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BARCELONA — Pronovias, the world’s largest bridal manufacturer, knows how to put on a show and U.S. retailers responded — snapping up innovative gowns and body-conscious silhouettes in soft, tissue-thin fabrics and feathers.

“I’m trying out feathers for the first time,” said Mindy Woon, bridal manager at Bergdorf Goodman. “Our brides are a little more sophisticated — they’re looking for something different like beaded lace and novelty fabrics.”

Elena Grapsas of Ultimate Bride in Chicago, said she was shopping for couture gowns “with a difference, something nobody else has.”

Pronovias invited more than 1,500 specialty retailers and journalists from 45 countries to its hometown on June 17-18 for a preview of 2006. The guest list, mainly customers from the multinational’s global network, included 500 retailers — 65 from the U.S. — and major buying groups from Germany, Italy and the U.K., organizers said.

“Valentino was not a disappointment; he had four pieces to die for,” said Mara Urshel, president of I. Kleinfeld, the famed Brooklyn retailer that is to move in July to a 35,000-square-foot Manhattan store with 52 fitting rooms.

Key bridal trends are “romance, fantasy, glamour and detail,” Urshel said. “Strapless is still number one, and for the American market, white and ivory, that’s it.” Destination weddings are “still big” and, in general, weddings are alive and well, “more so then ever,” she added.

Valentino’s premier collection for Pronovias was the big draw for retailers who could afford it. Depending on the style, a Valentino gown might sell for as much as $25,000, sources said.

In addition, the bridal group includes: Emanuel Ungaro; Elie Saab; Badgley Mischka; resident designer and creative director Manuel Mota, whose signature line sells in the U.S. exclusively to Bergdorf’s, and lesser-known Spanish designers Hannibal Laguna and Pronovias’ newcomer, Lorenzo Caprile (one of Crown Princess Letizia’s favorites for special royal occasions).

The event kicked off with an evening runway show at the Pabellon Italiano in the Barcelona fairgrounds. Valentino’s minicollection of eight gowns opened the catwalk presentation with Empire and dropped-waist styles, opulent embroideries and a cascade of mini rosettes. Saab sent out what a veteran buyer described as “an orgy of chiffon, tulle and Chantilly lace.” Ungaro showed snug torsos with poufy tulle skirts, Swan Lake feathers and oversized confectionary hats, and Badgley Mischka opted for second-skin gowns with pearl and rhinestone trims and more feathers.

This story first appeared in the June 28, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The front row included Alberto Palatchi, Pronovias founder and chief executive officer; Ungaro and the 72-year-old designer’s wife, Laura Fanfani; Nati Abascal (the Duchess of Feria) in all-white separates by Valentino, and designers Mark Badgley and James Mischka.

Pronovias makes 480,000 gowns a year, which the 41-year-old firm distributes through 3,500 sales points in about 60 countries, including 250 doors in the U.S., 115 company-owned and franchised stores in Spain and three each in France and Greece.

Sales revenues for 2004 totaled $131 million, Palatchi said, with fiscal 2005 expected to reach $146 million.

The next day, buyers got down to business at Barcelona’s Palacio de Congresos de Cataluna, where Pronovias sent out its in-house bridal line of more than 170 gowns priced from $280 to $3,000.

Cocktail and mother-of-the-bride collections featured beaded mesh and lace dresses with matching jackets and a few bold — and mature — prints in colors such as ruby, teal, lemon, pistachio and creamy mint. One of the best was a knee-hovering beige lace suit with hem ruffle, for $480. Prices ranged from $80 for a straightforward series of red crepe dresses to $930.

Palatchi said sales jumped 25 percent compared with last year, but declined to reveal specific figures.

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