By  on November 11, 2010

Plus-size brides can’t get any respect.

Just ask Yukia Walker. When Walker was shopping for a wedding gown three-and-a-half years ago, she suffered one insult after another. Walker got the cold shoulder from retailers that didn’t stock dresses for her size 20 frame. Stores didn’t have samples in her size, so she was forced to try on dresses with the backs cut out. “It was a very humiliating and humbling experience,” Walker said. “My sister had to try on my wedding gowns for me. It was very disheartening. I had to get a size 16 and go on a crash diet. I ended up with a wedding gown that I hate. ”

After her experience, Walker decided to fill what she perceived as a major gap in the market. In September, she opened Curvaceous Couture, a 5,000-square-foot bridal salon in Columbia, Md., that specializes in sizes 16 to 32. Curvaceous Couture sells brands such as Ian Stewart, Enzoani, and Pronovias. Prices start at $1,000. “We give customers the opportunity to try on styles that actually fit them,” Walker said. “When you’re making a sizable investment, it’s embarrassing to have to endure such humiliations as not finding dress samples in your size.”

While lower-priced lines for plus-size brides exist, high-end bridal collections in large sizes are scarce. “The luxury market has generally shied away from big sizes,” Walker said. “We’re interested in partnering with [the brides] and making them feel beautiful and special so they come away with a positive experience.”

Walker said she can’t understand why designers are still treating large-size women as second-class citizens when “fewer and fewer brides in America are fitting into a size 10.”

Walker is planning to open Curvaceous Couture stores in Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas. “A lot of New York brides travel to us,” she said. “We even get brides from the Caribbean. We’re not finding the need to go to New York at this time.”

Luxury bridal and ready-to-wear designer Reem Acra created an exclusive bridal collection for Curvaceous Couture. “I brainstormed with them and said I’ll support you as a luxury brand,” she said. Curvaceous Couture built a 1,000-square-foot store within a store for Acra, who designed it to mimic her New York showroom with shades of gold and ivory, pewter Chinese wallpaper and blue velvet chairs embroidered with gold thread. “Here and there are opportunities to do special sizes, but as a store concept, there’s nothing out there,” Acra said. “They’re the first ones who are thinking about it.”

Acra took her regular wedding dress collection and enhanced the looks. “We didn’t want to eliminate any styles,” she said. “We’re even doing ball gowns. Even if someone is curvaceous, it doesn’t mean she can’t wear a mermaid dress. Some things have embroidery and other embellishments. It’s quite a big selection. Curvaceous Couture is buying my samples and hanging them in our shop-in-shop. Just to have a store focusing on the high end is a major accomplishment.”

Acra said luxury designers typically make gowns up to size 24. “The plus-size customer has money to spend,” she said. “I’m surprised that no one ever thought about it.”

Acra’s gowns range from $5,500 to $7,500, with special orders available for up to $20,000.

Besides her Madison Avenue flagship, Acra’s designs are sold at 150 stores including Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. The designer is building an international presence with units in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. She’s also opening a store in Beirut, where her father was professor emeritus at American University of Beirut.

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