Featured SHE : Ila Dillender
”Why do you smile so much?”
Where is SHE now?
Founder and owner of Ila Bridal, Ila Dillender radiates light. At the heart of her petite, fashionable exterior is a woman who was scripted for joy and kindness from birth, a nominal flame that not even crippling trauma could put out. Named after a close family friend, Ila believed as a child the name donned to her quite literally carried all the shining attributes of her namesake: brightness, love, kindness, positivity. With fervor she embraced them as her given character and has cultivated these infectious fruits of the spirit through great triumph and extreme darkness. “Everyone always talked about what a special spirit she was, so I thought, mine must be special too,” Ila admits with innocent pride.
A Florida native with a longstanding heart for Nashville, Ila’s own bridal boutique celebrated its joyous opening this week! Tucked cozily away in the creative mecca of Houston Station, Ila Bridal offers a personally curated selection of bridal gowns from designers who showcase authenticity and diversity in lieu of traditional bridal trends. Her off the rack set-up not only pacifies women like us to whom patience is the most cursed virtue, but also mitigates stressors of time, anxiety, and finances which can regrettably compromise the joy of finding a perfect gown.
Visits are by appointment only, as Ila takes the Golden Rule approach with her clients. “I want all women who come in to be treated thoughtfully and individually, so they can be calm and at ease,” she notes. The one-on-one appointments are indeed not to exclude, but to intentionally serve brides and their families as she would want her family to be served. With full acknowledgement, attention, and affirmation.
As many have experienced, weddings and finding a gown are wildly exciting yet stressful times. Anxiousness and doubt can creep in and eclipse what should be our most elated moments, the remedy to which Ila insists is loving, giving back, and helping women feel beautiful.
Where was SHE then?
“I personally know what it feels like to not feel beautiful,” she admits. A victim of rape at age 18, Ila struggled for nearly 14 years with debilitating shame, fear, depression, and anxiety. During her fight through unjust darkness, she was later held at gunpoint when the jewelry store for which she designed and crafted custom engagement rings was robbed. Even in the wake of emotional progress, Ila found the rawness of her trauma re-triggered, called off an engagement herself, and was overpowered by helplessness once again.
“Therapy is such a valuable tool for understanding trauma and fear,” she shares, “that along with a relentless community of people who love you truly, without shame, that is what heals.” With the support of valiant family and friends, Ila fanned back the spark within her, the one so beautifully derived from her namesake, and moved to her dream city. With five years in Nashville now under her belt, she is celebrating and testifying that life does go on when we resolve to let its darkness bury us no longer.
Her first job in Nashville was as a bridal consultant with The Dress Theory. “When I got hired, everyone called me crazy. How was I going to style brides when I was so broken and had just called off my own wedding?” She even laughs now at moments when she politely excused her self to go weep in the middle of appointments, assuring the brides she was just getting them more champagne. She confronted the emotion head on, allowed herself to feel it and acknowledge its normalcy, then moved forward. She vowed optimism, courage, and hope. She invested in making other women feel beauty and joy, and in turn, redeemed much of the joy she had lost.
“When you’re walking through it, I don’t think you always know you’re walking through it,” she humbly admits. Selfless service brought healing from sorrow. What should have been her greatest affliction somehow became her sweetest balm. We think maybe Reese Witherspoon should play her in the film. Just a thought.
During her time with two different bridal salons here, Ila caught wind of the unsettling truth that many brides didn’t feel good enough to even book appointments and go into boutiques. Because she had been not just selling dresses but committing to engage with and really hear the brides she served, she found a sad truth on which she vowed to shed a light. Women felt pressure and fear in the midst of what should elicit pleasure and joy.
“The older I get, the more I believe if it doesn’t exist, create it.” Enter Ila’s Bridal. A space where brides are welcomed, encouraged, celebrated, and adorned with gowns that speak to individual personalities and styles, not trends endorsed by the mass majority. Ila vows to bring more wellness and less Instagram homogony to the wedding world. Bravo.
Who is SHE now?
“People ask me why I smile all the time.” I mean, why wouldn’t you? “Yes, it’s so easy to spew hate and judgment, but hurt people hurt other people”. Ila could have been that person. Yet she chose love. “It sounds corny, but it all goes back to love.” After all, she was born on Valentines Day. What can you expect? In loving herself back to the person she was before the trauma, in fighting for her light amidst savagely dark seasons, she’s found restored beauty and hope and has committed her vocation to shedding both on others.
Unfortunately, Ila reminds us, “We’re not born with this handbook of how to mentally take care of ourselves.” No one is going to do it for us. Community is crucial, but self-care, affirmation, and grace is a muscle, and it’s a hard one to work. But when do, Ila claims, then our hurt can truly heal.
Girls night – Barcelona Wine Bar; Hemingways Bar & Hideaway
Lunch meetings – Butchertown Hall, don’t miss their queso!
Wine or cocktails – white wine or a dirty martini
Shopping/gifts – Able, beautiful products made by truly beautiful people
Music/artists – Need to Breathe
Fitness/beauty – Klug Fitness; Inner Light Yoga
Inside Nashville SHEcret – Counseling at Bedford Combs & Associates
Where to find Ila.
438 Houston Street, Suite 252