Bridal companies have their work cut out for them as many customers are looking for more adaptable and in some cases more affordable dresses that they can find quickly, freeing up their time to focus on the reception.
Those were some of the talking points at the latest round of bridal shows in New York, which stretched from April 13 to April 20. Elie Saab launched his first in-house bridal collection. In doing so, his designs were immediately available in select stores in Paris, Beirut, Dubai and Hong Kong, as well as Harrods in London. Perhaps building from the interest First Lady Michelle Obama has helped to create by wearing his designs, Naeem Khan will show his bridal collection during Barcelona Bridal Week for the first time. The designer also showed his collection in New York on April 16.
At the Carolina Herrera presentation, the designer had what looked like an oversize crate built upright to make guests feel as though the gowns being modeled had just been removed from a couture box. At the Oscar de la Renta showroom, Peter Copping took a more straightforward route, staging a runway show, as did Oleg Cassini at the Plaza Athénée. Vera Wang preferred to hold off until Wednesday, the end of bridal week, to post a short, moody film on her Web site. The designer created “Désir à l’Anglaise,” which was directed by Gordon von Steiner.
Romona Keveza has seen an influx of shoppers in her New York atelier from Singapore, London, Dubai, New Delhi and London. A company spokeswoman said, “There is zero sticker shock for them — they will spend $20,000 to $60,000 on a gown.”
In June, Kleinfeld cofounder Mara Urshel will attend Australia’s bridal week for the first time to source new designers. Before that, she will do the same in Barcelona, London and Milan. In New York, she saw a rousing response to Christian Siriano’s debut bridal show. “They felt it was something different, fresh and young, and people like him as a designer,” said Urshel, adding that Siriano will host a number of trunk shows at Kleinfeld.
In its 15th season and eighth year, Kleinfeld’s reality show “Say Yes to the Dress” is now aired in 200 countries, which has bolstered its branding. The company’s 20,000-square-foot store in Toronto has seen strong sales and additional overseas outposts are being considered, Urshel said. In the New York flagship, brides are favoring sexier gowns, especially ones with low backs and detailed arm treatments and appliqués from such Middle Eastern designers as Pnina Tornai.
As for the New York crowd’s new collections, Urshel pointed to dresses with detachable separate skirts from Amsale, Anne Barge and Lazaro as a sign that brides are looking to switch up their looks for their receptions and really enjoy themselves.
Having done extensive in-person consumer research over the past year with its own customers and some who shop in other stores, David’s Bridal executives learned that “the bride is far less focused on herself now and she wants her wedding guests to have a really good time, which obviously influences the way she is spending. Maybe she is spending less on her wedding dress and more on an open bar or a band. That is a big shift and it feels glaring,” said Callie Canfield, senior director of marketing and communications.
With more than 300 freestanding stores, including three in the U.K., David’s Bridal plans to open a fourth location there in Birmingham. David’s Bridal is also renovating select stores in the U.S.
The retail chain launched Cheers by Cynthia Rowley, a collection of special occasion and wedding dresses, last month, and the Wonder by Jenny Packham collection in February. The retailer also continues ahead with Truly Zac Posen and White by Vera Wang. Canfield said, “One thing our chief executive officer Pamela Wallack has been clear about is not bringing on designers just for the sake of bringing in designers. They have to speak to a certain customer and fill a void in the collection that we might not be speaking to. Jenny is much more ethereal and beaded, and Cynthia’s is more youthful and fun. She only has one long bridal style and two short ones. There are also some two-piece dresses.”
Houghton’s strongest regions are the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, according to designer Katharine Polk, who also noted that a number of consumers fly from the U.K. and Australia to shop in her New York atelier. Brides are comfortable with buying nontraditional dresses, they often shop alone and as a result tend to make decisions quicker, Polk said.
The fact that their requests can be fulfilled as quickly as a week before a wedding is another selling point, as opposed to months out as is more the norm with other resources. For the first time, the designer offered shoppers the chance to pre-order runway looks immediately after her April 16 show. “It helps our production with more orders — and we have happy brides,” she said.
Brides Do Good is another resource that is giving the market a new twist. Launched this spring by Chantal Khoueiry, the site resells wedding gowns, giving one-third of the sale to the person who provides the dress, keeping one-third of the purchase to cover shipping and other costs, and donating the remaining one-third to charities that protect the millions of children in developing countries at risk of an early marriage. By collaborating with Plan International and Too Young to Wed, Brides Do Good aims to help the United Nations keep its pledge to end child marriage by 2030. On a daily basis, 37,000 girls — or one in three in the developing world — are reportedly married against their will, according to the United Nations Population Fund.