Retail Confessions, Bridal Edition: Monique Lhuillier
"Sometimes when a lot of people are trying dresses on, things just get stinky."
In this issue of Back Row, a former employee of the Monique Lhuillier bridal and evening wear boutique in New York City divulges what working in the store is really like, including:
How fittings could become emotional and stressful experiences for brides.
The sales staff’s trick for managing sweaty customers.
Why bridal boutiques need to stock larger samples for brides who aren’t thin.
What it’s like to be a high-school society client.
The typical Monique Lhuillier bridal client was a local career woman in her thirties, said a former employee of the New York flagship. Around 80 percent of the store’s business was wedding gowns, which are hand-crafted to order in L.A. Clients “were there for the experience. They weren't just there for the dress,” said the ex-employee, who worked there in the mid-2010s after spending a decade in the bridal industry. The rest of the store’s business was evening wear for society women. “Certain clients would come in and be like, ‘I have five galas next month, dress me up.’ That could easily be $25,000, $30,000.” But those women were less emotional than the bridal clients. “They're expecting these butterflies and all that, and it just doesn't usually go that way,” the former employee said. Keep reading for more on what working in the high-end bridal industry is really like, in this first-ever bridal installment of Back Row’s most popular column, “Retail Confessions.” For more stories like this, you can find the full archive of Retail Confessions here.
Was any dress style particularly popular?
Monique is known for lace dresses, so people were looking for that. At the time, horse hair trim was really popular. The go-to dress had a very sparkly bodice and a full tulle skirt and we could customize it. It cost somewhere in the $6,000 range.
Were clients demanding?
A lot of women think that you serve champagne at these appointments, but appointments are only one hour. We were very strict about sticking to that. We would say you can bring your own if you want, but people rarely did.
Did the staff have any concerns about maintaining the integrity of the dresses?
When you try on wedding dresses, the sales associate goes in the room with you to help you into the dress to make sure we're keeping our eyes on the merchandise at all times. Makeup and heavy foundation can get on the dresses. Also, sweatiness. Sometimes when a lot of people are trying dresses on, things just get stinky.
If someone is sweaty and trying on a dress, what do you do?
We have a fan in the room, but we would kind of let it happen. If it was bad, then the sales associate would bring it to our attention, and we would probably take the dress for cleaning if it had a lingering odor. We needed to make sure that other people who try them on aren't grossed out.
A common issue with shopping for wedding dresses is sizing. A lot of stores only carry small samples to try on. What did you have available at Monique?
The samples were very small, like eight or ten bridal [around a four or six in regular clothing]. Some brides would try to squeeze in and the sales associate might let it happen, and then the dress gets ripped.
Did sales associates get in trouble if that happened?
It was highly frowned upon. And if someone came in for that specific dress, it's tough. I can also see it from a business perspective — you can't have samples in every size. But stores like Kleinfeld will have size eight or ten, and then also a twenty.
How often did you see issues with fitting the samples?