HERE COMES THE BRIDESMAIDS

Byline: STACI BONNER

ATLANTA — This January, Nicole Miller introduced her debut collection of bridesmaid and special occasion dresses, but it’s hardly the first time her dresses have been worn at weddings. Last year, Miller was surprised to discover that a large percentage of her cocktail dresses were actually being bought for bridal parties. “I had been designing wardrobes for weddings long before I decided to enter the market,” she says. Miller found that a significant portion of her customers were opting to shop for their bridal parties in her boutiques rather than traditional bridal salons. She then began polling women about their experiences in this area. “The response was comical,” says Miller. “Everyone I’ve met has a bridesmaid horror story. It seems terrible bridesmaid dresses are the norm.”
“Last winter in New York, sales were down all over because of the cold and ice. But our Madison Avenue store was having really good weeks. We asked them why, and they told us that 85 percent of their business was bridesmaid,” says Lisa Brigham, national sales manager, Nicole Miller.
Miller responded with this spring’s collection of eight basic bodies in moss crepe available in a variety of lengths. The dresses are derivatives of Miller’s already-successful ready-to-wear collection. Colors are rose, yellow, navy, ivory and mint, and black and ivory combinations. “They’re definitely colors you’d wear forever,” says Brigham.
“It was unbelievable to me to find out what a woman goes through to organize a bridal party,” says Miller, who aims to streamline the process.
“Some women are resigned to having to order their bridesmaid dresses six months before the wedding,” explains Brigham. “You don’t have to go through that with our dresses. Ninety-five percent of the time, you’ll find them in stock.”
Projections for the line have sharply increased since its inception. “I originally thought the line would do a couple of million,” says Brigham, who now forecasts $7.5 million in sales for 1995. Brigham attributes the dresses’ popularity to their classic look. “Some girls spend $300 on a dress they’ll never wear again. They can wear one of ours for the rest of their lives.” Brigham also credits the success of the line in part to strenuous marketing efforts. Over 65,000 minicatalogs have been distributed to retailers who carry the collection. The line will participate in over 40 Bridal Expos nationwide where, Brigham says, it is seen by 1,800 to 2,500 brides in a one- or two-day period.
The fall bridesmaid collection will feature the same basic silhouettes with longer sleeves and floor lengths. Colors will be bordeaux, aubergine, navy, forest green, and black and ivory, with six styles in moss crepe and three in velvet. Wholesale prices range from $110 to $220 for dresses and $80 for a bolero jacket. The line is available at Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, specialty shops, and Nicole Miller boutiques nationwide. Miller says she plans to continue with classic, sophisticated silhouettes. “I never want someone to have a horror story in one of my dresses,” she says.