By  on December 26, 2000

LOS ANGELES -- Not many realize that designer Eduardo Lucero is on his 64th wedding.

That is, the couturier known for slinky gowns and elegant cocktail suits has created wedding dresses for 64 bridal customers in the past three years. It's a business built on word of mouth -- and brides are swiftly advised by Lucero that he doesn't do "meringue" skirts.

"As soon as they say 'princess bride' or mention 'fairy tale,' we say, 'No that's not what we do,"' said Lucero.

What he will do, though, is sell his gowns online. The designer has signed a deal with e-tail site ItsEWonderfulLife.com to offer his wedding gowns online. The site is the only Internet outlet selling his ready-to-wear.

Four bridal styles are slated to be available for purchase on the site starting Jan. 15, including a drape-neck column dress, a spaghetti-strap dress with illusion lace bodice and a silk bias-cut dress that ItsEWonderfulLife.com founder Dina Tevas-Ingram has dubbed "the Jean Harlow."

"It's silver screen glam," said Tevas-Ingram. "It makes the buttocks look great."

Lucero said he's also planning to offer bridal separates such as a beaded camisole paired with a full -- not poufy -- ballskirt. The set is similar to one in Lucero's ready-to-wear line, but in ivory.

In wedding gown terms, the retail prices are reasonable -- $1,500 or less -- and the delivery is a speedy six weeks for a made-to-measure gown. Tevas-Ingram said she will post specifics on the 10 measurements brides need to submit with orders. Lucero said he plans to cut each dress a bit larger than the measurements, so a local tailor can do the final fittings.

Since Angelenos can walk into Lucero's boutique and order a wedding dress in person, Tevas-Ingram and Lucero said they hope to develop a customer base from other markets, including Dallas, Denver, Chicago and Charlotte, N.C.

"There are these little sections of incredibly wealthy people in those towns who are bored with their set of shops, and they don't want the same things as all their friends have," said Tevas-Ingram.

She noted that several women in the Twin Cities area registered with the site after an article in the St. Paul Star Tribune mentioned that Laurie Ann Coleman, wife of the mayor of Minneapolis, is a fan of Lucero's designs. Coleman models several of the wedding gowns on a preview currently posted on the site.Tevas-Ingram said she plans to drive traffic to Lucero's gowns by partnering with wedding-content portals and honeymoon-planning sites.

"So many women want to get married in a small wedding in Hawaii or at a resort," she said. "You can't travel with a pouf [gown] but you can put these dresses in a carry-on and go."

Tevas-Ingram said she's also working with other ItsEWonderfulLife vendors to develop custom bridal accessories.

She's in talks with Adriana Caras to create ivory shoes to match the gowns, and knitwear designer Suss Cousins (whose studio and celebrity-filled workshop is steps from Lucero's shop) to develop flower-girl dresses. Accessories designer Adrienne Teeguarden is stepping away from her signature Gothic crosses to create delicate bridal bracelets and necklaces exclusively for the site.

Still, neither Tevas-Ingram nor Lucero are betting the bank that all women will choose their wedding gown -- arguably one of life's more emotion-laden purchases -- online.

To hedge her bet, Tevas-Ingram will not take on inventory. Instead, as she does with other merchandise categories sold on the site -- apparel, accessories and home furnishings -- she works as an intermediary, relaying orders received through the site to vendors.

She handles all customer service and returns, although, she noted, her batting average is pretty good so far. Tevas-Ingram's said she's shipped roughly 500 orders and has had only one problem with a fraudulent credit card.

"[The Web site] takes the risk, and we eat it if there's a problem," she said.

It's this kind of protection that has made indie Los Angeles designers like Lucero willing to work with her, she believes.

"All these [designers] have been approached by many different sites, but the [sites] had all these rules that they had to carry stock. Or they had very minimal orders, but demanded immediate shipping and then did chargebacks on returns," she said.

For Lucero, a successful foray online might mean juggling a slightly larger custom business. Lucero said his business currently breaks down 65 percent rtw, 35 percent made-to-order.

Once they accrue sales data, Tevas-Ingram and Lucero said they will consider adding more silhouettes and fabric choices to the wedding line.Both expect the business will be modest in terms of revenues -- neither would predict how many gowns they might sell -- but said they believe the joint venture is an important way of building their respective brands.

"It's important to be conservative," said Tevas-Ingram. "We'll expand as is demanded."

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