By Rosemary Feitelberg
with contributions from Emily Mercer
 on March 19, 2020
The scene at the Valmont Barcelona Bridal Fashion Week.

In this everything-is-canceled culture, thousands of spring weddings have been rescheduled, canceled or scaled down to the absolute nearest and dearest.

But it’s not just weddings around the globe that are being shelved or reimagined, Valmont Barcelona Bridal Fashion Week has postponed its upcoming trade show and other events. New York’s April 2020 Bridal Market is going digital. That decision was a democratic one, with Bridal Council members agreeing to a new type of market week; although to-date, participating designers could not be confirmed.

Faced with immense worldwide turmoil, some bridal designers have opted not to show next month like Danielle Frankel, Temperley and Theia. While 2019 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund runner-up Frankel is turning her focus to next season’s ready-to-wear calendar, the designer, who — like many bridal designers — relies on the made-to-order model, is offering FaceTime fittings with clients; Lein, another young New York City-based designer, and Amsale are both pivoting to virtual appointments and fittings.

We’ve just launched Amsale Virtual Try On, a feature that lets users upload an image of themselves, or another, to our web site and actually see themselves in a chosen dress,” Amsale’s design director Margo LaFontaine said. “It’s a great way that brides and wedding parties can engage virtually while being socially responsible and also a tool for retailers to keep their business operating by holding virtual selling sessions with their customers.”

Fortunately, the April market is smaller than the October one in New York. Some industry executives speculated if the current crisis will prompt a one market week set-up, which had been discussed in the past.

In coherence with CDC recommendations that organizers nix or postpone events with groups of 50 people or more, and some health and political figures strongly suggesting a cap of no more than 10 people gathered in one place at any given time, the wedding industry finds itself reeling about its future. Even Princess Beatrice has canceled her May 29 wedding reception that was to be held in the gardens of Buckingham Palace.

This seismic uncertainty follows five years of stifled growth due partially to young couples living together longer and putting off parenthood. Across all sectors — wedding gown manufacturers, retailers, venues and others — the wedding service industry totaled $78 billion, representing 377, 045 businesses and 1.2 million jobs last year, according to IBISWorld.

After starting a LinkedIn group to help advise companies on how to apply for grants and financial aid, Bridelux’s James Lord reeled in 250 members in 24 hours. With his company’s wedding show at The Savoy London canceled, he too has faced automatic cutbacks, having let go six part-time worker. But he vowed to rehire them as soon as business picks up.

“Every single aspect of the supply chain has literally fallen off the edge of a cliff in the past two weeks,” Lord said. “It’s like a natural catastrophe of biblical proportions or a war. Obviously, we’ve never experienced anything like this in our lifetime. There are lots of worried people out there. It’s the same for 90 percent of all industries.”

However, unlike flowers ordered from Holland or a wedding cake made by confectioners, the wedding dress is not perishable. “Those weddings will still happen. Those girls will need that dress at some point in the future,” he said.

David’s Bridal has shuttered its 300 or so U.S. stores to walk-ins and appointments through April 1. Store employees will be paid during that time and curbside pick-up is available for brides-to-be with previously placed orders. Working through the pandemic situation day-by-day, a David’s Bridal spokeswoman said Thursday that she could not answer whether the company expects to close stores, layoff workers or take paid time off.

In accordance with New York Gov. Andrew’s Cuomo’s latest mandate that calls for only 25 percent of employees to be allowed to work, Kleinfeld informed its 250-employee staff Thursday that they were heading home. With the store temporarily closed to the public as of Friday, it will only serve brides with fitting appointments, emergencies and curbside pick-ups. Mara Urshel, co-owner of Kleinfeld, said brides who have to postpone their weddings have the option of having the retailer preserve their dresses for up to eight months before shipping them, with fittings to follow.

Accustomed to selling more than 10,000 dresses a year, Kleinfeld was on track for a 10 percent gain for 2020. Estimating any downturn is impossible to predict, since as of Friday “there will be zero income. We won’t be selling any dresses as of tomorrow. I just hope that we come out of this with all the service levels that we are known for,” said Urshel, who has never sold online. “We haven’t figured it out yet, if there is a way to get to some revenue during this period.”

