5 Questions for BHLDN’s Nicole Sewall

Bridal retailer BHLDN launched as a website on Valentine’s Day in 2011, under the Urban Outfitters Inc. umbrella (which also includes Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People and Terrain), and since then, the company has grown its offerings from a small selection of wedding attire to everything nuptial-related, including décor and stationery.

It also opened its first brick-and-mortar store in Houston this year. And although BHLDN’s footwear selection has grown along with the company — the retailer offers about 60 footwear styles — shoes were an important part of the business from the very beginning.

DMM Nicole Sewall talked with Footwear News about debuting in a time of economic uncertainty, why footwear is imperative to BHLDN’s bridal sales and what a bride really wants in a shoe.

1. BHLDN opened during a recession. How has that affected what brides are buying?
NS: Customers — brides included — have become a little savvier over the past few years. Quality and value are of the utmost importance, alongside aesthetic and design. From their dress down to their place settings, brides want their big day to reflect their personality. So they are willing to take more of a risk, and [they are still] choosing to spend their money accordingly.

2. Why was it so important to include bridal footwear in the BHLDN mix right from the beginning?
NS: A bride’s shoes play an important part in her big day. Several of our gowns allow the bride to showcase that perfect peep-toe or give a hint of sparkling stilettos, so it was important to offer a range of shoes to complete her look. There’s also an emotional tug with a pair of [special-occasion shoes]. I personally purchased shoes for my wedding before I had a gown and wanted to create that same unique, heart-tugging assortment for our customers, whether [that’s] a feathered stiletto or a vintage-inspired periwinkle Mary Jane look.

3. What are some of your best-selling bridal footwear styles and brands?
NS: Our customers have responded to craftsmanship and attention to detail. The majority of our shoes are handmade in Italy, Spain and Brazil, each offering quality and comfort. I like to think of them as heirlooms. In addition, a pop of color and a bit of whimsy has also been at the top of [our customers’] lists. Favorites include [Bettye Muller’s] polka-dot d’Orsays, [Chie Mihara’s] fall-to-winter boots, [Something Bleu’s] bow-topped slingbacks in saffron and [Rada’s] jeweled verdure heels. We’re constantly looking for new product and scouring the globe for something we haven’t seen before. One of my favorite additions for next season is a small Parisian line of bridal shoes, [called] Mademoiselle Rose.

4. How do you choose which designers should partner with BHLDN?
NS: We look for designers with a unique and distinguishable aesthetic, often feminine or flirty with a shared love for vintage design. We don’t set out with the intention of simply creating “exclusive product.” We want to create the best product for our customer, whether it’s starting from the initial sketching phase or tweaking an existing design to work within a particular color story.

5. BHLDN just opened a flagship store in Houston. Why did you decide to venture into brick and mortar after in e-commerce?
NS: We wanted to engage with our customer in both channels. Online, you connect with a broader audience; in-store, you have a different type of intimacy and interaction. We saw both as truly relevant and important to our brand. Online, a customer can engage with us whenever it suits her. She can direct her path of discovery, experiment and play. Both mediums come with extremely personalized service.

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