Anya by Vivien Brings Custom Bridal Fashion to Montgomery County, MD
The Real Housewives of the Potomac Karen Huger renewed her vows in 2021 in a dress embellished with hand-beaded Swarovski crystals, cascading ruffles and a bodice that fit her like a glove. The designer of her $10,000 dress is also based in Montgomery County. It was Vivien Agbakoba, 53, who opened Anya by Vivien, a bridal and evening wear boutique, at Bethesda’s Westfield Montgomery mall in November.
Growing up in Nigeria with her father, a university professor, and her mother, an entrepreneur, Agbakoba was drawn to her mother’s sewing machine. “It was magical and I felt I had a gift,” says Agbakoba. After earning a bachelor’s degree in information science and nursing and a master’s degree in information technology, she moved to Rockville in 2012 with her husband and three children. She worked at the National Institutes of Health as a protocol manager in clinical research while making dresses for friends and family, and trying to learn as much as she could about procurement, materials and skills. needed to open a store.
Agbakoba left the NIH in 2017 to open a small warehouse in Sterling, Va. to design and sell bridal, evening and ready-to-wear designs. She named her line ‘Anya’, after her maiden name, part of which means ‘vision’ in her native Igbo language, and added ‘by Vivien’ when she moved her business to the center Westfield Montgomery mall.
“Social media has had a huge impact on brides. Everyone is trying to outdo themselves,” says Agbakoba. She believes this has shifted her business model from its initial focus on ready-to-wear dresses to selling more than 60% custom dresses. “Regularity is not enough; brides have all kinds of ideas, and I do everything I can to bring that to life.
Agbakoba often spends an hour or two one-on-one with a bride, discussing ideas, fabrics and embellishments, and sketching during the session. “I ask a lot of questions and pay close attention to the body in front of me,” she says. “I want every woman to shine.”
In 2019, Agbakoba launched Felicia’s Fund, a non-profit organization named after her mother that focuses on educating and empowering young people interested in fashion. The group operates school supply programs in Nigeria, and Agbakoba is currently implementing fashionable after-school education initiatives in DC and Montgomery County. She recently held a fundraiser at her store in partnership with the Tigerlily Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on breast cancer and the empowerment of girls and young women. The evening included a fashion show and reception filmed for Love & Marriage: DC, a series slated to begin airing on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, in May.
Agbakoba’s designs, from colorful ballgowns to trendy wedding dresses, get more exposure in the mall than was possible in his warehouse. “Last week a bride walked into the shop after seeing a ready-made dress in my window. She already had her wedding dress, but she bought mine and intended to sell the one she she already had,” says Agbakoba. “It’s a hell of a time.”
Anya by Vivien7101 Democracy Blvd., #2504, Bethesda, 301-469-4839, anyabyvivien.com