Wedding days might be the ultimate photo-op, but several bridal designers are proving that they too know how to frame a shot for Instagram and other mediums favored by brides to be.
Last week’s bridal market was all about the close-up in that both the intricate gowns and designers were within reach. Designers and brands are zooming in on the $52 billion wedding industry — 9 percent of which is spent on bridal party attire and accessories, according to IBISWorld’s Wedding Services 2014 market research report. IBISWorld estimates that the average wedding dress cost will increase to $1,330 this year and demographic data expects the number of weddings to reach 2.2 million. With those figures in mind, IBISWorld predicts wedding dress sales to reach about $2.8 billion this year, according to analyst Brittany Carter.
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Unemployment and job security are two of the factors that have chipped away at wedding budgets (and for some guest lists) or led to longer engagements or cohabitation. Conversely, many selfie-loving brides are taking a DIY approach to their nuptials, designing the decor with more of a personalized flair and locally sourced fare. Two-dresses-for-one-wedding continues on as a trend, with the added twist of an elevated hemline to show off “It” shoes from such frontrunners as Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin.
Instead of a fashion show or presentation, Carolina Herrera hosted a Monday cocktail party where models chatted on couches and mingled through the crowd. The relaxed setting gave guests a good long look at the laser cut appliqués, embroidered motifs and illusion lace backs, as well as a sense for how the gowns hold up in a real-life setting.
Herrera said the switch was social-media driven, “They all want to Instagram. The people who come for bridal want to touch the dress and see how it’s made. I think it is so much fun to have a cocktail party and to have all the brides around you. You see how real brides move. And they are close to you and not like in a fashion show.”
Oscar de la Renta also went with a more informal showroom presentation, allowing editors to see exactly how the sleeves of an embroidered macramé ballgown gown detach‚ among other features. More than a few zeroed in on an off-the-shoulder Chantilly and Lyon lace gown with fleur lace overlay that was reminiscent of the one that Amal Alamuddin wore to wed George Clooney in Venice in September. The house saw off-the-charts Web traffic on their wedding day, exceeding the site’s average daily traffic by 9 a.m. As of Wednesday, a Google search of the bride’s and the designer’s names registered nearly 2.3 million results.
Dressing Ashlee Simpson for her wedding to Evan Ross has helped boost Houghton’s bridal business by 935 percent in the past year. Focused on brides who look to the runway and red carpet for inspiration, the company has opened 12 new accounts, launched e-commerce and offers customized gowns by designer Katharine Polk.
At the Pronovias flagship Tuesday, Iñigo Artiach said he will be amping up the American market as the U.S. and Canada sales director. With its collections sold in more than 90 countries, the company lists the American market as one of its top three. Reality shows like “Say Yes to the Dress,” which revolves around Kleinfeld where Pronovias store director Elise Rosenblum worked for years, have bolstered the category. “Now with the help of social media, some of these brides are so knowledgeable I could hire them,” she said.
Having appeared on “Say Yes to the Dress” for 12 seasons, the Israel-based Pnina Tornai spends two weeks of each month helping shoppers at her concept shop in Kleinfeld — many of whom have come to the store just to meet her. While the annual number of marriages in the U.S. is not on the rise, the designer’s fans are still spending upwards of $6,000 for her gowns. Kleinfeld owner Mara Urshel noted that a Brooklyn bride recently spent $50,000 for a few Tornai dresses — an amount that is not uncommon, she said.
To try to appeal to a wider spectrum of women, Kleinfeld now offers wedding gowns that retail from $2,500 to $55,000 and above. With 28 dressing rooms and more than 75 labels, the Manhattan store also offers HitchSwitch name change services and hotel bookings among other things. And Urshel said she has no immediate plans to sell the company any time soon.
Visitors to The Knot’s site typically spend more than nine minutes per session, and its Wedding Network sees nearly 5.7 million unique monthly visitors. The company also claims to have 1.5 million photos viewed monthly. Interestingly, all this attention comes at a time when the percentage of U.S. adults who have never been married has hit a new, all-time high, according to the latest available census data.
After a sidewalk presentation outside her TriBeCa apartment, Lela Rose said brides want gowns that are light and easy. And social media lends itself more to brides who are “hyperfocused.” With a book about entertaining due out next fall, Rose will be sharing more of her personality with fans. She said the project is in step with everything she does in that setting of a party (or wedding) inevitably dictates the dress code, decor, and menu.
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A few newcomers are getting into bridal this fall. Eva Mendes is extending her New York & Co. line with a bridal party collection. Rory Beca and wedding planner Yifat Oren will introduce Maid bridesmaids gowns for holiday. (Oren helped Drew Barrymore and Natalie Portman with their weddings.) Lakum, a Brooklyn-based atelier, has launched an easy fit “Suite of Looks” for a bride’s wedding weekend. Following Warby Parker’s free Home Try-on offer, Lakum shoppers can pay a nominal fee to have a muslin of the dress they are interested in to try on. Another newbie was Victoria KyriaKides who showed her bridal collection to a broad range of boutiques for the first time.
More established names like Oleg Cassini are also embracing the upsides of social media. Creative director Peggy Nestor said, “Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest allow consumers to visualize their choices, make requests, voice concerns and discuss their purchase decisions. That is as personal as a purchase can get.”
Rivini by Rita Vinieris’ namesake said Pinterest is unquestionably brides’ go-to resource for weddings. “They are using it as their magazines on their phones,” she said, adding they are buying in real-time too. “We’re seeing a lot of rushes and quick turnarounds. As a manufacturer, that can make things a little bit challenging.
Illustrating how attached some brides get to their brands, Claire Pettibone still hears on a daily basis via social media from brides who bought gowns six or seven years ago. A company spokeswoman said, “Real weddings have become a whole category. Many of our bride’s weddings are featured on blogs, which keeps the cycle of posting, sharing and pinning, going. Clients request gowns that were worn years ago, because those images live on in the digital world.”