Never mind getting to the church on time. The Aisle New York, a luxury e-commerce site that makes its debut late next month, is all about getting brides designer gowns within a premium price range — and building a genuine fashion profile along the way.
This story first appeared in the August 10, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Partners David Yassky, Shara Levy, Deborah Moses and Mark Ingram — all of whom have their own wedding-related expertise — are launching their site at a serendipitous moment. Chelsea Clinton’s uberpublicized wedding is expected to give the $40 billion bridal category a real jolt, welcome news for a business that was among the first to slide during the recession.
The Aisle New York’s innovative platform is enticing in its own right. The site will feature labels such as Oscar de la Renta, Monique Lhuillier, Marchesa, Angel Sanchez, Alberta Ferretti and Elizabeth Fillmore, many of whom have signed 18-month e-commerce exclusivity agreements. The site’s splash page is now up and open for pre-registration. Membership is free, requiring the registrant’s name, e-mail address and zip code, with wedding and birth dates optional.
Most of The Aisle’s merchandise is not current season and is therefore promotionally priced, typically at 50 percent off original retail, the average of which was $5,900. The site will open with a range that extends to an original retail of $14,000. The Aisle works directly with the design houses, who are supplying overages, returns and, in some cases, one-of-a-kind archival pieces. Sizes run from 2 to 12.
Some merchandise is current and full price. In this category falls the site’s entry-level price point, Notte by Marchesa, with $695 dresses, and a range of Oscar de la Renta jewelry. In most cases, delivery is immediate or at the bride’s discretion — the longest wait is seven to 10 days for dresses from a custom-cut program with Ulla-Maija.
The site will launch with wedding gowns, veils, headpieces, costume jewelry, evening bags and shoes. Textile historian Pat Kerr has provided some one-of-a-kind lace pieces, and Sanchez and Fillmore, wraps and bed jackets. Down the road, bridesmaid and mother-of-the-bride dresses, tabletop and an online registry will be added.
Levy, a former corporate lawyer who worked in finance, met Yassky, a stylist and former bridal editor at WWD, through a mutual friend a few years ago. An avid online shopper, Levy helped a host of friends plan their weddings. She and Yassky wondered why high-end bridal gowns were not sold online and later posed the question to Ingram, who owns the eponymously named boutique on East 55th Street in Manhattan. They decided to change that and developed a business plan. Moses of Moses Media soon joined the nascent venture, which is privately financed. A former editor in chief of Elegant Bride and a creative director, Moses spent several years on staff at Vera Wang and has done work for, among others, Reem Acra, Carolina Herrera and Badgley Mischka. Levy and Yassky are co-presidents; Ingram, chief merchandising officer, and Moses, chief creative officer.
Their goal is to cast bridal in a relevant fashion context. “It’s so important that we showcase bridal that way and we take it out of being a stepchild of fashion,” Yassky said. To that end, he noted that proper “aspirational” photography is essential, as is editorial-type content, much of it service oriented, to accompany the sales element.
“This is not going to be for every bride,” Yassky acknowledged. “There are girls that are comfortable shopping online and girls who aren’t. But there are girls in every demographic who don’t mind getting a bargain and will stand on line for hours at Mark’s sample sale or Vera’s sample sale. They will even camp out at night. And there are those girls also who live in places where they don’t have access to sample sales. That’s going to be one of our core customers — girls who aren’t afraid.”
According to Moses, such customers are out there. “The thing about bridal customers is they’ve done their research,” she said. “They’ve shopped everywhere. They know which designer fits [their body type]. They know what they want.”
Many such brides live in areas where getting what they want presents a significant challenge. Ingram noted the recent closings of numerous bridal doors by both Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. He said some of his store’s customers are out-of-state brides who fly to New York in search of their dresses. Similarly, many brides travel from Mexico and Latin America to Miami in search of the perfect dress. By shopping online, these women could save the travel money and potentially funnel it elsewhere into their wedding budgets.
“There are so many brides that I don’t reach through my store. This [site] is for that other bride,” Ingram said. “The aim is not to compete directly with stores. I would not be doing this if I were competing against myself. Designers are working in tandem with us because they [understand this]. They don’t want to destroy their geographical distribution and retail partners.”
The site is organized into designer boutiques, which will offer “sales.” These will last for 72 hours on average, or until the gowns are sold. Typically, each sale will feature eight to 10 styles. “We don’t want to overwhelm girls,” Yassky said. “Every gown we sell we have seen and have handpicked. Shopping for a wedding dress can be intimidating at times, so the selection is small.”
At launch time, two to four sales will run concurrently. Oscar de la Renta and Monique Lhuillier likely will be among the firsts, along with the Notte by Marchesa program. A drop-down menu will indicate current sales, and a calendar will list those planned for the next week. Through the site’s time-sale format, members will receive e-mails announcing sales.
Once a shopper clicks on a dress, she will see in-depth product information, including a detailed fashion description, three views of the look and highly specific sizing measurements as well as shipping options. The site’s Aisle Partners section will provide recommendations for bridal necessities such as tailors, dry cleaners and restorers.
While designer gowns at appealing prices are The Aisle’s primary draw, its principals have incorporated an additional incentive: a philanthropic component. Each featured designer will select a charity that will be highlighted with a first-person testimonial. The Aisle will donate 2 percent of every dress sale to that charity, and the designers have the option to match the donation.
None of which will matter if the bride doesn’t love her dress. To ensure that buying online doesn’t require too big a leap of faith, The Aisle New York offers the option of return insurance for $175 to $225, depending upon the dress. Should a woman keep the dress, that amount is deducted from the ticket price. “We want to encourage serious shopping. This is not the Zappos model where they send a 6, a 6.5 and a 7 to try and then you take whatever one you want and send the rest back,” Yassky said.
Each gown will be shipped in a gift box designed to create a feeling for the bride reminiscent of Carrie Bradshaw when she opened her Vivienne Westwood dress in the film “Sex and the City.” For an added personal touch, designers are providing thank-you notes. “We want to change the perception that bridal is commercial and mass,” Yassky said. “We want to cast it in an exciting fashion context. The four of us love bridal. That’s it: We’re doing this with love.”