Broken-hearted brides have become increasingly the norm this year, since thousands of weddings have been put on ice due to coronavirus concerns.
As chief executive officer of the Pronovias Group, the bridal powerhouse based in Barcelona, Amandine Ohayon has an insider’s view of the pandemic-related ramifications that manufacturers and retailers are dealing with. With 4,000 points-of-sale worldwide, including 60 freestanding stores — seven of which are in the U.S. — Pronovias is forging ahead. The company is not currently considering closing any stores. With 1,000 wholesale partners, Ohayon has insights about both sides of the business.
During an interview, Ohayon spoke of the bridal industry’s resilience and some of its innovative solutions for getting married, despite restrictions for large gatherings in many countries. With 2.4 million couples getting married annually in the U.S. alone, there is a lot at stake. The wedding service industry is a $78 billion entity globally across all sectors and employed 1.2 million people last year, according to IBISWorld.
While the stay-at-home mandates silenced many businesses around the globe, Ohayon is convinced that all those weeks of self-quarantine has only made people have greater appreciation for weddings, and reason to come together with family and loved ones again. Although The Knot reported that the average wedding dress cost $1,600 last year, Pronovias has seen the average bride spend more than $2,000 in recent weeks.
While many retailers have been scrambling to reconfigure their stores to ensure social distancing and limited traffic, Pronovias’ retail experience already had some of those elements. By-appointment shopping is nothing new for the brand and that dovetails into newly installed governmental protocols for retail, Ohayon said. “We really want to continue and strive to help the bride find the true dress,” she said.
Unlike many others bridal firms, Pronovias executives have had the support of strong shareholders during the pandemic, the ceo said. “They really believe in the future of the business. That will really help us to move forward. We know that it will come back. The question is not when it will come back. It will.”
While the COVID-19 situation changes week-by-week, brides are more inclined to postpone their weddings rather than cancel, which Ohayon sees as “a great sign.“ This morning before the virtual presentation of Atelier Pronovias’ 2021 “Premiere” collection, the ceo of five proprietary bridal brands will discuss the future of the bridal industry virtually.
WWD: How far out are we looking in terms of the postponements and cancellations of weddings?
Amandine Ohayon: It’s true that it has been a difficult time for the bridal market. What is great about our industry in general is that when we are facing crises, we are quite a resilient industry. What we’re seeing is that about 40 percent of the weddings are being moved to next year. This is actually based on data that we have from 50 stores that we have around the globe. Of course, there are differences based on geographies. For example, in Spain, half of the weddings are being moved to next year. In France, it’s only 20 percent. Of course, everything is changing all the time. At the beginning of the pandemic, we had heard that 60 percent of the weddings were being moved to next year. But now in Italy, they have authorized weddings of 150 people. So we’re seeing a lot of the brides getting married this year. And the numbers are falling to 45 percent being postponed.
WWD: How is the easing of stay-at-home restrictions affecting everything?
A.O.: In Europe — where the lockdown was lifted a few weeks ago — people just want to be with their friends and rejoice. They’re moving the wedding to the right location instead of canceling it. After this moment of lockdown and isolation, there are emotional reasons [for going forward with a wedding]. You know what’s important — your friends.
WWD: What percentage of the Pronovias business is in the U.S.? Are you seeing higher rates of postponed weddings?
A.O.: The U.S. represents one-quarter of our turnover across wholesale and retail. It’s pretty similar to what we’re seeing from our stores. In Europe, the wedding season is very concentrated around the summer. In the U.S., there are two bridal weeks — one in April and one in October. In Europe, there is one season. That’s why the U.S. is different from Europe.
WWD: Is the average price of a gown declining as people reevaluate their spending habits?
A.O.: It’s early days, since we reopened our stores. The average price of our gown has gone up. Finally, they can choose their dream gowns without looking at the price. They have decided to go ahead with their weddings and they are not so much on a mission about the price. That is what we have seen in France, Italy and Spain. In the U.S., we don’t have a clear pattern yet. Also, the girls are going for very traditional, classic, beautiful, pristine gowns. People want to go back to the purer sense of getting married.
WWD: What would the typical bride spend now versus a year ago?
A.O.: It depends on the market. On average, it is over $2,000 in our freestanding stores. We’re not talking about a big variation — maybe between five and 10 percent. Even if you decide to not have such a big celebration, the things that will stay (as planned and without scrimping) are the photography and the wedding dress. If you have to cut for budget reasons or due to social distancing, the dress is the one thing you don’t want to compromise. Women really want to hold onto their dream dress.
WWD: Is the age of the big blowout wedding over?
A.O.: Weddings have to adapt. This question is true of any gathering. Are we going to go back to restaurants or the cinemas? There is a lot of innovation in the bridal industry. As the leader, we always try to drive that innovation further. We were the first [bridal business] one to come out with a digital showroom, to offer virtual appointments through all our stores worldwide. We try to engage in a very thoughtful way with our brides on social media. We’ve started producing a collection of masks, because there are still some brides in certain regions that have to wear masks. We don’t want this to compromise her look. We have designed masks that match the lace of the dress and of the veil. She will be able to wear that in situations where she needs to. That is one example across many.
