Zunino: Beauty and the Beads
Updated: Apr 7, 2019
“So much of what we do is psychological,” Mark Zunino says. Bridal Reflections, an NYC-based bridal store, blares John Legend’s “Who Do You Think We Are” as Zunino sits on a pearl gray sofa. Across the room, female clients on pedestals marvel at their accentuated forms confined under their bridal gowns, an array of similar white garments hanging on racks beside them. “You have to really get inside the head of the people you’re working with, and the bottom line is you have to make money. You have to make people happy with what you’re creating.”
Los Angeles based designer Mark Zunino is acclaimed for his form-fitting garments, particularly in bridal and eveningwear. Many of these pieces consist of intricate beadwork hand sewn by Zunino and others.
The time frame of beading these garments can range from 400 hours to several months depending on the expense and deadlines. His clientele consists of socialites and Hollywood celebrities including Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts and Scarlett Johansson.
Zunino grew up in San Francisco, CA. His exposure to fashion initially occurred at Pepperdine University in Malibu. “Our student body was the girl who changed three times a day,” Zunino chuckles. “Fashion was a huge part of what was happening there.” The cultural diversity on campus provoked Zunino’s fashion awareness on a more global scale, especially towards new traditions. He acknowledges, however, that fashion is a commonality amongst everyone in society, regardless of one’s ethnicity.
While studying architecture at Pepperdine University, Zunino received the opportunity to work alongside fashion designer Nolan Miller on “Dynasty,” an ‘80s prime time soap opera. This was Zunino’s first introduction to the fashion industry, and the show won an Emmy for outstanding costume design for a series in 1984. Zunino devoted himself to the fashion world after the Emmy win, and eventually launched his own fashion line in 1998.
“I think that’s the difference with me as a designer,” Zunino says. “I started in film and television, so you had a script and a character and you have parameters to design within. That’s why with what I do––designing for people privately as well as bridal––it’s basically the same thing. I design for the person I’m working with.”
Zunino draws inspiration from the personality and desires of his clients when styling them. The responses on his social media pages, such as his Instagram and Facebook, also provide feedback on his latest styles and his customer’s current design interests. Each day at Mark Zunino Atelier consists of a combination of appointments with both regular and new clients. Most clients collaborate with Zunino during the creative process and express their desires for their piece. “We strive to always provide an elevated, yet casual atmosphere,” Zunino’s assistant Breanna Rae Murillo says. “Mark prefers that his employees express their own style rather than enforce a dress code, which is what I feel makes us unique and personable.” The business focuses solely on the satisfaction and approval of its customers, while also providing comfort during their visits.
Zunino then searches for fabrics and designs that resemble his client’s preferences, as well as those that could embody the characteristics of this individual. “They come to me when they can’t find what they’re looking for,” Zunino says. Celebrity clients such as Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren were muses to Zunino, and enhanced his expertise of how to coordinate fabrics and colors with the theme of the event. “[Taylor and Loren] would explain to me if you’re wearing rubies, wear white. There was always a balance of something.”
Zunino released his Spring 2020 collection on February 27 during New York Fashion Week. The color palette for his eveningwear consisted of deep jewel tones, such as candy apple red and burnt orange, that complement various skin tones. Most of the designs were made for celebrities for specific events, such as Ming-Na Wen’s gown at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards in 2018. Having these dresses photographed on social media led to an upsurge of requests from clients. “To this day, everybody loves [Wen’s] dress. Brides
want it in white. That piece was chosen from the outcry of everybody having seen it and wanting it.” For his bridal wear collection, Zunino focused on a trend that surfaced these past few years: bridal pants. “It’s been fun, especially for the girls that have a big tulle ball gown over it for the ceremony,” Zunino says. “Then by the end of the night when you’re dancing, you just have this little strapless catsuit on.”
Zunino’s shop in Los Angeles focuses on creating a new collection for every spring season, as well as keeping a fresh wardrobe for his approximate 15 core clients. He views the collaborations with his private clients as an opportunity and advantage in building the next trend. “Basically they are creating fashion,” Zunino says. “They were pieces that the bridal world hadn’t seen. It was putting us at the forefront––on the edge of what was next to come in the bridal world.”