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Bridal industry recovers from "unlucky" 2013 with new London show

After a 20% dip in the market over the last 12 months, buyers and exhibitors were buoyed by a surprisingly upbeat atmosphere at the Bridal Show in London, making its debut in the capital following its success in the North of England.

Photo: French dressing: colourful bridalwear from Créatif Paris.
French dressing: colourful bridalwear from Créatif Paris.

The inaugural London Bridal Show provided the perfect opportunity to preview the latest trends and innovations driving Europe's matrimonial market. After a depressed 2013 – with superstitious brides unwilling to marry in a year ending in "13" – 2014 was expected to prove a bumper year for the industry.

This saw it an apt time to launch the new show and attracted support from more than 200 international labels. The range of exhibitors at this inaugural event ranged across bridal gowns, occasional wear, bridesmaid and prom collections, menswear and accessories.

The accessories designers were largely focussed on presenting complementary offerings, with headdresses, jewellery and shoe collections all having added highlights this season. This saw the addition of precious stones of every shade, gleaming pearls and the tactical addition of lace across any array of items.

This was the first time the Bridal Show had been relocated from its traditional home in Harrogate in North Yorkshire. Its organisers – the Ocean Media Group – made the decision to move the show last year, allowing it to be held in tandem with its White Gallery Show [an international bridal design fair] for the first time.

Event Director Wendy Adams said: "There can be no doubt about the wisdom of moving the Harrogate March edition of the UK's most important spring bridal event to London. The decision was right and the timing was perfect.

"London is a world capital and, as such, the event attracted buyers from across the globe, all of whom flocked to the show's new home in Olympia. The mood was up-tempo, the atmosphere was buzzing and the retailers were there not just to browse the newest collections, but to buy and to buy big."

In terms of the trends set to dominate the coming season, Adams had a fairly-defined view. She said: "In terms of bridal gowns, it is all about shape – and the softer the better, with gowns with flow and feminine touches – such as cascades of ruffles or silky laser-cut flowers – leading the way.

"Fabrics are all about luxury and quality with lighter-than-air organzas, tulles and chiffons all coming under the spotlight. Draping is key for the year ahead, but perhaps the two most important highlights are back detailing and arm cover.

"And be ready for colour. Blush is now included in virtually every range - from the big brands with an international audience to the small design-led labels that tell a highly individual story. For the new season, though, it will often be paired with the palest of mint greens and soft powder blues, often beneath a layer of fine tulle or lace. Champagne shades, too, have a certain high-fashion fizz."

In terms of the show itself, Adams said visitor numbers exceeded expectations, including more overseas buyers had ever attended a UK event in this sector. The visitor numbers may not be that important to organisers, however, with Adams maintaining that show's true worth was proved by the number and value of orders taken, as well as by the stand re-bookings for year two.

Out on the show floor, there was a definite buzz, although the aisles were by no means packed with buyers. Nigel Plumridge, Sales Director of The Prom Company, a Grimsby-based distributor, said the market in 2014 has started well for his business with sales up 20%. This was after a poor showing in the previous 12 months, largely down to the "13" effect that reduced the number of UK weddings.

Photos: Bespoke brides: Alandar Park (left) and Signature by Dajana Basic.
Bespoke brides: Alandar Park (left) and Signature by Dajana Basic.

Barry Waterman, Chairman of Alandar Park Ltd, a 101-year old family business based in London's East End, said his company was among the first to sign up for the London Bridal Show, although he admitted he hadn't known quite what to expect.

Clearly pleasantly surprised, though, he said: "We were delighted with the attendance at the show. Business in 2013 was a debacle, the worst in my 30 years in the industry, but we are now seeing orders being placed for weddings in 2015 and into early 2016.

"The last two or three months have been a revelation compared to the market in 2013, where the industry as a whole – from dress suppliers through to car drivers and everything else in between – was down 20% on 2012."

Julia Barnes, owner of the Rosa Couture label and the UK Distributor of Kitty Chen Couture, described The London Bridal Show as her company's "best showing event ever". She said she exports products from her Rosa Couture label to Croatia, Cyprus and Romania, but added that she is open to exporting the line to countries well beyond the borders of Europe.

Sylvie Wong, Commercial Director at Créatif Paris, a Parisian bridal design house, indicated that her company was now looking to export outside of its core markets of France, Germany and the UK. She said: "With more than 10 years' experience, we create the style, we follow every step of the design of our dresses. Our entire collection is available in our showroom in Paris – wedding dresses, evening dresses and cocktail dresses."

Over at Kent-based Phoenix Gowns, Director Geoff O'Donnell said his company was also considering exporting its products overseas. He said: "We offer a diverse collection of styles to suit every bride. We pride ourselves on our total customer satisfaction and 100% commitment to ensuring that every order is an enjoyable experience.

"Our designs are constantly being updated and refreshed to accommodate changes in taste and consumer preference. Also, our pricing is very competitive."

Dajana Basic London is a new bridal wear label, launched in 2013 by Dajana Basic, a 28-year-old designer from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The company specialises in dresses for young, modern brides. Reinventing classical white wedding dresses by adding delicate pastel shades, Basic says her signature gowns represent a fresh era for the bridal wear industry.

She said: "We use soft tulle, lace and organza and ensure each dress is uncompromisingly detailed, carefully tailored and exquisitely feminine. Original embellishments, such as coloured pearls, silk and delicately-coloured lace adorn are also employed to create a striking signature identity."

Basic believes she has identified a gap in the market for a fashionable bridal wear line that features contemporary colour accents. She said: "Like most women, I adore the glamour of beautiful white gowns, yet I noticed there was an appetite amongst young brides for something more distinctive – a modern twist on the classical white wedding dress.

"By adding subtle colour accents to stylish and well-made dresses, my collection aims to retain the glamour of traditional bridal wear, yet provide dresses that are updated and fresh."

Over in the accessories sector, Pam Dhillon, a Director of Kent-based Gemini Jewellery, said her company, too, had had a "dreadful" 2013, but that the market was now starting to pick up.

Photo: The London Bridal Show 2014: an unmissable engagement for buyers?
The London Bridal Show 2014: an unmissable engagement for buyers?

According to the organisers, the London show will return in April 2015, while the Harrogate Bridal Show (this year set for 7-9 September), will continue as before.

The London Bridal Show took place at London's Olympia from 6-8 April 2014.

Simon King, Special Correspondent, London

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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