Today, the idea of having a stylist for even your every day life isn’t such a crazy concept, so of course enlisting one to assist with creating “the most important” look of a ladies’ life seems like a no-brainer. A dozen years ago, however, nothing like a Bridal Stylist existed… the closest you would get would probably be your Kleinfeld sales associate. Julie Sabatino, however, saw a need in the marketplace particularly on the luxury side of the marketplace and The Stylish Bride was born. Of course creating a Blue Ocean doesn’t mean that you’ll stay in the water alone forever- there are Bridal Stylists in many of the bigger markets- but Julie’s managed to evolve by moving further and further into couture creations and serving the tippity top of the market.
With Bridal Market having just wrapped up, we thought it would be great to sit down and chat with Julie.
What inspired you to start this business when nothing like it existed?
I was inspired to start my business because I had an awful time finding my own wedding dress. In 2000, I was surprised to find myself engaged at 24 years old. I had fallen in love with a great guy, but had no idea how to begin putting a wedding together. To make matters worse, I worked in Finance and traveled a lot for my job.
The dress was the most important part to me. I wanted to look and feel amazing, and thought that would be easy to do. How fun it would be to try on wedding dresses, right!?!??! Wrong! My excitement quickly turned into frustration and anxiety. I couldn’t find the right dress, and I looked for someone to help me. I thought that there had to be a resource who would analyze my personal style, body type andwedding venue and guide me in the right direction. But there wasn’t. After trying on hundreds of dresses, I finally found “the one”. Because of that difficult and stressful experience, I founded a business that I absolutely love!!!
How has bridal fashion changed?
Oh my gosh, it has changed so much!!! Part of the problem I had back then was that the dresses were predominantly ball gowns with box pleats. I wanted something more chic and slim and that was VERY hard to find!!!
Since then the industry has really evolved. I think that today’s bride has much more to choose from stylistically. One case in point is the influence of the Israeli designers on wedding dresses right now. These designers (Inbal Droor, Mira Zwellinger, Galia Lahav, Pinina Tornai) have a much sexier aesthetic than most American or European brands. Things like see-through bodices and low cut backs have really become popular since they came on the scene.
Also, there is a lot more information out there today. Brides not only have magazines, but they have blogs, TV shows, Pinterest and social media to look for inspiration. In the past you would know the dresses that your friends wore, but today through Instigram and Facebookyou also know what your friend’s, friend and their friends wore to their wedding. Some of my clients feel that all the information makes it harder to find a look that is uniquely theirs.
How has shopping for bridal gowns changed?
Well first of all, now most salons will let you take photos. When I started, there was a no-photo policy almost everywhere. But since all cell phones have cameras most salons have embraced it. Plus, it’s really great for the client because after trying on lots of dresses they forget what they look like. This way they can compare and contrast with their photos and also see how it photographs. I’ve even had brides Photoshop the changes they want to make into the photo to see how it will look.
How has marketing yourself changed?
Social media didn’t even exist when I started by business, and as you know it does not come naturally to me. I struggled with it for a long time because it goes against everything I was raised to believe: don’t talk about yourself too much; don’t brag about what you do; don’t advertise your successes; privacy is important. So over the last several years I’ve tried to find my voice and stay current within parameters that I’m comfortable with. My goal is to highlight my work and make people aware that my service exists. I talk about things I love, places I go, and people I see. But for me, I draw the line with my kids. I never post photos of them because I want to keep that part of my life separate from work.
Are bridal parties as important now as ever, or are they changing?
The weddings I work on tend to be large, formal affairs that include lots of bridesmaids. Last year I did one with 15! But I also have clients that are getting married older, perhaps for a second time, who just have children in the wedding. So I think it has a lot to do with age.
Do you remember your first wedding? How did they find you?
I do remember my first wedding!!! She was so lovely!!! She found me through a friend who heard of my service.
What did you wear when you got married?
I wore a slim a-line duchesse satin gown that had a curved bodice and a cathedral length train. The fabric was really important to me and I feel in love with the crisp luxurious sheen of the duchess. Happily I can say that I still love it to this day!
