NEW YORK — A wedding day free from surprises — such as the bride tearing her dress or the maid of honor spraining her ankle — is typically a very good thing. But the same cannot be said for the bridal business.

Brides-to-be buying several wedding dresses each, bridesmaids dressing in mismatched colors and wedding gowns designed more in line with ready-to-wear trends are some of the more surprising moves underfoot, according to a dozen industry insiders.  

This story first appeared in the April 19, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

New York-based florist Nico De Swert, whose creations include the entire ambience, not just flowers, and can set back a bride and groom $40,000, said he has noticed that wedding dresses are more trend-driven. “They are much more sleek, modern and hip. It’s almost as though the wedding aisle is becoming a fashion runway,” he said. “They are really changing in a positive way.”

He was one of the trendsetters honored by Modern Bride last week at a dinner at the Ritz Carlton Battery Park.

Another honoree, celebrity wedding photographer Terry deRoy Gruber, said one of his recent assignments made him do a double take. Aside from the 300-foot table the Cracker-Jack Wedding Planners set up for a reception in the New York Public Library, he was floored by the bride, who had eight outfits and changed four times. He did note that changing more than once was in keeping with the bride’s Moroccan heritage. But the lensman, whose company shoots 100-plus nuptials each year, has noticed more brides changing into different outfits.

Vera Wang, another award winner, said she’s been struck by two things — brides wearing more than one dress during the course of their weddings and receptions and destination weddings.

Melania Trump and Tiger Woods’ wife, Elin Nordegren — two of the better-known brides she has dressed in the past year — did both. But all in all, more women are opting to have two or three dresses for the ceremony, the reception and the send-off. Unlike Asian brides, who change for reasons related to their culture, “this is changing for a fashion show,” Wang said.

Caterer Serena Bass said she raised an eyebrow at a Boston affair she handled, where the bridesmaids wore all different colored dresses — some bright, some pale. “It looked a bit like a gaggle. You need a certain amount of ceremony at a wedding,” she said. “I wouldn’t really recommend it. Would you?”

Bass said she was more impressed by a Manhattan wedding she catered. There was an extraordinary Balinese dance, a puppet performance and singing.

Karenna Gore, who presented a trendsetter award to Wang, said she is surprised by “how easy it is to get caught up in the wedding industry. The marketing is so intense even if you are not interested in these types of things. It’s important just to relax and enjoy yourself if possible.”

Gore is passing along this advice to her sister Kristin who will be married in a few weeks on the family’s Tennessee farm, even though she hasn’t been heavily involved with the plans.

Newscaster Ashleigh Banfield, another awards presenter who tied the knot last summer, said the legwork of planning a wedding can be a bit much. She wore a Laura Madrigano bodice, shawl and pants with a train for her nuptials on a yacht in a lake off a remote Canadian island. The clothes were a cinch compared with the logistics. “I was the wedding planner,” she said. “I had no idea there would be so much work involved.”

Several designers and executives, who did not attend the Modern Bride dinner, chimed in about the changes sweeping wedding day fashion.

Mara Urshel, president and owner of Kleinfeld, said bridal designers are putting the same kind of energy into their fashion shows that rtw designers put into theirs, as evidenced by two shows last week. She applauded Reem Acra’s outdoor presentation at the Palace Hotel with models stepping out of antique cars as church bells rang and Monique Lhuillier’s elegant one at the Burden Mansion in Carnegie Hill.

Oleg Cassini, who sells wedding gowns to David’s Bridal, said, “Slowly but surely, the bridal business is getting into the fashion arena. Today it is a fashion item of the first order. There is a lot of attractive clothing by totally unknown designers.”

The company has sold 60,000 dresses that retailed for $1,000 or more, and this year’s goal is 100,000 units, he said.

Preparing for the August retail launch of Legends by Romona Keveza, Keveza said, “What I find most surprising about the bridal business is how fashion forward it has become. We are seeing the same trends present in bridal and ready-to-wear at the same time.”

Keveza, who also designs a more upscale bridal collection, expects Legends to generate $1.5 million in sales. The line consists of 14 silhouettes that make 64 outfits.

Richard Tyler, who has stepped back from designing rtw and eveningwear to focus on wedding dresses and made-to-measure, agreed that people are spending money again on bridal. “They don’t mind spending the money, and dad foots the bill. They want something fantastic.”

Brides-to-be aren’t shying away from Tyler’s retail price points, which range from $3,000 to $9,000.

Ursula Hegewisch, co-owner of Wearkstatt, said brides are overwhelmed with so many choices that it is “really hard for them to make up their minds.” Customers are taking six months on average to make a purchase, whereas six weeks to two months was the norm a year ago, she said.

Joseph Murphy, president and chief executive officer of JLM Couture, has seen a shift of a different kind. “There’s more of a separation between the lower end and the higher end of the market. The middle is just not there.”

The change is due in part to mass-market brands knocking off designs from pricier collections, he said. JLM is trying to address the lack of middle-tier labels by introducing Occasions, a collection that will bow this fall and will wholesale from $500 to $625.

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