Praising The Bridal Garden
With gowns at unbeatable prices and proceeds benefiting charity, its no wonder The Bridal Garden continues to make headlines.
The only nonprofit bridal boutique in New York City, The Bridal Garden has been covered in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time Out magazine, the Daily News, Town & Country Weddings, and the New York Post. It’s also been featured in New York magazine, Wedding Bells, and Manhattan Bride, as well as on all the major New York TV stations, and has been featured with its director, Geraldine Brower, on Business Week TV, Money Talks, and Donald Trump's The Apprentice.
While store manager Geraldine Brower estimates that the bridal bargains are the biggest draw for those who shop at The Bridal Garden, many also see it as an opportunity to do some good. “Shoppers are able to share their joy and give back to the children,” says Brower.
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“If I could spend more money on better champagne, so be it,” says the 33-year-old Maryland financial adviser.
For some brides, there is no fairy-tale ending-at least not for their bridal gowns. In a backlash against the mounting costs of pull-out-all-the-shops weddings, a surprising number of brides are selling their dresses this summer right after the honeymoon, or buying secondhand ones at a discount. In a wake-up call for the $1.4 billion wedding-dress industry, secondhand retailers say business is up 50% to 70% from two years ago. And the reasons are obvious: Despite the soft economy, top-tier gowns can start at $3,000 to $4,000, with custom-made Vera Wangs costing far more.
For Abbie Schiller of New York, reselling her gown was the only way she could justify going six times over budget for her dream dress. Standing atop the showcase pedestal at Ms. Wang’s Madison Avenue showroom, wearing a $6,000 gown, she figured it was “the one” when a total stranger complimented her and her best friend cried. She also figured it was temporary. “It was like a rental,” says Ms. Schiller, a vice president of a beauty-products company, who plans to post the dress on eBay for $2,500. She got flak for it, she notes, but “what am I going to do? Put it on and walk through Central Park?”
Wedding experts say an older marrying age and greater life experience are contributing to women deciding to sell their gowns. Now that women wed later in life (average age 25, up from 20 in 1960) and pay for a bigger portion of their own nuptials, they’re a lot more cautious about the bill. Still, skimping on the dress isn’t for everyone, particularly for the old-fashioned bride and full-price bridal salon.
“Bridal gowns set the whole tone for the wedding,” says Denise Wash, a vice president at wedding-dress couturier and retailer Priscilla of Boston, who says a gown fitted for one bride is usually not going to look custom-made for the next. Stanley Goldstein, president of big designer wedding-dress company Rena Koh, says, “I can understand why people do that.” Nonetheless, “I make a living selling gowns to bridal shops.”
It’s Just Not Done
Indeed, at Bridal Boutique in Phoenix, “People are calling me two weeks after the wedding, wanting to get rid of it,” says owner Sylvia Guenther, who sold 1,500 used dresses last year, a 70% jump in business from 2000. Madison Avenue’s posh Michael’s Consignment has seen bridal consignment sales increase 40%. And Minneapolis’s Brides of France says sales of used gowns have tripled since 2000. Sites like Nearlynewbridal.com and TheKnot.com have literally thousands of listings for used dresses, headpieces and tiaras.
But then there’s that creepy “used” issue. Celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch, who’s dressed Halle Berry, among other stars, turns up his nose a bit at used gowns, at least contemporary ones, for his clients. “I’m not the biggest fan of resale,” he notes. “There’s the whole perspiration thing.” Stains, too, can slowly appear on a clean dress after they oxidize over time.
Many brides, of course, still wouldn’t dream of parting with their wedding dresses. New bride Lisa Hoppes, who works in Internet marketing in Bethesda, Md., says, “It’s like giving away a kitten, or something.” Denise Neuendorf’s daughter got married this summer, “How many times have you thrown away something and then kicked yourself for throwing it away?” says the Cleveland, Tenn., crossword-puzzle writer. Moreover, “If you have a good marriage, as time goes by, it becomes more important and more special.”
None of that bothers Lori Hopson of Silver Springs, Md., who headed, with a budget of $1,500, to consignment shop I Do-I Do Wedding Gowns in Rockville, Md. How does she fee about wearing a used dress? “One day. It’s been washed,” she deadpans. Notes Ms. Baldridge: “Who has to know?”
Modern brides are under no illusions that a future family member will want to walk down the aisle in an heirloom dress. Says Chris Levinson, a screen and television writer in Los Angeles who’s looking for a buyer for her $3,880 Italian wedding gown: “My mother wore a mini-dress, so I know that styles change.”
Gina Fiore, a Goldman Sachs event planner, married last May and donated her wedding gown last week to the Bridal Garden, a Manhattan shop where proceeds go to charity. Her husband, Peter Thompson, also of Goldman Sachs, tried to talk her into keeping it. “My mother kept hers,” he says, and, more compellingly, Gina “looked so beautiful” in it.
“My husband thinks I’m going to regret parting with the wedding gown,” says Ms. Fiore. But she’s not listening.
