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A Bridal Business Blooms in The Windy City
Two college acquaintances reconnect after years apart, when a mutual friend comes to town. One is busy designing her sister’s wedding dress; the other is eager to start a business. By the end of the weekend, the concept for their bridal business, Lissa Elle, has solidified.

Melissa Haberman and Michelle Gertzman met as University of Arizona students in 1996, and became reacquainted at the end of 2003. After finishing her bachelor’s degree at Loyola University, Haberman earned an associate’s degree in fashion design from the Fashion Institute of Technology. She then logged a few years as a Macy’s East buyer for cold-weather accessories and belts before returning to her hometown of Chicago to work in commercial and residential real estate. But her hankering to be a designer never dissipated.

Gertzman, meanwhile, was working as a regional director of Paradigm, a dot-com consulting business, but wanted to run her own company. After talking about their professional aspirations over dinner, the duo decided to go into business. Initially, they kept their day jobs, working nights and weekends on their bridal label.

Lissa Elle offered a six-piece collection this spring and tripled its offerings for fall 2005, thanks to the enthusiastic response. To finance the Chicago-based company, Haberman borrowed against her home equity loan, while her parents dipped into their IRA; Gertzman moved in with her parents.

Each dress is named after a loved one who has helped them with their endeavor. Even Gertzman’s father, Ron, has one named after him, “The Ronet.” Tired of seeing look-alike brides in strapless, duchess satin, A-line dresses in Town & Country’s wedding pages, Gertzman said she set out to design a more stylized collection.

In tune with the two-dress trend many brides are now demanding, there is a silver bias-cut dress designed to be worn with a pleated Grecian coat with a Swarovski crystal belt for the ceremony, and without it for the reception. A sheath silhouette with a pleated satin cummerbund and beaded pale pink braiding, and a kimono bodice with a plunging neckline, is one of the more interesting styles.

Wholesale prices range from $1,500 to $3,400. About eight stores, including Kleinfelds in Brooklyn and Roma Sposa in Birmingham, Mich. carry Lissa Elle.

This story first appeared in the May 24, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

First-year projected wholesale volume is $500,000, Haberman said. The business partners plan to continue producing the wedding dresses in Chicago, where they can oversee the workmanship on a daily basis. The company is based at 1250 North LaSalle Street.

Designers Dress Up Cake Plates For Charity
Vera Wang, Oleg Cassini, Badgley Mischka and Nicole Miller are among the designers trying a hand at cake plate design.

Their handiwork will be featured on Designer Row, during Brides Magazine’s Cakewalk at Grand Central Terminal here, which runs today through Thursday. Billed as the world’s largest wedding cake exhibition, the event will also feature 60 multitiered cakes by sugar artists in the station’s historic Vanderbilt Hall.

Passersby will be offered wedding cake samples, as well as sips of Martini & Rossi Asti in its tasting lounge. As an event sponsor, the sparkling winemaker is setting up a 15-foot wine fountain made with 400 champagne flutes.

There will also be a raffle to win the designer cake plates. Lazaro, Monique Lhuillier, Reem Acra, Kenneth Pool for Amsale and Jenna Lyons for J.Crew have also designed pieces for Designer Row. All donations for the plates will benefit Flower Power, a nonprofit group that repackages flowers. Brides magazine, like WWD, is owned by Fairchild Publications, a unit of Advance Publications Inc.

Cake plates were definitely new territory for Badgley Mischka, which does not have a home collection. James Mischka and Mark Badgley, whose wedding gowns are produced by Pronovias, said they designed the cake plate as if they were designing the bodice of a dress, with lots of beading and floral motifs. Miller, who designs wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses, is often asked to design creations. “At least this is a functional object,” she said. “I had to draw the line when one charity asked me to design a stuffed mouse.”

Anne Barge, Jackie Rogers Layer On Dresses
Anne Barge is rounding out her wedding dress offerings with two new labels, and Jackie Rogers is getting into the act with her first wedding dress collection.

The Atlanta-based Barge has introduced Anne Barge Black Label, an upscale collection, and La Fleur, an opening price point group. For fall, Black Label consists of six styles that wholesale from $2,595 to $3,995. About one-third of her 80 accounts have picked it up, she said.