WWD: What are other examples of innovation?
A.O.: Weddings are happening in two phases. People are getting married and then the party will take place later. Wedding planners are offering this formula. The wedding industry has been around for many years and will be around for the years to come. That comes from those talented professionals who are being resourceful. And that is what they have been demonstrating.
WWD: How many of your stores have reopened?
A.O.: The majority of our stores have reopened. The last one was New York, which reopened July 6. Our business is different, because we don’t rely on traffic like other fashion companies do. All of our business is by-appointment. There is not a crowded environment in our stores. We want the bride to have a very private and exclusive experience. My wholesale clients are doing that as well. She can be by herself or with loved ones. We never have been a business that relies on a lot of traffic from people passing by your stores. That has enabled us to have a very thoughtful safety protocol.
WWD: It looks as though large gatherings will be discouraged or restricted in most U.S. states for the foreseeable future. How can other bridal companies work around that?
A.O.: They will have to put in place other safety protocols. There are ways to engage in different ways. France was one of the first countries to authorize weddings, after the lockdown. It started with 20 people, then it was 50, and 100 people outdoors. Now it is 200. Things are changing rapidly. My cousin recently attended a beautiful outdoor wedding at a castle in France. I was following her on Insta Stories. The wedding planner had a strong sense of humor. The girls and the boys were wearing masks with funny messages like, ‘Finally, a wedding.’ They organized a disco dance where guests could not face each other. This guy led the choreography and guests had to stay within their circle and not touch their neighbors. It looked like a lot of fun. We are a very creative industry. People will come up with creative ideas. I’m sure.
WWD: Couples are having weddings of 50 on ski mountains where half of the guests hike up and the other half watches the vows be exchanged via Zoom. Will we see more imaginative wedding like that?
A.O.: We will see more of those types of things. Before when you were planning a wedding, you had all these extravagant ideas to entertain the guests. It will have to be done in a different way. It’s going to be different but I really believe that it is human nature to want to be happy and to be together.
WWD: Will you continue to work with influencers?
A.O.: We continue to work with influencers who have this positive authenticity. We work closely with Ashley Graham. During the lockdown, she was sharing her struggles [on social media] and how she was trying to breastfeed and had her husband take pictures of her. To me, she’s this very authentic person. (Earlier this year Graham unveiled a collaborative collection with Pronovias.
WWD: Have you adopted any strategies from other industries for coping with the pandemic?
A.O.: Some industries reacted very quickly to try to help people. It was quite amazing how LVMH after three days managed to use their fragrance factory to produce some hand sanitizer. They did this so fast. I thought, “Wow! That’s super cool.” I can tell you because I come from the fragrance business — to do what they’ve done with alcohol requires a lot of safety measures.
WWD: How has your experience at L’Oréal, Armani, YSL and other companies been an advantage during the pandemic?
A.O.: The first rule when you are dealing with a crisis is to maintain safety and calm. The second thing is being very nimble and adaptable. My primary concern is that everyone in the company and in the stores are OK…then we realized fairly quickly that we needed to do a virtual show and then we did virtual appointments. That was organized in one month. From my luxury experience, I learned that whatever happens, you constantly have to show leadership and adaptivity. There were crises before and there will be crises in the future — that’s just the way it is.
WWD: Many companies are reevaluating the diversity of their employee base to try to effect change. Have you mapped out a plan?
A.O.: Absolutely, that has been one of my obsessions, since I joined the company [in 2008]. As a family-owned Spanish company, we have a lot of work to do on this front. We have to get better. Our first step was female empowerment. The majority of our clients are female and the company was run by men…so promoting women was very important. (Women account for 84 percent of the company’s 1,000-plus employees.) Also, there was a taboo in celebrating love in all its forms. That’s why supporting causes like Pride was very important. I’m proud of the way that we are on that journey. I’m going to be honest — we also need to achieve more racial diversity. In Spain, it’s a slightly different context but of course we also operate in the U.S. That is something that I am truly passionate about. In fairness, we’ve been having racially diverse campaigns for many years. I believe that beauty comes in all forms and in all colors. Especially when you are a bride, you are here to celebrate love in all aspects.
WWD: What do you mean it is in a slightly different context in Spain?
A.O.: I’ve been living in the U.K. for the past four years and Spanish culture is different. All countries have different cultural identities. What is important is to promote equity in terms of job promotions, and salaries. That is something that I believe in. Inclusivity is not just a question of race, but also gender issues. (Pronovias Group only tracks nationalities and gender and 30 different nationalities are currently represented.)
WWD: Sustainability has been one of the takeaways of the pandemic. Are you addressing that in any way?
A.O.: Absolutely, we’re working on a project that will be revealed in September in a comprehensive program. In the Atelier collection, we offered a sneak peak of several dresses that are totally sustainable…of course, the bridal industry is not known for being sustainable. As the leader, we want to be a game changer. Sustainability requires rethinking how you operate, the way you communicate..it’s good that we have started on that road, but it’s a long road ahead. A business that has no sustainability strategy has no future.