Brides Call the Shots More Than Ever

With more brides-to-be wanting their wedding days to be unlike any others, bridal designers are stepping up to meet their demands.

with contributions from Marc Karimzadeh
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Kleinfeld co-owners Ronald Rothstein and Mara Urshel witness that all the time, courting hundreds of brides a week at their 35,000-square-foot store at 110 West 20th Street here. That one location sells to 15,000 brides each year, with each dress requiring about 30 hours of work. Customer service remains the driving force behind the company's success. As one of the 29 bridal consultants passed by during a tour last month, Rothstein said that particular employee alone generates "a couple million" in sales each year, which is more than some independent bridal stores do annually.

Needless to say, he and Urshel continue to go to great lengths to keep shoppers coming through their doors. When their store opened last year, they spent an extra couple of hundred thousand dollars for slimming, lead-free mirrors. Kleinfeld is installing plasma-screen TV monitors to welcome shoppers by name to the by-appointment-only store, and a high-tech camera that will allow shoppers' mothers, friends and other confidantes to dial up online to check out what the brides-to-be look like in their dresses.

To ensure shoppers are treated just so, Kleinfeld buses the 160 of its 200 staffers who live in Brooklyn to and from the Manhattan store each day. The way Rothstein sees it, finding above-and-beyond amenities and keeping employees happy are essential to Kleinfeld's success. "You know what? It's not a department store's life to be in the [bridal] business," he explained. "We treat everyone as if they are in our family."

J. Crew is trying to make the most of the destination wedding trend — a natural fit for the brand — by offering more styles and a wider choice of colors. Head women's designer Jenna Lyons said, "What we've found is that when we are stepping out and designing things that feel more J. Crew and casual, we have had a wonderful response. Shoppers are looking for alternatives to the big dress, the fancy dress and the shiny dress. They're really loving colors — pale champagne and pale pink. We've really had a tremendous response to anything that is a little less expected, less obvious and less bridal, but still special and pretty."

Nonwhite wedding dresses make up 35 percent of J. Crew's offerings and to keep the trend going, the retailer plans to broaden its color assortment next year. Lyons also noted that an alternative to strapless or strappy — mainstays in wedding gowns — has been well-received. There has been a lot of interest in a silk taffeta shirt dress with eyelet trim even though its $2,200 price tag is on the high end of J. Crew's offerings.

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