NEW YORK — If you are in the bridal business, you’re also in the business of stress reduction.
And there’s no better representation of that than the new Pronovias bridal store at 45 East 58th Street in Manhattan.
With its residential-style “salons” for fittings, modern yet feminine decor and sense of intimacy, the Pronovias store strives to alleviate the anxiety of that special purchasing process. Service has been elevated, appointments are longer and less rushed, and bridal stylists are compensated in part based on customer reviews. The better the service, the more they earn.
“When you are a bride you are very insecure. Every single decision is very, very important. What’s the right dress on me? Will I look good for my husband? For the photos? It’s true this pressure has always existed,” said Amandine Ohayon, chief executive officer of the Barcelona, Spain-based Pronovias.
“Millennials are looking for inspiration. They’re searching on the Internet. They’re much more informed and that huge increase of information is driving this insecurity. She is very informed — and very confused.”
She sees a “disconnect” between customer expectations and what the bridal market offers. “We feel that we have a fantastic opportunity to shake things up and drive change, by being very customer-centric. That means the store experience has to change.”
The 58th Street store sets the tone and aesthetic for Pronovias’ initial retail expansions occurring this year in the U.S. and China, which Ohayon disclosed exclusively to WWD.
In the U.S., Ohayon said, “We are targeting big cities. We’re opening seven stores this year and the same number next year.” All of the stores will be company-owned.
“There is a massive opportunity in the U.S.,” Ohayon said. “It’s an $80 billion bridal market by 2020 and 20 percent bigger than the whole European market,” where Pronovias has 40 company-owned stores and 30 franchises. The private equity-owned company does not disclose its volume.
Pronovias opened on 58th Street a month ago and on the “Miracle Mile” in Coral Gables, Fla., earlier this month. Stores are also opening in the Houston Galleria in July; in Beverly Hills in October, and in Boston, Philadelphia and Austin during the fourth quarter this year.
“It’s a city-by-city approach,” Ohayon said. “The idea is not to cannibalize wholesale partners,” which include Kleinfeld, Brickhouse Bridal and Nordstrom, and many others globally.
“There’s also a massive opportunity in China,” Ohayon said. “Chinese Millennials are the number-one consumers of luxury goods worldwide and now they are at the age where they are getting married. They’re being married in the traditional [Chinese] red dress as well as white, Western-style dresses. We just opened a store in Plaza 66 [retail and office] complex in Shanghai and we’re seeing a lot of Chinese brides buy beautiful, classic Western gowns. Parents are spending a lot of money on the weddings,” and they’re making them big, Ohayon said.
Pronovias opened offices in China and the U.S. in the past year, housing human resources, retail, wholesale and marketing functions.
Ohayon, formerly managing director for L’Oréal Luxe, U.K. and Ireland, was recruited by Pronovias’ parent BC Partners to become Pronovias’ ceo in March 2018. She’s leading “customer-centric,” digital, and store opening strategies, as well as efforts to broaden the scope of the offerings.
“It’s very important making dresses for every age and every stage of life. Not a lot of brands are doing that,” Ohayon said during an interview just prior to the launch party for the 58th Street store, set for Thursday evening.
“The bridal industry is based on one or two collections a year. We think this model is a little old-fashioned and want to inject newness on a quarterly basis, and some capsules on a more regular basis.”
Though some regard bridal markets as repetitious, season after season, Ohayon says, “Trends are moving fast in bridal. We’ve got the scale to move at a fast pace.”
The product line has grown with younger styles, recent innovations in fit and fabrics, as well as recent introductions of maternity dresses and plus sizes, for an overall more modern and inclusive approach. Ohayon is also open to deepening partnerships with retailers. Nordstrom, for example, sells the bridal wear and by the end of this year will be carrying the occasion wear as well.
The 55-year-old company Pronovias was purchased in 2017 from founder and owner Alberto Palatchi by BC Partners, which has fueled the bridalwear firm’s expansion beyond its substantial presence in Europe. BC Partners also acquired Nicole Fashion Group SpA, the Saluzzo, Italy-based bridalwear company, in 2018.
