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Listening to the Brides

ATLANTA -- Renaissance Bridal prides itself on combining Asian workmanship with American design and experience, says Mary Andrews, designer and co-owner of this Dothan, Ala.-based company.<BR><BR>Andrews, with husband Max, launched the Renaissance...

ATLANTA — Renaissance Bridal prides itself on combining Asian workmanship with American design and experience, says Mary Andrews, designer and co-owner of this Dothan, Ala.-based company.

Andrews, with husband Max, launched the Renaissance line in 1992. As a family business, they feel they’re bucking an industry trend. “Today, there aren’t as many mom and pop companies,” says Andrews. “Everybody is looking for high volume and fast turnover, which is not what we’re about.”

The urge to manufacture a line grew out of the couple’s experience as owners of Andrews Bridal Shops, with two Dothan locations and one in Enterprise, Ala., which they still operate today.

The stores began 25 years ago, primarily as a bridal photography venture, and have evolved into full-service bridal shops, with bridal gowns, tuxedos, shoes, accessories and on-site dry cleaning offered. “We have everything short of catering and floral services,” says Andrews.

In addition to Renaissance, the stores carry six bridal lines that cover a range of prices and looks. Bridal gowns account for 70 percent of merchandise, but prom and pageant lines such as Mike Benet, Alyce, Sherri Hill and Stephen Yearick are also carried.

With no formal design training, Andrews drew on her retail experience in launching Renaissance. “Sometimes, designers work in an isolated environment,” she says. “But I’ve listened to brides and pinned dresses on the sales floor for 25 years, which gives me a better understanding of what they want.”

With the goal of making “the most beautiful dresses with the best fabric and trim available,” Andrews aimed for the upper-end market, where she saw a growing need, with gowns that range from $495 to $1,985 wholesale. First-year 1992 volume was over $1 million, with between $3 and $5 million projected for 1994. The line, which has its own showroom in the Atlanta Apparel Mart here, is sold primarily to other bridal shops.

Andrews personally designs each silhouette and embroidery pattern for the current 65 styles. The all-silk line is handwoven on wooden looms and produced in six factories throughout Southeast Asia. Rather than lace, gowns are embellished with cutwork embroidery, a process in which patterns are handcut from solid silk to expose a sheer fabric underneath. On Renaissance’s most expensive gown, the cutwork is interspersed into the solid skirt from train to waist.

All gowns have built-in bra cups and crinolines attached at the waistline. “All the bride needs is pantyhose and shoes,” says Andrews. All bows and some trains are removable.

The line is aimed at a bride who is often older and more sophisticated than her younger counterparts. “This customer has worked hard and is willing to pay for a dress that reflects her taste; she doesn’t want to look like she’s going to the prom.”

For fall, Andrews sees a trend toward more sophisticated looks, as customers have requested less embellishment and more long sleeves and high-necked styles.

Andrews says the biggest advantage of both her retail and wholesale operations is closeness to the consumer.

“The bridal industry has changed, with so many new options, including rentals, warehouses and discount operations,” she said. “But the customer in our price range will always want full service, which is our specialty.”