How Coronavirus Is Changing the Way Philly Shops for Wedding Dresses
Five experts weigh in on how they’re helping clients, working with designers and the impacts of COVID-19.
The coronavirus outbreak has wreaked havoc on all plans for at least the next couple of months in Philly. Even the simplest day-to-day tasks — dropping off dry cleaning or getting your hair trimmed – have been put on hold, impacting life as we know it and how we do business. No industry has been immune, including the wedding world. Spring weddings have been postponed until the summer, fall and beyond; and vendors have had to work quickly to reschedule and rethink their approach while also juggling an already-packed fall season ahead and manage their bottom line.
Bridal salons and designers are among those who have felt the effects; in-person appointments drive the search for a wedding gown, after all. But because they are not considered essential businesses, as well as the health and safety risks to employees and clients, local boutiques have had to close their doors for now. “To say this has been hard for us (and all bridal shops) is an understatement,” says Laura Calderone of Laura & Leigh Bridal in Cherry Hill. “The very nature of our business makes it hard to stick with social distancing. This process is about celebrating in person with family and friends.”
And the spring is typically a very active time for bridal salons. “The impact has been… so fast,” says Deborah Van Cleve, who has been in the business for more than 30 years and runs her luxury bridal and eveningwear salon, Van Cleve, in Paoli. “It’s our busy selling season, alteration season and wedding season,” she says. “It’s everything right now.” Not to mention the impacts felt by the designers and manufacturers. Because of restrictions on person-to-person contact, notes Van Cleve, many can’t put employees in their work rooms. “Some of the designers have only two people in their shipping departments so they can still get things out,” she says. Van Cleve carries designers such as Suzanne Neville, Ysa Makino, Sareh Nouri and Stephen Yearick. Luckily, she says the salon has everything in for June weddings and some beyond that; she mainly has seen that her designers are behind about one to two weeks at this point. “Things are delayed,” she says, “but it seems to be falling in place because weddings are delayed.”
Monet Malatino of Mari Mi Bridal in Washington Square West, which carries labels like Badgley Mischka and David Tutera, notes that the salon’s current brides should have their gowns in time for their weddings over the next few months. She says they’re running on time at this point. “It will be very helpful when we open back up and can meet the demand of brides getting married late 2020 and into 2021,” she says.
It is, however, a case-by-case basis – and it could affect brides-to-be who haven’t ordered yet, particularly if their wedding is later in 2020, says Calderone. “In order to stay on time and fill orders, almost all designers have extended shipping and/or cut out rushes.” Calderone, whose salon houses names like Justin Alexander Signature, Stella York and Italian brand Eddie K, as well as bridesmaids gowns, says her team has worked closely with seamstresses to pause alterations and reschedule brides whose weddings have been postponed. “Most of the girls were already halfway through alterations and then had to push their wedding to the fall or even 2021.” Only three brides’ gowns have been shifted a few weeks due to coronavirus, she says, and she’s working with designers to ensure they don’t get pushed any further.
Nilah Petschelt, a dressmaker, tailor and designer who runs her namesake Nilah & Co. in Havertown, says she and her team are providing secondary support to bridal shops who might need assistance with alterations at this time. The by-appointment-only business focuses on wedding gown alteration and restorations of vintage gowns, as well as redesigning new or sample gowns. The team also designs custom gowns. They are still working with current brides who have postponed—they’re simply accommodating to new dates—and taking clients for alterations for the future. “I’ve been in business for 32 years and we have never missed a due date,” she says. “We’re not about to start now.”
And Ivy Solomon of Lovely Bride in Old City adds that despite the closures, designers are getting creative. (Her studio carries designers ranging from Alexandra Grecco to Willowby.) “Many of them have come up with creative ways to work alone from home so that they can make sure their brides have their gown for their wedding day,” she says. “The reality is, there will likely be delays for some gowns so that designers can prioritize clients whose wedding dates are sooner.”
Communication, of course, has been key for all of the salons; there has been a lot of misinformation, notes Calderone, and she and her team are working to be transparent and provide peace of mind. “The best thing [our team] can do is stay in contact by phone,” adds Van Cleve. “People want to hear our voice. We’re just trying to keep in touch and keep them updated. It lets you know that someone is watching out for you.”
