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Say Yes to the Dress Designer

A local clothier paves the way for haute couture

By Cassie Bustamante     Photographs by Amy Freeman

During a game of hide-and-seek at a family friend’s house, 9-year-old Cassidy Burel found herself in a closet filled with glitzy garbs. When the fashionable homeowner discovered her and allowed her to try on an extravagant piece, Burel knew she had found her calling.

“It was decadent, glamorous. The way that I felt in that [clothing], I knew that was something I wanted to continue to feel,” says Burel, her dark chocolate eyes sparkling at the recollection of that moment. As she grew in age, she realized she could actually cultivate a career in the clothing industry and share her passion for fashion with others. “I knew I wanted to participate with other women and make them feel that way.”

Now, at the ripe age of 26, Burel, owner of CassB, seems well on her way to making her mark in the haute couture world, fulfilling her own dreams as well as those of brides-to-be and fashion-conscious clients. But it hasn’t come without hours of behind-the-scenes hard work, unforeseen pivots and willingness to trust her instinct, fueled by sheer drive. And it almost didn’t happen.

With her sights set on a career in fashion design, Burel, a Hickory native, made a solid plan and stuck to it — aside from a “five-minute detour” into engineering, her father’s own field, but one she found rather “boring.” She studied at Catawba Valley Community College for two years, then transferred to UNCG to study apparel design.

Before arriving on campus at UNCG in 2016, Burel had never even threaded the needle of a sewing machine. Within the span of her four years there, she worked relentlessly, eventually even taking the seat as president of Threads, the university’s student-run fashion club.

It was during her time on campus that she designed and sewed her first wedding dress, created for her best friend just three years after learning to sew. And that was the moment she knew she loved “making wedding gowns, loving being a small part of someone’s special day and making them feel confident.”

With her impressive undergraduate portfolio and strong work ethic, Burel was poised for success upon graduation with two job offers: one from a small fashion house in New York City and another in Boston. However, with the COVID pandemic shutting down much of the country during that spring of 2020, both offers were rescinded.

After a week-and-a-half of sinking into the weight of that disappointment, Burel said to herself, “Well, I still have to pay the bills.” She put her sewing skills to work, fabricating over 2,000 masks, and then took a job fulfilling orders at Target while she plotted out a new plan.

By fall of that year, shops had begun re-opening their doors. “It was my mentality that I wanted to work for someone, get a little more experience,” says Burel. “Instead of fully diving head-on into my business, I actually started working for a bridal boutique here.” Her time spent there offered her an education in consumer sales and client interactions. And under the guidance of two experienced shop seamstresses, she developed her sewing skills to the point that she felt confident to go out on her own in March of 2022.

“It was two years of the absolute intense pressure that I needed to go, ‘I can do this now,’” says Burel.

Now, six-and-a-half years after embarking on her fashion design journey at UNCG, Burel has designed several wedding dresses that “cater to the modern bride,” plus bridesmaid dresses and unique custom pieces that speak to her style, one that she describes as “very avant-garde, very glamorous, very nontraditional — and unexpected is what I really like to trademark on everything that I make.” Big tulle gowns have become her signature.

And who would be her dream client? Not one person, per se. “I would love to see my designs on the MET gala,” says Burel, referring to “fashion’s biggest night out,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s fundraiser. “One day, I would like some really fabulous he/she to put my look on and walk down the runway,” she says, her heart-shaped face aglow at the thought.

Though her post-graduation gig in the home to the MET gala — New York City — did not pan out, Burel has pivoted and paved her own way, working doggedly towards her dream, a dream that’s changed with the changing times.

These days she has her sights set on creating her own New York style fashion house right here in the Tar Heel State. While she recognizes it’s not the first place people think of when they consider high fashion, she sees the opportunity that lies within North Carolina.

And she’s received several affirmations that she’s landed in the right place for her business. Recently, Rose Shockley, “a beautiful client who works in the High Point furniture industry,” commissioned Burel to create a special piece for her Gatsby-themed birthday party.

“She said, ‘I want the wow,’ and I was like ‘I’ve got you on the wow,’” recalls Burel. Since most clients want to “tone it down,” Burel, who is “trying to do feathers and sequins and glitter and beading and all this stuff,” was ecstatic at the opportunity to go all out with a client who wanted the look to be “way too much.” The result? A one-of-a-kind champagne-colored, heavily-embellished mermaid tulle gown, complete with an ostrich feather bolero and a matching beaded purse.

“The dress . . . was everything I ever dreamed of and more,” says Shockley. “I felt so elegant and timeless in this piece,” which she refers to as “the most gorgeous gown I have ever worn.”

As for Burel, she lives by what she tells all of her potential clients, “Know this: You will not find anyone as excited to make [your gown] for you as I am.”

While this rising fashion star once assumed she’d call one of the major fashion meccas home, she’s realized that “God had a different plan for me.

“Maybe this is exactly where I’m supposed to be. Because I pushed and pushed and pushed to find opportunity elsewhere.” After trying her hardest to knock down doors that kept closing, Burel says, “I don’t want to say I gave up because that’s not what happened. It’s more that I took an alternative turn in attitude towards exactly where we are right now.”  OH