and fabrications that evoke breathtaking movements in nature. “That dramatic [effect that] feels like it could be one with the environment.”

As most who’ve planned weddings would understand, due to bandwidth limitations Simmons ended up buying a dress from an indie Spanish label. “But that sparked the thought process,” recalls the FIT alum, whose broad-ranging experience includes interning for a high-end wedding planner and designing occasion-wear post-graduation. Simmons also joined former design director, Sofia Shannon, to launch sustainable contemporary ready-to-wear label AMUR in 2017.

“I learned a lot about entrepreneurship, and the beginning-to-end process, and connecting all of that,” she explains. “Then, I got married and this was a full circle moment for me.”

Brenna Simmons.Cedar & Pines

In 2020, within four months of tying the knot, Simmons finished designing her first very own capsule collection, Prelude, with mix-and-match slip gowns and sheer layers. In a moment of kismet, her wedding photographers, who synergistically specialize in adventure nuptials, offered to shoot the four-piece debut during a project in Morocco — and Nordeen was born. “We soft launched on Instagram and through word-of-mouth,” says the designer. “In 2021, I was like, ‘OK, what if I build upon this and launch, essentially, during COVID?’”

Taking the risk to launch during the pandemic, via virtual presentations and Zoom sessions with press and clientele, turned out to be another fatefully-timed decision. Simmons originally envisioned her nature-referential Collection I — with convertible separates, like trousers, crop tops and a sweater shrug, plus graceful slip dresses and woodland goddess-esque capes — for adventure-seeking nuptials. Fortuitously, the non-traditional looks also fit the bill for micro, outdoor, and courthouse weddings.

Simmons’ very personal, and ultimately forward-thinking concept worked well for the 2022 Great Wedding Boom that ensued, with the trend of multi-event celebrations calling for numerous outfits. “Obviously, the original ethos, like pieces that interact with the elements and offer multiple looks through detachable sleeves and interchangeable tops and bottoms, made sense,” says Simmons. Clients increasingly looked to Nordeen for second looks, rehearsal dinners, and other surrounding events.

Offering a wealth of options while encouraging less consumption is a principle close to Simmons’ heart. “You can get multiple looks within one, as opposed to buying separate outfits for each event,” she says. “So I imagine a person walking down the runway and tearing off different wrapping pieces, and it's a whole different look each time.”

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Simmons looks back to when she began developing AMUR, which stands for A Mindful Use of Resources. “I was going through an existential crisis,” she says. After watching True Cost, documentarian Andrew Morgan’s 2015 fast fashion exposé, Simmons knew she needed to make a change in her personal as well as professional life. She threw herself into “self-education” and research on best ethical and environmental practices, and grew a strong network of conscious vendors and suppliers.

“As I started my own brand, I wanted to take it a step further,” says Simmons, who also avoided “greenwashing” with vague marketing terminology. “It kind of makes me cringe. I don't really like the word [‘sustainable.’] I like to use words like, ‘honest, transparent, and balanced’ because sustainability is a conversation. It's a relationship. Nobody and nothing can be 100% sustainable. It's just not possible if you want to maintain balance across industries and people.”

Nordeen’s website transparently lists and details all parties involved in making a wedding look, from the woman-owned Los Angeles-based pattern-making studio to embellishment production sources. “The mill that I get my fabric from is doing things in their process that are better for the environment, whether it's solar panels, waste management, or chemical recycling,” explains Simmons. “So it’s all these little small parts and steps in the whole that make it better.”

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Growing upon her nature-celebrating aesthetic for Spring 2025’s Collection II, Simmons further explores herself and her ongoing journey, as a half-Taiwanese queer woman. “Because I was going through a tough time,” says Simmons, who confronted a series of “personal changes” over the past few years. “My partner is trans and went through a surgery and so it really got me thinking that there are still things missing in the market, especially to the queer community — and what you wear is such a personal thing.”

Analyzing the landscape, she clocked a white space in speaking to “the in-between, the non-binary or just a fluidity between the gender spectrum,” says Simmons.

Titled “Fluidity,” Collection II features gossamer-like chiffons, lush draping and asymmetrical trains and capes conjuring cascading water and a whispering breeze. Simmons also communicates her theme through signature convertible separates, including a tailored longline vest silhouette and straight leg trousers. “I wanted to offer more interchangeable pieces, like a femme top to pair with a pant, for something different, or vice versa,” says Simmons, who also works with clients to customize looks to their preferences and comfort levels.

A look from Nordeen Collection II.Courtesy of Nordeen

Nordeen continuously provides “a creative outlet” for the designer to examine and express facets of herself and her experience. “I'm biracial and struggling to mix the two identities has been something that I've dealt with my entire life,” says Simmons, who’s brainstorming seeds of inspiration for a future collection. “I've definitely been thinking about that for the brand moving forward.”

The ever-changing wedding industry also brings exciting new possibilities as well as challenges for Nordeen. “I almost feel like the world is repeating Marie Antoinette,” says Simmons, referencing the film and French royal who epitomized excess. On one hand, the rapid re-embrace of maximalism — and ever-growing number of wedding looks — creates more space for independent, non-traditional designers, like Nordeen, to thrive with alternative offerings. But, Simmons worries that the “maximalist mindset” could deter design innovation and sustainability efforts, as brands strive to meet consumer demands (and stay in business.) “It’s definitely hard to maintain that balance to not get caught up in the mainstream trends,” she says.

When Simmons first conceptualized Nordeen, named after her great grandfather, she aimed to fill a meaningful niche, while ultimately meeting unforeseen needs. She remains committed to making an impact with each collection, while staying true to her values and self-discovery.

“I want to continue evolving the brand aesthetic and identity into something that resonates not just with me, but a clientele that is still struggling to find something that's missing in the market. Because there's a lot of opportunity,” says Simmons. “It's just figuring out what that is — whether wedding attire that is for the LGBTQ+ community or [exploring] identity or it's just a little bit of everything.”