“Ninety-five percent of our gowns are sample and overstock items which have been donated to the agency for re-sale,” says Geraldine Brower, Director of Development at SACS and Boutique Manager. “Other ‘once-worn’ gowns have been donated by philanthropic individuals who receive a tax deduction for their generosity.”
Featured in the shop, where they also do custom alterations, are a variety of gowns from many top designers. “Every donation is a little jewel.” says Geraldine. “When brides-to-be try them on, they come to life.”
Lambert was at a wedding, admiring the brides expensive dress when he began wondering what happens to the wedding gown after the wedding.
Almost just like that, he came up with one of New Yorks most novel charitable fund-raising projects a boutique that would sell only donated, steeply discounted wedding dresses to benefit underprivileged kids.
The boutique is called the Bridal Garden, and this week, Martin found herself there, standing in front of a mirror, dressed in a white Galina slim-fitted, silk and satin gown with a tank neckline.
"It’s you," said manager Geraldine Brower.
"It’s me," agreed Martin, who lives in Croton-on-Hudson and works as an insurance appraiser.
"I can’t believe this," said Martin. "It’s the first one I tried on, and it looks like it was made for me."
The Bridal Garden opened 18 months ago, carries about 200 dresses at any given moment and books 35 customers a day by appointment only.
It is located behind a green door at the Sheltering Arms Childrens Service, a 175-year- old nonprofit agency located on E. 29th St. in Manhattan. In its first year, said Brower, the shop netted $131,000.
"Every gown that we carry has been worn only once," said Brower, who smiles and adds, "at most."
This is because only about 15 percent of its dresses come from individuals. The rest are donations from designers, among them Carolina Herrera, Priscilla of Boston, Vera Wang, Yumi Katsura, Ulla Maija, Richard Glasgow, and Nancy Issler. In most cases they are floor samples and excessive inventory.
It was Brower who named the shop. "I liked ‘Garden,’ " she said, "because it didn’t sound thrift-shoppy."
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The idea came when the chairman of the board attended a wedding, and upon seeing the bride’s expensive gown, wondered if Sheltering Arms could somehow tap into big bridal budgets.
Geraldine confesses she wasn’t sure where to start to put such a program together, but says "I feel like a little angel just sat on my shoulder and said, ‘Do this! Do this! and it has all worked out."
Most of the dresses come from local designers who donate their overstock, but individuals can donate too (and get a tax deduction.) Proceeds from all sales go to Sheltering Arms programs. Last year the boutique generated over $150,000, which helped finance programs in day care, foster care, adoption and special education.
"At first I was putting in a lot of extra hours," says Geraldine, who manages the store, solicits donations, and handles advertising. "It’s certainly been worth it. Not only are we helping children, we’re also helping brides who are thrilled to find such a good deal."
Opened by Sheltering Arms Childrens Service, one of the city’s premier non-profits, The Bridal Garden includes one-of-a-kind contemporary gowns donated by manufacturers, retailers, and individuals.
The shop features creations from Vera Wang, Carolina Herrera, Marissa, and others.
Founded in 1823, Sheltering Arms is one of the oldest charities in the city, helping over 3,000 children and their families each year in day care, foster care, adoption, special education, after-school, and summer programs and now you can help them on your wedding day as well.
Founded in 1823 by a philanthropic New Yorker interested in helping mothers without resources, Sheltering Arms Childrens Service is currently a thriving resource of help for many New York City children. Through numerous programs and fundraising events, this charity presently aids over 3,000 of the city’s children and their families. Among their newest fundraising efforts is The Bridal Garden, an idea to raise additional funds by its Chairman of the Board, and implemented by Geraldine Brower, director of development for Sheltering Arms.
The Bridal Garden is an exclusive bridal boutique which resells donated couture and top designer gowns for a fraction of their original price. Located at 54 West 21st Street, Suite 907, The Bridal Garden showcases bridal gowns from Vera Wang, Amsale, Ulla Maija, and Marissa. Prospective brides can save thousands of dollars on a dress, while those who donate their dresses are given a tax deduction. They also leave with gratification that their wedding was able to mean more than just a celebration of their love, but also helps young and needy children of New York.
Opening in January 1998, the Bridal Garden was the answer to the government’s cuts in funding for non profit organizations. The program was founded to lessen the gap in their finances, and offer a catalyst to grow other programs. Geraldine Brower adds, "We needed to be both aggressive and creative in our fund raising strategy, so we created an upscale boutique which fills a unique niche in the retail bridal business."
Currently the boutique is open five days a week by appointment only, and houses an extensive collection of dresses for all types of weddings. Showcasing sample and once worn couture and designer bridal gowns, the styles vary from simple and elegant, to princess like and traditional, to slender and sleek. All proceeds of the sales go directly to Sheltering Arms programs such as: after school programs, medical services, pre-school centers, day care programs, foster care services and adoption, and special education programs. Last Christmas Sheltering Arms used the proceeds from The Bridal Garden to buy a present for every child in their care.
Copyright The Bridal Garden 2006.