The 8,720-square-foot 58th Street store (4,630 square feet for selling) is “the first new generation of our new store concept,” Ohayon said. “The look and feel is luxurious, not intimidating.”
The store, which replaced the company’s former site on 52nd Street, is adorned with wood and marble floors offset by taupe area rugs, LED screens suspended from the ceiling, and fitting rooms of varying sizes to accommodate a bride-to-be and her mother, or larger groups. “It’s a tailor-made approach,” Ohayon said.
Noting the “veil gallery” and the “headpiece playground” in the center of the store, Ohayon said, “We’re not just here to sell you a dress. We really see ourselves as stylists to style you with the right shoes, headpieces, combs and veils. The relationship with the bridal stylist is unique. They become expert best friends. They’re there to help you to find the most important dress of your life.”
“The old store was dark and heavy. This is much lighter and more luxurious with a lot of clean lines,” added Amanda McCormick Bacal, president and managing director of Pronovias North America. “There is a sense of discovery. But the big difference is that the old store [on 52nd Street] had a small footprint over five levels, making it difficult to see the range,” not to mention requiring a lot of climbing up and down stairs. “Here, it’s all one level. The product is more accessible.”
The Pronovias experience starts right at the brass-trimmed foyer. The old check-in desk, reminiscent of a doctor’s office, is gone and the appointment process is digital so the bridal stylists greet customers with iPads when they walk in. Customers book online and no longer need to call for an appointment.
“The customer wants to be reassured and to be in a welcoming environment. We completely reviewed the way we are engaging the customer. Based on this new philosophy we are moving away from a pure selling method to more service-oriented method. The staff receives a percentage of sales and is also evaluated by the bride,” who is surveyed on her experience with the bridal stylists. “The most important question is ‘would you recommend Pronovias to your family and friends.'”
Typically, it’s a six-to-nine month process from the initial appointment to selecting, fitting, designing and finally receiving the wedding dress. “Of course we get brides who want to have a dress in six weeks’ time. We can accommodate that, too,” said Bacal.
On the left side of the store, there’s the Party Edit occasion wear collection of short and long dresses, jumpsuits and separates. “We purposely put it in front of the store to give it more visibility,” Bacal said. “Before it was buried. It’s an area of growth.” The space also houses Evening Essentials, a collection of classic strapless or knee-length cocktail dresses, for women of all ages.
To the right, Atelier Pronovias couture is displayed, including the Atelier Pronovias New York Collection available only in the New York flagship and offering strapless lace gowns with the mermaid silhouette and a long train, and long lace dresses with beading.
Pronovias, for modern, fashion forward styles, and Pronovias Privée for highly embellished styles with rich beading, are displayed further into the store.
Under Pronovias Group, there’s Pronovias – for more glamorous styles; White One, for playful, youthful styles; St. Patrick, for timeless, elegant styles, and Nicole, with refined, romantic styles designed in Italy.
In another stylish touch, black felt hangers are used for Party Edit; white felt hangers for all bridal gowns.
All the merchandise is made to order and designed in Barcelona, though alterations are done at the store. Prices start at around $1,800, with most Atelier Pronovias runway pieces priced from $3,500 to $50,000, depending on the complexity and the degree of handwork.
Ohayon said Pronovias (the name has Latin roots meaning ‘for the bride’) has become “obsessed with the perfect fit…Sometimes you focus a lot on how the dress looks but not how the dress fits. In our innovation center in Barcelona we are driven to improve the construction of our dresses. We are very well known for the mermaid silhouette, which is very fitted, with flair at the bottom. We’ve made the fit better by actually including an inner slimmer when you’re trying on the mermaid.” It’s a Spanx-like product that provides support and a concealing, smoothing effect. With princess dresses, which aren’t as fitted as the mermaids, recent innovation work has been focused on lightening the construction.
“The beauty of the bridal business is, it’s really an Internet-resistant model,” Ohayon said, adding that 98.5 percent of brides buy their wedding dresses via brick-and-mortar. “Over the years, we can see bridal as a very resistant market, even when there is a recession. There are headwinds and tailwinds, but over a longer period, 10 years, the business has been very, very stable. There will always be people getting married.”