A few months ago, we ran a story on The Kent Wedding Centre, a fast-growing collective of brands under one roof. This time round, Dominic Bliss has been to visit The Wedding Gallery in London, an uber-elegant ‘store’ of fine labels with a design edge. Could this be the face of tomorrow with a group of retailers coming together to offer a total experience?
Down in the crypt, beneath a neo-classical Regency church in London’s Marylebone, a revolution in wedding retail is taking place. This is the home of The Wedding Gallery, a 20,000-square-foot department store for brides and grooms.
The main focus, and the lion’s share of retail space, is of course dedicated to bridalwear. But among the hundreds of brands represented, there is also a sizeable men’s wedding wear section (called The Groom’s Room), plus a broad selection of wedding venue suppliers, jewellery makers, hair and make-up stylists, florists, cake-makers, caterers, stationers, photographers, filmmakers, musicians and DJs. Everything you might possibly need to get married.
All the various sectors are separated within the labyrinth of arches, alcoves and corridors that make up the crypt. A uniform battleship-grey brick interior gives the gallery a clean, stylish feel.
Opened in November 2017, The Wedding Gallery is the brainchild of George Hammer, owner of the huge events company occupying the church above. Built in 1828 by Sir John Soane, and called Holy Trinity Church, it is now known as One Marylebone.
Head of menswear here is Dominic Trooper who currently styles around five grooms a week in The Groom’s Room. But so far that has been without any advertising support. A new website and online advertising campaign is planned soon which, Trooper believes, will increase his business to between 20 and 25 groom appointments a week.
A man’s world
His fitting room – an L-shaped area of 1,300 square feet – sits underground, beneath street level, as does the rest of The Wedding Gallery. There are no windows or natural light, which some customers may find stifling; others might appreciate the air of privacy.
“Grooms come straight into the menswear section and feel quite safe down here,” Trooper says. “Nine times out of ten it’s a groom whose bride has already been here to be fitted for her dress.”
On offer in The Groom’s Room are made-to-measure and bespoke suits from Casely-Hayford, Labassa Woolfe and the Wedding Gallery’s own brand S.J. Soane, named after the Regency architect.
In addition, there is footwear by George Cleverley, socks and underwear by Pantherella and Laperla, and shirts and ties by both Emma Willis and Turnbull & Asser. There is a range of S.J. Soane morning suits for hire, mainly aimed at ushers. Sofa seating and an old-fashioned drinks cabinet add to the atmosphere, all designed to make grooms feel as comfortable as possible.
Trooper says the demographics of his clientele is fairly broad, but the majority are 20-something professionals, with an average budget of £3,000.
The temptation is there, however, to spend a lot more. Trooper offers his consultations for free; they used to charge £70 but that discouraged the slightly reluctant grooms. His prices are neither low nor too punchy: a three-piece S.J. Soane suit, for example, starts at around £1,000, while a made-to-measure Casely-Hayford starts at £1,895. The top spend on a suit is around £4,000, occasionally north of that figure. But, as Trooper admits, his customers are coming to him for economies of scale, rather than for the convenience of a one-stop shop.
On a personal note…
Trooper prides himself on certain bespoke tailoring details which, he says, give his suits – and the grooms in them – individuality. He encourages his customers to be bold with their choice of lapels, cuffs, waistcoats and suit linings, for example. The latter, where grooms are offered the chance to have their wedding date, or a special message, or a quotation embroidered inside the suit jacket, are particularly popular.
“We like to play with the grooms’ styling ideas once they’ve given them to us,” Trooper adds. “We try to change some elements. We don’t want to turn everyone out the same.”
Trooper also works in The Wedding Gallery’s jewellery section, and occasionally helps with bridal styling, so he’s used to dealing with brides as well as grooms. Which begs the question of whether men are easier to style than women?
“Some men are. Some are very difficult. But I enjoy a challenge,” he says with a smile. “Often, grooms will say they like the look of our morning suits, and our evening suits, and our lounge suits. And we have to meet somewhere in the middle.”
One thing that still surprises him about grooms is how little time they typically allow between their first consultation and the actual wedding date. “Guys are always late,” he says. “They’ll come in six weeks before the wedding and we always manage to pull it off, even though our lead time is seven weeks.”
With all the other wedding services on site, the grooms inevitably get involved in more than just purchasing their suits. Trooper sees them taking a keen interest in The Wedding Gallery’s stationery service, for example, and the jewellery, the photography and the videography. He says his colleagues try to get them excited about all aspects of the big day. (Except for the dress, of course,)
The idea of a wedding department store is a brilliant one which is sure to spread. Provided The Wedding Gallery, and any of its future imitations, maintain excellent service and work with the very best brands, there’s no reason why this model shouldn’t eventually become standard.
As owner George Hammer explained in a recent interview about the UK wedding retail market: “At one end you have the classic bridal boutique and at the other you have the big wedding fairs. The Wedding Gallery is a hybrid, taking the best of both experiences and combining them to harmonise the process of planning a wedding.”
His business is fighting back against the online wedding industry. “The biggest threat to traditional retail is online,” he says. “We are addressing bricks-and-mortar costs by making The Wedding Gallery an experience rather than just a shop; by having a point of difference and negotiating exclusivity with our brands.”
Who knows? Perhaps every big city in this country will one day have a wedding department store like The Wedding Gallery.