Kleinfeld employees will continue to be paid their salaries, despite not being part of a large corporation. “We depend on our brides so that’s the toughest part. But we’ll do whatever has to be done,” Urshel said.

Having hired additional cleaners, bought masks, gloves, Purell and other safeguards for the staff that continues to work, Urshel said, “Our biggest concern is the health of our people. Let’s say if when this is all over, we have a lot of sick people, that’s not going to keep us in business either. That’s going to be very tough to replace.”

She continued, “All you can do every day is think about what you can do for your people — and yourself.…When this is over, life will never be the same. The bridal business will never be the same. We just have to figure out which way it will go and we can make it as positive as we want to.”

This time will allow Urshel and the management team to strategize. Looking ahead, she expects that smaller specialty stores may go out of business even if they receive reprieves on payments. “Everyone has to pay rent and food and whatever,” Urshel said.

Dennis Basso, who designs custom wedding gowns, said Thursday, “Any bride that is getting married in the next three months already has her gown and it is ready to be delivered. Those brides, who had to cancel their big weddings, are still getting married quietly, privately, at home, in the study of the rabbi or with the priest. They will use that gown when all of this passes and they will have a big party or a celebration.”

Going forward, Basso expects brides-to-be who were planning to order big wedding gowns will do so later in time. “The glitch will be the gowns that need to be made offshore or ordered months in advance. They may not be available this fall. What that will do is lead to purchases of more ready-made gowns and samples.”

With distribution in 30 stores internationally, Mira Zwillinger has not received any canceled orders as of yet, according to U.S. sales agent and ambassador David Gomez Pearlberg. “It’s really hard to say this early in, as the situation plays out we will be in a better place to assess.”

The Tel Aviv-based bridal company has not been able to offer any incentives yet, since most of its retailers are closed temporarily. As for making up for the anticipated lost revenue, Pearlberg said, “We are brainstorming about this now. It is all so sudden.”

The Pronovias Group is donating wedding dresses to hospital-employee brides-to-be working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Having started the program in China, the company is extending the effort to other countries and will offer it until September to the hospital-employed brides-to-be, including doctors, nurses, janitors and cafeteria staff.

Pronovias has 46 stores worldwide and five brands — Pronovias, St. Patrick, White One, Nicole and LadyBird. A Pronovias spokesperson declined to comment about the business fallout, explaining the company is focused on the safety of its customers and employees.

Another sign of these difficult times is the fact that Matthia’s & Claire, a company headquartered in Chiasso, Switzerland, with a strong bridal business for platinum rings, is fully quarantined. The company is relying on its distributors in Hong Kong and Rhode Island. Another indicator of the new normal is a just-announced delivery guarantee for wedding dresses from Anomalie, a DTC site dealing with 1,500 new brides daily. Consumers now have a delivery guarantee that their wedding dress purchases will be delivered at least a month before the wedding or they will receive 1.5 times the price of the gown.

In keeping with its infrastructure that ensures on-time deliveries, Anne Barge — unlike its retailers — does not collect deposits with orders. Therefore, brides that cancel orders after their dresses have gone into production will lose their deposits to the stores and the stores are required to take delivery of the dresses, according to president and creative director Shawne Jacobs. The company has been working closely with its retail stores to implement additional safety measures. One allowance is for customers who are required to shelter in place. They will be permitted to have a two-week extension on the delivery date, Jacobs said.

Brides who order directly from the Anne Barge site will be directed to their local store to take delivery of the gown and to receive guidance on alterations and accessories. A system is being developed to offer virtual appointments, when in-store shopping is limited, Jacobs said.

Emphasizing that the crisis will end and following federal and local guidelines closely it will be overcome, Jacobs said, “This date is unknown, but our efforts need to focus on buying time until we can resume normal operations that hopefully include pent-up demand.”

Meanwhile, other wedding-related businesses forge ahead with new ideas like Labyrinth Diamonds, a DTC business selling lab-grown diamonds. Another example is New Zealand-born bridal designer Trish Peng, who has created what she claims to be the first reversible wedding gown. The six-piece assortment of reversibles gives new meaning to the two-dress phenomenon that brides have taken to. More fitting is the name: “Reflections.”

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