Suky Rosan: Wedding Crasher

For three decades, a gown from “Suky” telegraphed peerless Main Line style. When the legendary boutique failed, it seemed like the latest victim of the economy. But was it?

SOMEWHERE AROUND THE beginning of April, Mary Helen Ranieri faced the truth: Suky was going to close. So the owner of the iconic Bryn Mawr bridal boutique began calling brides, trying to reassure them: You’ll still have your Vera, we’ll help you find someone for the alterations. Whatever you need, whatever you want. Another bride, another call, the same litany recited about her Monique, her Romona, her Reem.

As word spread throughout the bridal community, the reaction was swift and unanimous: shock. How could this happen to Suky? The economy, most said, as they shook their heads. So did Ranieri, who pointed to both the recession and discount bridal fashion sites on the Internet. They’d combined to blitzkrieg her business, she said. It was all very sad.

Which it was, but not for those reasons alone. The end of Suky — for most of its retail life better known as Suky Rosan, which for three decades served as shorthand for wedding élan in Philadelphia society — was less about economics than about other, less complex elements. Ignorance. Naïveté. And an almost complete disregard for the hands-on pampering essential to running a high-end bridal business.

When Ranieri bought the business in 2005, she kept the “Suky” but dropped the “Rosan,” and put a period at the end of the name, a stroke of modernity. But while the swooping moniker on the royal purple awning might have been the same, it turns out the store’s legendary status really died with Suky herself. As one employee who worked under both owners put it, “The difference between ‘Suky Rosan’ and ‘Suky dot’ — well, you gotta stop at the dot. Because it’s bullshit after that.”

IN EVERY CITY, there are The Stores — the names that signal luxury, like Lilly Pulitzer in Palm Beach or Bergdorf’s in New York. In Philadelphia, there was Bonwit Teller. And Nan Duskin. And Suky Rosan.

When she debuted her eponymous store at 1038 Lancaster Avenue in 1973, Suky did so for the same reason a lot of other women of her generation went to work: necessity. Her husband, Howard “Reds” Rosan, had become ill, and his ceramic tile business was suffering. She was a grandmother who had never run a business before, but Suky had one big asset: her name. In her younger years, she’d been a fashion model and, later, a fashion-show commentator, and her exquisite taste had become synonymous with chic in the best of 1950s Main Line circles. She had a feel for retail, an eye for fashion, and the realization that no one in Philadelphia was doing high-end bridal. Her store was a success — not simply because brides wanted the crème de la crème of bridal couture that filled Suky Rosan, but because they bought into the fantasy — the belief that there were brides, and there were Suky brides. Through the door lay a dreamy refuge where Suky put out big bowls of colorful gumdrops, a fitting flourish in her bridal candyland.