By RONDA GREGORY
News & Journal Staff Writer

West Virginia native and fashion director of TLC’s uber popular “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta” Monte Durham was back on his home turf Sunday, July 19 for the 4th annual Elite Bridal Showcase – his second time to be its celebrity guest. Sensational Images Studios & Entertainment, owned by Durham’s good friend Daniel Riggs, produced the event.
“Monte brings the energy level of the entire day to a completely different level,” Riggs exclaimed. “Monte makes the day fun and full of excitement for not only the brides but the vendors as well. He began the day by visiting each and every vendor’s booth, talking with them personally and having his photo taken with them.”
About 47 vendors set up their displays in both the ballroom and lobby areas – florists, caterers, wedding-wear experts, make-up artists, calligraphers, travel agencies -were just some of the businesses and wedding service experts on hand to meet the brides…and Monte.
Mary Kay representative Marilyn Wyers said that, in addition to wanting to be a part of the exceptional event, knowing that Durham was going to be there was a major reason she wanted to be there. “Monte is huge,” she exclaimed. “He’s great!”
Vendor and violinist Virginia Cox said she’s proud a West Virginian who is globally renowned has kept loyally true to his roots. “I think it’s wonderful for Monte to come back,” she said. “He’s giving back to the state, and it’s always nice to see success with a fellow West Virginian.”
Durham is happy to regularly come back home, especially to work with his friend Riggs and, as always, with the brides-to-be.
“I love coming back to West Virginia, coming home, whether it’s north, south, east or west,” said Durham, who grew up in the southern part of the state. “I love doing bridal. Our home state and doing bridal are two of my favorite things. I get to celebrate both. It’s not a chore for me; it’s a pleasure.”
As the guests arrived at the showcase, sponsored by Dan Ryan Builders, Coni & Franc and Clarksburg Travel, Monte was on hand to greet them, sign autographs and take selfies. But most importantly he gave them expert, helpful guidance on their wedding day decisions – especially which dress to say “yes” to.
One of the lucky brides who got personal stylist attention from Durham was Shaina Kopelov, who’d had her heart set on a form-fitting, sexy-style beaded gown. But Durham had other ideas for her. “When she went for the beaded, I went for the lace,” he grinned.
After trying on her mom’s princess gown choice (All moms want to see their daughters in a princess gown, Durham explained.), and then retrying on her dream-of beaded dress, she eventually, gleefully, chose Durham’s best for her.
“I pointed out the pluses of this particular lace dress – why it would work in her venue,” he explained. “You’re getting married in a barn, in a field. You want a very organic feel to your wedding, so we’ve got to make sure it matches.”
Durham also explained that Shaina, who is petite in stature, could be over-powered by a heavy, beaded dress.
Durham described the moment she modeled his lace-dress choice: “When she put it on, her mother gasped; her girlfriends gasped. And she said, ‘I really like it’.”
Shaina said “yes” to the dress.
And mom-of-the-bride, Jerry Kopelov, beamed and said, “She loved it. It was much more flattering to her (than the other dresses). Monte knows his stuff, for sure.”
He certainly does. He is a true wedding stylist extraordinaire. He emceed the featured fashion show of 100 dresses off-the-cuff with absolutely no pre-study of the selections and with no script.
“He’s fabulous!” exclaimed Coni Merandi, owner the Morgantown dress shop Coni & Franc that provided the dresses and accessories. “He’s just amazing.”
During the show, Durham, with precisioned lightning speed, and in his classy but sassy style, offered spot-on, perfect commentary about each wedding ensemble – bride, bridesmaid and other wedding attire. Tucked into the descriptions, he gave tips on hair and accessories.
For example, he told the brides to take care in hair styling. He told them that if they’re going to wear their hair in an up-do, make sure it’s high enough off the neck to not get messed when they’re receiving all those best-wishes hugs from loved ones. Who else but Monte would recognize that?
“Be mindful” was his repeated advice phrase to the brides about how their choices will work for them on their special day – from bottom to top – shoes to veils.
Durham, recounting his coverage of the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in the United Kingdom, relayed how traditional attire is making a comeback. “Understated and elegant” is how Durham describes the royal-inspired trend.
For Monte fans, it’s no secret he’s an ardent admirer of the traditional but unique style of the late Jackie Kennedy. “She was country chic before it was country chic,” he said, as he showed a photo of her on her wedding day to the late President John F. Kennedy.
After the fashion show, bride-to-be Katie Pratt, a Charleston, WV native, verbally oozed her gratitude for Durham. “I love that he gave a lot of tips about the dresses and tradition,” she stated. “Though I had already been leaning toward the traditional wedding, Monte helped define it and make my mind up definitely. Growing up in the southern part of the state (Durham did, too.), I think we favor the southern culture of tradition.”
Riggs stated he can’t think of a better commentator for the fashion show: “Monte Durham from “Say Yes To The Dress: Atlanta” giving his expert comments about each of the 100 dresses is truly a special, unique treat for the brides. Monte makes a fashion show informative, exciting and fun. There is never a dull moment when Monte is around.”
Riggs reported that the event was definitely a success, with nearly 300 brides-to-be attending. “There are so many great benefits that the Elite Bridal Showcase offers that other local wedding expos can’t compare,” he said. “First, we allow only the most elite and experienced wedding professionals to participate in the show. This ensures that the brides have the very best to choose from to help plan their wedding day all in one location. Second, thousands of dollars worth of prizes are handed out. Gifts from every vendor at the show were given away every 15 minutes – from the time the show started until the fashion show began. Plus, there was a $500 Visa gift card hidden in one of the bags handed out to the brides as they arrived and a honeymoon (an all-inclusive resort in Mexico) was given away to one lucky couple.” The honeymoon was provided by Clarksburg Travel.
Riggs reports that plans already are in the works for next year, with Durham again on board, of course. “We were approached by several vendors at the conclusion of this show who are asking that we produce two Elite Bridal Showcases in Morgantown next year,” he stated. “We also had a great conversation with Monte this weekend about the possibilities of expanding to other cities and states.”
So, it looks like future area brides will be able to look forward to more of Monte and the extraordinary showcase again and again in years to come.

Monte Durham of TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta” doing what Monte does - expertly and patiently helping bride-to-be Shaina Kopelov pick out the perfect dress, with embellishments, for her wedding day.  Coni Merandi (middle), of Coni & Franc, provided the 100 dresses for the Elite Bridal Showcase fashion show in Morgantown, Sunday, July 19. After helping several women with their selections, Monte emceed the show.   Photo by Ronda Gregory
Monte Durham of TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta” doing what Monte does – expertly and patiently helping bride-to-be Shaina Kopelov pick out the perfect dress, with embellishments, for her wedding day. Coni Merandi (middle), of Coni & Franc, provided the 100 dresses for the Elite Bridal Showcase fashion show in Morgantown, Sunday, July 19. After helping several women with their selections, Monte emceed the show. Photo by Ronda Gregory