NEW YORK — Magnolias and olive branches adorn the bannister that leads up a flight of stairs to the new Anne Barge New York/Flora on Madison store.
The sunlit Upper East Side boutique is a venture between the Atlanta-based Anne Barge bridal company and the multivendor eveningwear specialist Flora Petakas. The natural accents along the staircase hint at Anne Barge’s Southern heritage and Petakas’ Mediterranean sensibility. As the owner of the bridal trade show Union Square Couture, Petakas is also well-versed in that sector.
The by-appointment store opens to the public Tuesday, but curious passersby and a few supportive area retailers have been dropping by the 1,600-square-foot space in recent days. Strapless, ballgown and other Anne Barge wedding gowns line the south side and glittery, colorful frocks are displayed on the north side. Having always had one foot in bridal and one foot in eveningwear throughout her 30-year career, Petakas said opening a Madison Avenue store has been on her to-do list.
During a walk-through Friday morning, Petakas said the expansiveness of the windows won her over even though the redesign of the interior of what used to be a nail salon required a little imagination. Stylists and wedding planners will be essential in helping to get the word out about the store. After 23 years in business, Anne Barge has its own following.
Other New York City bridal salons have been very supportive and plan to help spread the word, since most do not offer eveningwear, Petakas said. Consumers will also learn about the outpost at 766 Madison Avenue via social media and each of the company’s sites. All in all, business is “incredibly busy,” with many more than ready to celebrate whereas last year the mood was more hesitant, she said. “Perhaps, the guest lists aren’t as big as they were prior [to the pandemic]. But the festive attire is definitely more important than a year ago.”
A halter-neck multicolored beaded tulle gown in a floral motif by Marco & Maria, a Canary Islands resource led by Marco Marrero y Maria Diaz that retails around $4,000, is a key item. Another style from the Lebanon-based designer Georges Hobeika that retails for $8,000 is another, said Petakas, who said clients are spending more this year, too. Rachel Gilbert, Yolancris, Costarellos and Gemy Maalouf are among the other resources. The assortment is geared for the second most important woman at a wedding, whether that be a mother of the bride, a stepmother or event hostess. “She defers to the bride but her dress is very important,” Petakas said.
Having often been asked in the past by mothers of the bride where they might shop for wedding-appropriate eveningwear, she said other than traditional department stores, the options were limited in terms of salon-like settings. “I wanted to give the same luxury service that the bride was getting to the next [important] guest of the wedding,” she said.
Despite women’s readiness to dress up again, wedding guests continue to abide by the unwritten rule of not outshining the bride, according to Petakas. “There is still a quiet, waiting [period] until the bride makes her decision and then consulting with her to some degree.”
Overall, though, people are ready to get dressed up, from her perspective. “That’s something that people want to do. We’ve been looking in our closets for the past two years to try to put together outfits for the occasions that are coming. We realize that there really isn’t anything that festive. We’ve cleaned them out. How many times have we cleaned our closets in the past two years?”
The fact that Anne Barge’s business in its Atlanta store had increased during COVID-19 made opening a New York flagship with Petakas “a perfect opportunity to not only service customers in the tristate area, but international brides shopping in New York,” said Anne Barge president Shawne Jacobs in a phone interview.
The pandemic has prompted brides to spend $2,000 more on average for their wedding gowns, she said. That has resulted in the average retail price range for an ensemble jumping from the $5,500 to $6,000 range to between $7,500 and $8,000. While the media predicted the reverse would happen and that brides would gravitate to more casual styles, that hasn’t been the case.
“At the beginning of COVID[-19] and during it, people kept asking, ‘Are you going to start designing more short dresses or pantsuits to make it more casual?’ We saw the opposite happen. Many other designers have seen that, too,” Jacobs said.
With expectations of ongoing inflation and some economists predicting a recession, the company president said she was fortunate to weather the 2008 recession with Anne Barge’s namesake founder and saw the changes that had to be made.
“That will bode me well if that should happen. At that time, we had a collection Le Fleur that is very similar to our [current] Blue Willow price points $1,900 to about $4,000. That collection got us through the recession. We still saw brides getting married, but their price points jumped down. We’re not seeing that quite yet. If that were to happen, that would be the same in this case.”
The Anne Barge signature collection retails from around $4,000 to $10,000. New York shoppers will find select dresses that are not offered in the Atlanta flagship, where shoppers tend to embrace the Southern bride mood. New York brides are more sophisticated and are unafraid to take a risk with trendier styles, Jacobs said. Madison Avenue shoppers will also be able to buy “fun, after-party” dresses from the bridal resource’s Little White Dress label in the $1,500 to $4,000 range.