MELISSA SWEET'S NEW BUCKHEAD FLAGSHIP IS JUST THE BEGINNING OF THE BRIDAL DESIGNER'S JOURNEY DOWN THE AISLE OF FASHION GREATNESS.Bridal designer Melissa Sweet in March paraded into her new salon, located in an elegant vintage mansion on Peachtree Street in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood.The new digs replace her first retail store, which opened in Atlanta in 1997 in an 1,800-square-foot cottage space on Pharr Road. Sweet's wholesale business was launched six months prior to the Atlanta store's opening.A second store, a 3,200-square-foot space located in Denver's Cherry Creek North, accounts for 45 percent of Sweet's retail business.The new Buckhead flagship, with 5,200 square feet of selling space, has oversized dressing rooms and an accessories showroom. The six dressing rooms are decorated in soft, muted tones and furnished with love seats and chaise lounges. Doupioni silk window treatments are color-coordinated with furniture."For the last five years, I had been admiring the mansion, thinking it would make the most beautiful bridal salon," Sweet said. "Our agent approached the mansion occupants whose lease was coming near the end of their contract, and we negotiated to take it over." Over the last five years, the combined volume of Sweet's retail and wholesale business has skyrocketed from $211,000 in 1997 to $4 million in 2001. Part of the growth came from the 1997 acquisition of Currie-Bonner, an Atlanta-based vertical retailer specializing in bridal and party apparel. The Currie-Bonner family business launched in 1981 and had a loyal following when it was sold. Prior to selling to Sweet, Currie-Bonner had just begun exploring the opportunity of selling their line wholesale, but never made the full transition.Sweet closed the four-store franchise and converted it into aThe Melissa Sweet bridal line is sold in 100 doors nationwide, including specialty stores Mercedes Bella Mia in Savannah, Ga., and The Carriage House in Birmingham, Ala., as well as department store chains Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. Wholesale prices range from $900 to $3,500.Currie-Bonner is distributed to 60 specialty stores nationwide, including House of the Bride in Augusta, Ga., and A Wedding Place in Greenville, S.C. Currie-Bonner offers flower-girl dresses from size 4 to 12 and bridesmaid dresses from size 2 to 20. Wholesale prices range from $100 to $200.

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