To that end, bridal salons are being inventive in the ways that they not only support clients but also how they spotlight them. Take Van Cleve. Head to the shop’s Instagram to see images of some of her brides-to-be who are on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis as medical workers. (She credits her staff member, Nancy, for coming up with the idea.) Mari Mi Bridal, meanwhile, launched a #coronabridechallenge, in which contestants snapped photos of themselves doing their quarantine activities, such as working from home, in their wedding gown. The winner earned a free gown cleaning and preservation.
That’s not all: Local salons have come up with ways to accommodate clients as best they can – virtual appointments, gift certificates, virtual runways and more. Here, a breakdown of the rest of their efforts.
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Our plan of attack: Providing remote ordering, gift certificates and virtual appointments
“I can make things easier for people who do want to order remotely, so we set up a place to submit payment, or be responsive and answer the phone when someone needs us. Plus, I can sell gift cards – that way people can use it toward accessories, their future gown purchase or bridesmaids when all this is over. For those starting out in the process, particularly the 2020 brides who thought they had time before the work-from-home order started, we implemented virtual appointments. It’s not an ideal situation, of course, but at least they can get an idea of style, look and fit. Then we are giving anyone who says yes with a virtual appointment a special, private celebration appointment for when this is all over. That way they can come in with their entourage, pop some bubbly and celebrate with a special experience.” – Laura Calderone
Our plan of attack: Offering virtual appointments and offering discounts for medical staff
“We are ready to take virtual appointments now! You can book them by emailing us at email@example.com. I see the appointments as two-fold. We obviously want to be able to help brides who are getting a little nervous about their timeline in regard to ordering a gown and getting it in on time for their wedding date. And I think for the brides who are a year out, but were hoping to start their shopping this spring, it will be a nice distraction. Our virtual appointments will be one-on-one video calls with one of our stylists. We ask that the bride first make a wishlist on our website of all her favorite gowns that we carry. On the video call, the stylist will have a catalog of photos of each of the bride’s favorite gowns from that wishlist and all the information the bride might want about the dresses. For brides who have already been in before, this might be a great way to help them narrow down their favorites and be able to finalize their gown pick. For brides on shorter timelines, it will be a great way for them to find their gown and be sure they have a dress they love to wear when they marry their loved one. For brides whose weddings are further out, it will be a great jump start to dress shopping. Any bride who does buy during a virtual appointment will get a 10% discount. We have also worked with our exclusive designers to come up with a thank you promotion for our health heroes. All doctors, nurses and medical staff will receive 20% off our three exclusive brands for the rest of 2020. Those brands are Dear Heart, Louvienne and Lovers Society.” – Ivy Solomon
Our plan of attack: Offering gift certificates, a virtual runway via Pinterest and updating gown policies
“The gift certificates were something we actually began doing a few weeks before but happened to come at the right time. This is a way that friends, family and bridesmaids can give the bride-to-be just a little extra help. Our Pinterest has been something we’ve been working on as well. We wanted girls to know what to expect and showcase exactly what we have in our boutique. Having a small virtual runway available will hopefully excite brides about finding their wedding dress the second our doors reopen. For any bride who has a gown in store ready for pick-up we will be extending our hold policy and have offered free shipping if they would like to receive them prior to the mandate being lifted. For all our brides who have had to postpone their weddings we have something special coming their way.” – Monet Malatino
Our plan of attack: Working with current and future clients, and acting as a resource to bridal salons
“We are still servicing all of our current brides. We have been contacted by many who had their weddings postponed and we are just adjusting to accommodate for their new dates. We are still taking clients for alterations for future weddings and in addition we are available to provide secondary support to bridal shops who may be short-handed for alterations during this current situation. We are available by phone and email for the moment to answer any of their questions and concerns or to schedule appointments.” – Nilah Petschelt
Our plan of attack: Virtual mother-of-the-bride appointments and Virtual Van Cleve
“I’ve been doing virtual mother-of-the-bride appointments because moms often postpone till the very end. I’ve been doing a lot of videos on how to measure. Our bridal department will also be doing virtual shopping and a shop-at-home program, sending out three dresses at a time to try on. It will be called Virtually Van Cleve. We’ll also be offering gift certificates, alterations and a big sample-sale page for those who need immediate dresses.” – Deborah Van Cleve
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