What advice can we pass along to our clients about crafting their looks?
I think the most important part of creating a bridal look is to understand what makes someone feel good. Of course everyone wants to look thin and pretty, but if you dig down and really consider what types of looks make them feel that way, then it becomes easier to put it together. For example, when my clients are trying on dresses, I pay a lot of attention to body language and learn from their reaction. This helps me understand her and guide her to find something that makes her feel amazing.
When should we be referring someone to a stylist?
I think everyone should have one!!!! But in all seriousness, there are a few situations that it makes a lot of sense. The first is a client who wants a highly customized look. I often work with brides who want something really unique and a step above what most people are doing. This includes everything from a custom designed wedding dress to bridesmaid dresses, Mothers of the Bride, groomsmen attire etc. A lot of these brides say to me that they don’t want a “typical” wedding dress and that they are fashion forward.
Another is a client that wants to make sure they have a fantastic, efficient and luxurious shopping experience that is designed specifically for them. I work with the best consultants at each store, have accesses to resources that regular brides do not, and will make sure they are seeing exactly what works for their style. I guarantee that the time they have to dress shop will be highly productive and fun.
And lastly, it’s great for a client who may not fit into a typical wedding dress sample size 10, which is really a ready-to-wear 8. These brides often find the experience frustrating and embarrassing and I can make sure they do not experience that.
The famous quote is of course, Let the Buyer Beware, but in the wedding business, oftentimes many of us feel the opposite- Let the Seller Beware. As most of us own and operate small businesses vs. large companies or corporations, the relationship we have with our clients can have huge impacts on not only our company’s mental health but also on our bottom lines… time suck clients for instance, can completely ruin your profit margins if they take up a disproportionate amount of time.
If only you could know going in that a couple was going to emerge as a “problem” and either schedule accordingly or at least mentally prepare yourself and your team? Well, here is a hint- You Can! Because everything that you need to know about working with your clients can be learned during their contract negotiation process with you.
Time and time again, it’s proven to be true. No one has ever gotten really beaten up during negotiations and then had a dreamboat ride to the altar with their client (if you have, please leave your story in the comments section and I’ll be happy to share). Similarly, no one has ever gotten pen to paper really quickly and then bean a total pain in the butt (personal craziness not withstanding… just meaning that their madness tends to be less focused on you and your team).
This is probably most applicable for planners/designers, but can be helpful to keep in mind across the board. Some tips:
1. Don’t attach to the project until the contract is back in hand. This is hard, because many of us in this business emotionally connect to people, so when the call or email is received after you’ve met with a couple saying that they’ve chosen YOU to work with them, our tendency is to consider the job ours. But the couple who sends that email and the people you are going to negotiate your contract with don’t always behave the same way or value you quite as much. A job is only yours once you’ve mutually agreed upon terms that work for both parties.
2. Send contracts out with Sign By Dates and Make Note of “Draggers”. Make it very clear that you can hold a date/guarantee your terms only until a certain date and put that in your contract. There are lots of “draggers” out there and if you notice that someone is dragging out the process, make note of it and build it into your timetable. They won’t just drag with you, they will drag the entire process.
3.Iterate WHY You are Being Negotiable. It’s always ideal to do any negotiation before going to contract, but should this become a “thing” and you WANT to secure the job, you should clearly indicate WHY reducing your price is of value to YOU. For instance, if you haven’t done much destination and would like this for your portfolio, indicate (and put in writing if you can) that you are reducing your fee to diversify your portfolio and would like their permission to use their images on your site in advance. Negotiating and discounting aren’t the same thing, so it’s important for you to assign a value to your business for any reduction in fee.
4. Identify Over-Negotiators. In this day and age, most of us are pretty straight forward about our pricing on the outset I think, mainly because who wants to spend time courting a client who is out of our price point…. Still, no matter how straight forward you can be about pricing, some clients still seem to have sticker shock when the price is put into contract form. Some couples just enjoy negotiating, and it’s important for you to know that, especially going into the rest of the process- because you might work with vendors who automatically give you “the best price” but that won’t satiate the negotiator living inside your client.
