At first , tales of trouble at the “new” Suky were vague, the kinds of rumblings common in the catty world of fashion. But then they began to take clearer shape, as disgruntled brides took to the Internet and elsewhere to air their complaints. Shari, a bride in 2006, tells of long waits after she showed up for her appointments, including the day before her wedding, when she spent a half-hour listening to saleswomen behind a partition “cackling about how much they got people to spend,” and then complaining about the “impatient bride out front” when she dared to ask for help. Another Philadelphia bride who paid extra to make sure her dress arrived in mid-October says she couldn’t get anyone at Suky to call her back when it didn’t come. After her father finally made a threatening phone call, the bride went to pick up her gown, only to be ignored by a receptionist who was chatting on the phone. In tears, she walked into the rear offices and found Ranieri. “Mary Helen didn’t even look at me,” she says. “She just waved at the woman she had been talking to since I got there and said, ‘Get her dress.’”
High-end bridal is fairly recession-proof, because even when the economy stumbles, brides are loath to give up a gown they’ve been dreaming of since kindergarten, often opting to cut corners on bouquets or save-the-date notes instead. But bad customer service is death in high-end fashion, where pampering and princess-y waiting-upon are de rigueur. Not only did Ranieri fail to address her burgeoning customer-relations issues; she seemed out of her depth in the nuts and bolts of running a business, say some who worked with and for her. She seemed to want all the glamour of running the shop, but none of the responsibility.
One publicist who represented Suky under Ranieri found her “disorganized, spacey, indecisive — just not polished,” and says her client often consulted with her on matters in no way related to public relations, like sales and problem employees. The publicist also claims payments from Ranieri eventually stopped; in the end, she says she only recouped 75 percent of what she was owed — and that was in trade, in the form of cocktail and evening dresses for her and her staff. Another prominent city publicist, who says Ranieri still owes her $18,000, says Ranieri told her if she sued to try and get it, Ranieri would sue her for failing to fulfill their contract. (Ranieri admits to some outstanding debts as a result of Suky’s closing, but says she doesn’t recall any dating back to fatter times. “You know, I love when people want their money back, but they understand that they lose it in the stock market,” she says. “Business is a gamble for everybody. We are risk takers. We take risks just like you do in the stock market — but it’s okay when you say, ‘Oh, I lost my money in the stock market.’ People understand that, they go with that. But when you lose your money in business — I mean, that’s the risk you take.”)