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British Designers Giving Brides Red-Carpet Treatment

For many brides, the wedding aisle is their very own red-carpet moment, so bridal collections by top red-carpet designers are now big business.

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LONDON — For many brides, the wedding aisle is their very own red-carpet moment, so bridal collections by top red-carpet designers are now big business.

The intensity of media exposure for red-carpet evening gowns and celebrity weddings has prompted many brides to move away from unfamiliar labels in favor of high-wattage special occasion wear brands such as Oscar de la Renta, Valentino, Elie Saab and Jenny Packham. And designers are saying “I do” to the category. Marchesa, for example, will unveil its debut bridal collection this summer, and Alice Temperley started wholesaling her bridal collection this year.

“You are a celebrity for a day,” said Packham, the British designer whose bridal business represents 50 percent of her brand’s $19.6 million annual sales. “When you design for the red carpet, you design to make an entrance and get everyone’s attention. When you get married it’s the same.”

The move into bridal is already paying off for Temperley. The brand introduced its debut bridal collection in 2007 with a boutique adjoining its London ready-to-wear flagship. This year the label will be available at wholesale for the first time. Chief executive officer Lars von Bennigsen said it is now a “substantial contributor” to the brand’s retail business in the U.K. and U.S. Bridal gowns at Temperley wholesale from $2,356.80 to $11, 785.80.

Freestanding bridal stores are said to be under consideration for New York and Los Angeles. Many labels said the move to introduce bridal, in addition to adding revenue, broadened their reach to new consumer groups.

“The bridal collection has helped me extend the brand to new audiences,” said Packham, who has two London bridal stores and is looking into opening a unit in Paris within two years, in addition to an rtw London store, which opens in September. “You will have some women who would not spend 2,928 pounds [$5,759] on an evening gown but who are prepared to for their wedding.”

Packham’s dresses wholesale from $703 to $8,299.

Dresses created by red-carpet designers, rather than bridal-only brands, are appealing to brides-to-be since they’re already familiar with the house’s aesthetic and positioning. Like fragrances, accessories and eyewear ranges, they offer another way for consumers to buy into a brand image.

This story first appeared in the June 17, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

At the same time, bridalwear trends have also shifted toward sleeker, more modern styles, resulting in a natural crossover between eveningwear and bridal categories.

“I have met a lot of people who have worn our dresses for their brides’ dresses and we have had special requests to do dresses in white,” Georgina Chapman, one of the designers behind Marchesa, told WWD in April. Marchesa’s bridal gowns, that retail from $3,500 to $10,000, are also stocked in the couture eveningwear department at Bergdorf Goodman, rather than the wedding section.

“We have found a trend of women who wanted something a little more simple,” she said. “They didn’t want a big dress, but something that felt more comfortable. Nowadays, there are women who are so used to wearing jeans and tops during the day that it’s a big leap to get into a huge dress and a corset.”

Packham said, “There’s a turn away from that historical style, which was epitomized by Princess Diana’s gown.”

Alexandra Gnjatovic, evening­wear buyer at Harrods, noted women are already opting for designers’ nonbridal ranges for their wedding attire.

“More people are turning away from the large gowns in favor of more figure-hugging pieces,” she said. “They are also buying evening gowns in paler colors. Those gowns sell really quickly. A factor is that they can wear it again to other events afterward.”

Outside the awards ceremonies and movie premieres, mass coverage of celebrity brides endorsing red-carpet gowns for their nuptials has enhanced demand. Images of this summer’s nuptials of U.K. celebrity Colleen McLoughlin (who will wear a Marchesa gown) to soccer star Wayne Rooney are said to have been sold for 2.5 million pounds, or $4.8 million, to OK magazine.

Last month, Autumn Kelly garnered her share of publicity when she wed Queen Elizabeth’s eldest grandson, Peter Phillips, but not for the Sassi Holford-designed ivory Chantilly lace and duchess satin gown she wore. The pair were lambasted for selling their wedding photos to Hello! magazine for almost $1 million.

In the U.S., Oscar de la Renta received major media coverage, including a feature in Vogue and the post-wedding dissection by People magazine, when Jenna Bush wore one of his wedding gowns last month.

“Celebrities are driving it forward,” Packham said. “I think it’s changing the whole market. It’s exciting.”

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