By  on April 14, 2009

Rather than partake in the new nationwide pastime of bemoaning the economy, bridal designers have jumped into the new season with ingenuity and, in some cases, razored prices.


 It’s debatable just how recession-proof the wedding business is. Several bridal executives noted wedding budgets are being tightened, brides are saving up and buying closer to the actual day and the ongoing popularity of destination weddings is now even more appealing from a price standpoint. In regards to the latter, many resorts are offering special rates or promotions due to Americans’ reluctancy to get on a plane, and out-of-town weddings tend to generate more declined invitations due to the cost of travel.

For brands that only do bridal, taking a straight-to-it strategy is essential. But even designers with an array of products are diving into the category with gusto and elegant touches, knowing many women will spend several thousand dollars for the perfect dress. And those four- or five-digit purchases could certainly help compensate for all the sweaters, perfume and “It” bags shoppers have refrained from buying in recent months.

Event planner David Monn, who last week transformed his West 27th Street offices into a wedding showcase, seemed to capture the market’s can-do outlook. “I am tired of people talking about doing things on the cheap. To say what you can’t have only solidifies things. That is obvious. The question is: What can you do differently?” he said. “I have always believed what Richard Gump said, ‘Good taste costs no more.”

Vera Wang slashed select price points by 40 to 50 percent, serving up a new opening retail price point of $3,600 compared with $5,500 last year. Needless to say, retailers’ jaws dropped, Wang said, and then many wrote orders. But her top five selling styles, in terms of dollar sales, are still from the high-end Luxe collection. In fact, the most popular styles retail from $8,500 to $13,900. Ultimately, Wang wants brides to be allured by the design of whatever dress appeals to them, not the price tag. The same is true of the other products she designs.

“The same amount of thought goes into every line I do. I do that out of respect and respect to the fashion industry. I always try to think intelligently,” she said.

For her April 5 show at Tiffany & Co.’s Fifth Avenue flagship, Carolina Herrera created “an homage to classic painters” such as Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Gustav Klimt and Jacques Louis David by designing dresses inspired by fashion featured in their art. Herrera described the extremely detailed process as “fun and interesting,” despite the task of modernizing what in some cases was 18th century work. Naming each of the 12 gowns after an artist and preparing for the show made for an amusing atmosphere in Herrera’s showroom. “Someone would say, ‘Where is Diego Velasquez?’”

As for the current state of affairs in the U.S. and abroad, Herrera said, “There is a bigger challenge. You have to be creative and be sure you want to show something special.”

After his show last week, Oscar de la Renta said his overall business is doing “extremely well,” so his bridal business is not serving as a buoy. “You just have to do your best even though the economy is difficult. It is not insurmountable,” he said, adding happy occasions such as weddings give shoppers reason to indulge.

Monique Lhuillier made the most of The London Hotel’s penthouse by showcasing her bridal collection, a new bridesmaid line and just-released licensed bedding. She set the retail prices of the bridesmaid dresses at between $250 and $390 with cost-conscious consumers in mind. Not wanting to undercut retailers that carry her more expensive wedding gowns, the designer decided to sell the bridesmaid dresses solely on her Web site for the time being.

To give buyers a glimpse of her bridesmaid dresses, Lela Rose showed her wedding collection at her bridesmaid dress store at licensor the Dessy Group. Having only been in the wedding business for two and a half years, Rose said she is pleased with how the business is developing. “People like having the wedding collection and the bridesmaid collection. It gives more heft to the brand,” she said.

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