5. Don’t be Afraid to Walk Away if the Negotiation Makes you Feel Badly. To loop back to point one, this isn’t your job… yet. So if you start to feel that the negotiation is either de-valuing you and your talents, or compromising your ability to do your job (and make a profit while doing so) you should get comfortable with offering to step away. When we need money, this can be a hard thing to do, but if a client doesn’t care where you are sleeping or if you and your team are eating while working their destination wedding, they might not be a good client for you. If you feel undervalued now, you likely will spend the rest of the engagement period feeling more of the same. What’s that worth to avoid?
Nearly twenty years ago, Meredith Waga Perez and her mother Marilyn Waga set out to launch a boutique floral and event business. More than just setting up a shop though, Meredith knew that she wanted to create a brand- more specifically the kind of understated luxury that brands like her formal employer, Calvin Klein embodied. No on in the floral and event space was really communicating that message and Meredith saw the chance for their brand, Belle Fleur New York, to fill that space.
From a “technically” speaking standpoint in floral terms, Belle Fleur developed a signature style for flower arrangements that eliminated “filler” floral completely, and celebrated the beauty of the flowers themselves. But beyond that, the Belle Fleur brand was infused with the touchpoint of understated luxury at every step along the way.
The full interview is totally engrossing, and filled with knowledge, but one of the most important takeaways is how, at the end of the day, how in touch with the the REAL brand essence of Belle Fleur Meredith is- and how that trickled down to everyone involved- and that is she isn’t selling flowers, or even luxury, she’s selling LOVE, love in the form of flowers and fragrance that is packaged and delivered luxuriously… It’s a fine and subtle difference, but it’s super important to note and it’s what makes her such a trendsetter.
It was this deep infusion of their brand “feeling” that enabled Belle Fleur to successfully extend their brand into product by way of a fragrance collection, which is now retailed in luxury department stores, boutiques and hotels around the world. Often we might brainstorm about “launching a product”, but the difference between a simple investment and roll out and success with this kind of endeavor is it’s relationship to and the strength of your own brand- something which Belle Fleur is an amazing case study for.
One final story that Meredith told us that DID NOT make the edit, but that I want to pass along is this- when her designers are building gift arrangements at the design table in their studio, Meredith’s instructions to them is to read the message on the gift card before they start. She elaborates on this around 14:00 in, but the reason is so that they understand the spirit of love that was intended behind the present– it’s more than just a Belle Fleur signature arrangement, it’s intended for a specific person with a specific message of love. She has so much more wisdom to share, I hope you’ll take a little time to watch, listen and learn from this wonderful business woman!
Unless you are Julie Sabatino or Jackie Weppner, the chances are that passing a fashion exam on all the newest trends at the most recent Bridal Fashion Week (showing Spring 2016) isn’t going to have deep impact on your bottom line. Still, you are a wedding professional and you want to seem “with it” and aware of what looks will be coming your way in the coming seasons (remember you won’t see these until NEXT year- mostly…).
Plus falling in love with these gowns will inform the look and feel of the weddings you are planning, shooting, designing, etc for the next couple of seasons… (all images from WWD.com)
Later this week, I’ll do a post on the hot “new” designers you need to be sure you know about so that you don’t sound lame when brides say who they are wearing and you give them Deer in Headlights But for now, a shorthand to trends I noticed!
There will be Ballgowns Galore!
