More Luxury Brands Join Wedding Party

What was once a small niche seems to be getting bigger as more luxury footwear designers say “I do” to bridal.

When it comes to getting dressed for their weddings, women are emphasizing footwear, and many are willing to shell out serious cash to tread down the aisle in a standout pair.

“[Women] use a different head when buying bridal shoes,” said designer Charlotte Olympia Dellal, whose label, Charlotte Olympia, launches its first bridal collection this month. “They invest more time and money [because] they want a shoe that makes them feel extra special and acts as a keepsake.”

And Dellal is not alone. Other high-end brands have recently debuted bridal categories or revamped their existing offerings in the area. Jimmy Choo, Loeffler Randall and Giuseppe Zanotti are among the labels that have heeded the call, creating bridal collections that include more styles and fresh looks. Still, experts warn, as the category expands, the competition — especially in the lower-priced tier — becomes more intense.

Dellal said her new line, called Runaway Bride, was inspired by a gap in the market for fashionable wedding styles at higher price points.

Retailers noted that wedding fashions in general resonate with customers right now.

“Trends within the ready-to-wear market have transitioned to bridal,” said Nicole Sewall, DMM for the BHLDN bridal boutique, noting that sought-after styles for the season range from architectural, structured silhouettes to graphic details and playful flowers. “Candy colors and touches of shine, whether from a beautiful patent leather or a silk jacquard, are also important.”

“We’ve dressed brides in glittery flat sandals for a beach wedding in the Maldives and white ankle cowboy boots for a ranch wedding in Texas,” added Sandra Choi, creative director of Jimmy Choo, which enhanced its bridal business for 2012. The label added several new styles, including a gold, glitter-festooned high-top wedding sneaker, which retails from $400 to $2,300.

Charlotte Olympia has taken a non-traditional approach to bridal: The new collection includes sculptural stilettos, platforms and booties with leopard print, crimson shades and other bold textures and colors. Prices range from $650 to $1,300, and the footwear will retail at Charlotte Olympia’s London flagship, its soon-to-open boutique in New York and on the brand’s e-commerce site, as well as at high-end retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus.

“I don’t believe that wedding shoes should just be available in different shades of satin,” Dellal said. “I love color and using different textiles and making shoes that have a bit of personality, [and this] translates into my bridal collection.”

Loeffler Randall also was responding to customers who asked for more luxurious, fashion-forward styles when it launched its bridal line a year ago, said designer Jessie Randall. The shoes range from subtle single-sole styles in satin to strappy sandals in snake-print leather, starting at $300.

“[Bridal customers] were all in search of something a little different, something I wasn’t really seeing in the marketplace,” Randall said. “[They] wanted a mix of silhouettes that [were] a bit less traditional, yet were done in beautiful raw materials that are both timeless and elegant.”

Loeffler Randall e-commerce director Stephanie Draves noted that the brand’s bridal business has been robust both online and off. The company added four new styles to the mix for spring and plans to grow the collection further for fall.

“We’ve had a great reaction,” Draves said. “Brides are looking for more options. They want to have [a shoe] that is true to their style — something feminine and modern, but that has a little edge. We also have noticed that a lot of brides want to wear metallic, so we added [that for spring].”

Despite such developments, the market has some challenges ahead, said experts.

Shane McMurray, CEO and founder of The Wedding Report, a firm that tracks consumer trends for the industry, noted that high-end brands in all areas of bridal are facing competition from well-known designers who have responded to economic concerns by collaborating with more moderately priced labels.

“Looking at the luxury side of the equation, I actually see it shrinking a little bit,” McMurray explained. “Designers are creating lines so they can reach down into the lower end of the market. For example, Vera Wang and a lot of other [luxury goods] designers have created [diffusion gown and shoe] lines for retailers such as David’s Bridal.”

And though the trend is primarily in wedding apparel right now, McMurray predicted it could also trickle down to footwear. “If the luxury [shoe market] does shrink, you will have to look at other areas [for growth],” he said.

Indeed, competition has been heating up in the mainstream bridal market over the last couple of years. Steve Madden, Ivanka Trump and Charles David all launched the category for spring ’11. Foot Petals also bowed a collection of wedding shoes that same season, only to abandon the initiative not long after.

But for now, the main challenge among high-end designers is finding ways to create repeat business after the one-time event.

Jimmy Choo is addressing that concern by striving to offer a complete experience for brides-to-be and their wedding parties. The label recently debuted a dedicated bridal section on its e-commerce site, complete with a wedding advisory service and a page for brides to post their own wedding-day “Choo Stories” and photographs. Offline, select brick-and-mortar locations have added in-store salons that pull out all the stops, providing “champagne shopping days” for the bride’s entire group.

Jimmy Choo’s Choi said the goal is for the luxe styles and star treatment to convert bridal clients into loyal brand customers.

“Bridal is often a client’s first introduction to Jimmy Choo,” she said, “[so] we offer the same full range of services to brides as we do for celebrities.”

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