For Barge, whose signature collection wholesales from $1,695 to $1,895, this was an opportunity to be more indulgent with fabrics and embellishment. “It gives you more freedom in terms of creativity. We used incredible embroideries and beading,” she said. “This is the first time I have tried anything like this. Buyers at market were as excited about it as I was.”

There is also interest at the other end of the spectrum for La Fleur, which wholesales from $995 to $1,295 and was first introduced this spring. About half of Barge’s accounts carry the sharper-priced label.

This year, Black Label and La Fleur could help Barge double her nearly $4 million in annual sales, she said.

As for Rogers, this month, she ships her first eight-piece bridal collection to select stores. Wholesale prices range from $1,295 to $1,895. The designer said some of her customers asked her to design bridal gowns because they were having trouble finding more unusual styles.

“I thought that was surprising until I looked around and found there wasn’t much difference from one designer to another,” she said.

First-year projected wholesale volume is $500,000, she said.

Gifts For The Wedding Party
Price-conscious New Yorkers are finding stylish, affordable gifts for their wedding parties at Brooklyn Industries, a five-store operation and online business that specializes in casualwear.

The brand’s new patterned handbags are being given as presents or as gift bags, said Christine Hooker, project manager for Internet sales at Brooklyn Industries. The H bag retails for $44 and the Lexy bag for $38.

Some urbanites have selected Brooklyn Industries’ colorful, medium-sized $39 messenger bags for bridesmaids and groomsmen.

One New Yorker ordered zip-front jackets imprinted with “Brooklyn” for his buddies to wear at his wedding’s after party, a nod to Kevin Federline.

Last-Minute Fix
Springtime signals the wedding march on Nantucket, and a relative newcomer has sweetened the retail scene there.

The Chocolate … Lingerie opened last year and is receiving its share of brides, bridesmaids and wedding guests. The island typically hosts more than 300 weddings each year, and some don’t blink at spending $50,000 on flowers alone.

Maribeth Maloney, owner of The Chocolate … Lingerie, said wedding-related purchases account for about 15 percent of her business even though she doesn’t actively seek out those customers. But she will break free from her policy of carrying only lingerie and swimwear in shades of chocolate to accommodate brides. Maloney works with Underglam’s Natalie Fritz to order colorful thongs customized with bridesmaids’ initials. She also breaks out the Classy Bride collection, a label that she does not showcase in the store during the rest of the year. Many get a kick out of her wrapping their purchases like a box of chocolates.

Grooms often buzz by for honeymoon presents. More common are the unprepared wedding guests. “A lot of them will not have tried on the dress they plan to wear until they get here. They will come bombing in the door and say, ‘I need something to wear under my sheer light yellow dress.'”

A former Manhattan attorney who relocated to Nantucket with her husband and children after 9/11, Maloney credits her business’ success to her nontraditional approach. “I approach this retail adventure in a different way than someone who has been in the business previously. Following my instincts has been my best advice to myself.”

This summer she will carry 35 brands — seven more than last year. Letarte lingerie, a new offshoot of the popular swimwear label that landed the cover of the 2005 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, is expected to be a standout with brides and regular shoppers alike. This summer Maloney expects to generate $110,000 in retail sales.

Here’s The Deel, Congratulations
Brides-to-be heading to destination weddings at the Three Camel Lodge, a luxury camp in the heart of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, don’t have to worry about wedding dresses. They have the option of donning colorful deels for a traditional Mongolian wedding. A deel is a dress and vest usually made of silk and cotton that sometimes has leather braiding.

To make sure the festivities are authentic, there are local delicacies, vodka toasts, camels and blessings from the local Buddhist monks. Weddings start at $1,000, plus $100 to $250 a night for accommodations, dining and guided treks.

Equinox Shapes Up Brides-To-Be In Chicago
To ensure that their wedding gowns fit perfectly, women in Chicago are enlisting in Equinox Fitness Club’s wedding boot camp. With three locations in the Windy City and another set to open this fall in The Loop, the health club chain is making it tough for engaged couples to come up with excuses about why they could not get to the gym.

The program includes personal trainer sessions, dietary consultations and spa treatments.

The one-month program is $1,164 for members and $1,359 for nonmembers, and the three-month plan is $2,112 for members and $2,467 for nonmembers.

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