I haven’t seen this many ballgowns since the mid-aughts…But this is a reinvention, which is nice. They are BIGGER and ball-ier than ever in some respects (rumor has it Ramona Keveza’s had hoops in them- a la Gone with the Wind. Yet somehow they are lighter and airier than ever before… I used to watch brides dragging these heavy silk satin things around and feel badly for them, being so weighted down, but designers have really been paying attention to what brides want now.. it’s less to feel like a princess than to spend a day in a fantasy, and somehow that involves the incongruous notion of running through an open field, but in a giant ballgown… and these are dresses you could do that it. Below from Marchesa, Oscar de la Renta and Ines di Santo:
Impressionism and Le Belle Epoque influences Will Be Everywhere…
From water-colored patterns to drop shoulders to opera gloves, there were influences of the Belle Epoque (or it’s American variation… the “Scarlett O’Hara look) EVERYWHERE. Be it mimicking the art of the time or the fashions, clearly designers were influenced by the romance of this era, so soon will our brides be too. For years’ we’ve been watching colored gowns desperately wishing more brides would boldly wear them, and I think this Romona Keveza (which caused a mild sensation on Instagram) is going to be the gown the turns the tide…. Below that a watercolor look from Naeem Khan, and a totally Opera ready Ines di Santo….
Of course, my absolute FAVORITE of this “look” is this Marchesa, which no one can convince me wasn’t inspired by the impressionist portrait that hangs at the Met- Madam X by John Singer Sergeant. What do you think?
Necklines will Vary in Fun and Unusual Ways!
There will be a lot of stunning deep V’s with illusion fronts, tons of mock necks and faux halter necks… We’ve come a long way since your choices were Strapless and Strapless (thank Goodness) Below, a shortie from Oscar de La Renta with a ruffle mock collar, a beautiful illusion halter from Honor by Stone Fox Bride and yet another Romona Keveza with the most gorgeous plunging illusion neck (I just loved her collection this season).
Which of these trends is your favorite/ do you find most inspiring?
I had a client a few years ago who we adored and was a total smarty pants and she told me about the concept of False Pattern Recognition. The idea that we think something is EVERYWHERE, but in reality we are just hyper-aware and are noticing that something more often. So, for me, the topic of HIRING and expanding your team has been everywhere for the last week. It seems everyone I’ve been talking to has either been debating about bringing someone new on, or been offering up really smart advice about how and when to do it.
Last week at the Business of Weddings, Angela Desveaux, the founder and editor of WedLuxe said something so painfully simple that it hurt my heart that it had taken Mayra and I so long to figure this out for ourselves: “The only way to grow your business is to hire great people.”
I know. The idea of bringing on “employees” can be scary. Either financially- because of the investment and the terrifying idea of cash flow and having someone else dependent on your management of that side of your business (which can be very scary, especially if your wedding business is seasonal in nature). OR it can be terrifying because you have done every job yourself since your company’s inception and done them all well, and you are afraid of sacrificing the quality that got you here in the first place with someone less invested or skilled or whatever… or you are control freak. All of which are reasons why it’s scary. But the next thing that Angela said in her awesome talk was this: If you don’t take a chance, you don’t stand a chance.
Anyway, I came back from Montreal and we are working with a Besties in Business client, and in looking at their barriers for growth, it became obvious that the biggest thing holding them back was their need to grow the staff. Like, the savings on one or two critical employees actually might be costing them money- because a few people holding muddled roles has been impacting management’s time to effectively manage clients and market and sell their product. When looking at it that way, the risk starts to lay in the NOT hiring someone…
So then fast forward to Wednesday when we post the Besties videos and while YES we were there when they were being taped, we tape a bunch on one day so it’s always a fun surprise to re-listen to the conversation. And this week we sat down with Gabriella Risatti of Gabriella Bridal and, don’t you know at around minute 10 she shares her only real regret: not hiring people sooner. And then she shared this gem:
Invest in good people and you will get it back in your bottom line. So, if you’ve been sitting on the fence about hiring someone… take this as the sign you needed and move forward.. or look at it as false pattern recognition Perhaps it’s contract hires or part- time in the beginning, but if you THINK you could do more if you only had regular help in a designated role, then it’s probably definitely time. Oh, Gabriella’s full interview is below.. it’s like 15 minutes of B-school for anyone thinking about opening a Brick and Mortar retail business or starting a bridal salon. (btw, If you are enjoying these quotes, you’ll enjoy the conversations we’ve got going on at our @BestiesinBiz instagram)