For brides the world over, finding the perfect gown is one of the biggest decisions in planning a wedding. For bridal gown designers, it's a business that's growing, lucrative and, more than ever, looking East.
In the last year, the wedding industry has boomed in the Greater China region (which includes China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) with Hong Kong brides discovering the joys of buying rather than renting gowns, and Mainland Chinese brides moving away from tradition toward a more Western idea of how their big day should look.
As with everything in China, the numbers are staggering. In the world's most populous nation, there are nearly 10 million weddings each year — that's 10 million brides looking for just the right dress. And, as their buying power and international awareness increases, they are heading to Thailand or Macau for their honeymoons (weddings already represent 50 percent of banqueting business at The Wynn Macau) and turning to Hong Kong to shop for gowns.
The trend is not lost on retailers here. Joyce Boutique, for example, recently held a teatime trunk show to reintroduce Vera Wang wedding gowns to the market. Anita Wong, vice president of merchandising for Joyce, said, "This is like a relaunch of bridal. We started in the very early Nineties but stopped for awhile. Now we think it's about time to start again. We have demand, especially from our older customers' daughters. It's the right time and we really do see potential from the Mainland Chinese customers, too."
Wong says the gowns, with prices ranging from 40,000 Hong Kong dollars, or $5,125 at current exchange, to 160,000 Hong Kong dollars, or $20,500, are sold by appointment only and require a four-month lead time.
"There is a big potential. Right now, people have to fly to New York or Paris for the clothes. It's a service to bring bridal here so that they can choose the gowns and have the fitting here," said Wong.
Joyce is not alone in trying to tap into this market. Central Weddings is a bridal boutique located across from Louis Vuitton in the city's chic shopping mall, The Landmark. The year-old store carries bridal labels such as Carolina Herrera, Badgley Mischka and Monique Lhuillier. "Local brides tend to rent gowns, so this is a niche market. It's really a matter of how much they want to spend and showing them something other than the Cinderella gowns you usually see here," explained Carolyn Chow, general manager of Central Weddings.