San Francisco's Bridal Hideaways

Apparel manufacturing in San Francisco has withered, as it has in many cities, but the bridal sector continues to thrive.

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On another SoMa alley, designer Colleen Quen opened an office in an industrial laundry dating back to 1908. She previously worked in the city for labels such as Eileen West, and is currently working on seven wedding gowns with her staff of two seamstresses.

In business for six years, Quen said brides often seek her out because her gowns, with a little altering, can double as eveningwear. She designs 20 to 30 wedding gowns a year, and makes another 70 evening gowns or party dresses. Her best-selling wedding dress is a strapless gown with a white butterfly print, which starts at $4,000. Another popular strapless bridal design has a large hand-painted flower print, for $6,500. The most expensive wedding gown Quen has created was $23,000.

Looking for more exposure, designer Jin Wang moved her SoMa bridal business to the heart of San Francisco retailing and tourism, Union Square downtown, nine years ago. Her airy, pristine 2,400-square-foot, third-floor loft looks down on Maiden Lane, a two-block pedestrian stretch dotted with European and American designer boutiques, where, in nice weather, the sound of opera pleasantly resonates from a busking male tenor.

About 70 percent of the gowns Wang sells are her designs, but to further distinguish her business in an increasingly competitive local niche, she carries designers such as Italian Domo Adami or Jenny Packham of London.

"In the last five years, there's been a huge upswing in the number of bridal gown designers here. Everyone wants a slice of the pie," said Wang, whose gowns start at $1,900 for a simple design and go up to $7,900 for a trumpet-shape gown of Chantilly French lace with a hand-pleated organza panel in the back forming a slight train. Wang, who started her career as a merchandiser for Gap, Levi's and I. Magnin, ends each sale with bustling lessons for brides and bridesmaids, and makeup tips.

Across Maiden Lane, Parsons grads and partners Lynn Rosenzweig and Ivana Ristic own and run Ginger's, which also carries their bridal label, Ristarose. The collection bills itself as "the modern, minimal alternative to the classic ballgown," Rosenzweig said. The two design roughly 50 dresses a year and sell their label to 10 other stores.

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