Detroit’s Beautiful Bridal hosts adult dress-up parties
White wine in one hand and strawberries in the other, three friends floated in front of Beautiful Bridal’s golden mirrors, admiring the elegant wedding gowns adorned with crystals, lace and ruffles.
“It fits perfectly,” squeals Yana Gaines, a Realtor from West Bloomfield in her 20s who’s getting married in September.
The lacy fit and flare Pronovias did hug her slender body in all the right places. But Gaines already bought a Limor Rosen dress from the bridal shop months ago. And the two friends trying on wedding dresses with her got married last year.
So what’s going on here?
The women were simply playing adult dress up at the first “try-on party” hosted by Beautiful Bridal. Located in a historic 1889 mansion on East Jefferson, former TLC “Say Yes to the Dress” bridal consultant Keasha Rigsby opened downtown Detroit’s only bridal shop in February with her business partner,Vallery Hyduk.
Rigsby came up with the idea to hold try-on parties based on her experience working at Kleinfeld Bridal in Manhattan, where “Say Yes to the Dress” is filmed.
“It would be the death of you if you got a bride in that said, ‘Oh, you know what? I’m trying on dresses just for fun today,’ ” says Rigsby, who’s worked in the bridal industry for 14 years. “At Kleinfeld’s, it’s a business, and the bottom line is they gave us numbers that we all had to make by month end. So it was pressure on us to make things happen.”
Given the number of women who walked through the doors to try on dresses “for fun,” Rigsby decided to make a party of it at her boutique. She supplies the black silk robes, music, cheese and wine (specifically white wine, in case of spillage). You bring your friends — single or married. For $40 per hour, per person, women can strut around as long as they’d like in designer gowns from Barcelona, London, Israel and Paris. There’s no pressure to buy.
As Hyduk puts it, you’re never too old to play dress up.
“We’ve all played dress up since we were children, and then you suddenly have to stop because you’re an adult?” she says, shaking her head. “We want women to have a fun, carefree, fantasy evening of trying on dresses and being a princess.”
Elizabeth Pensler’s jeweled train draped the hardwood floor as she gushed about her real wedding gown — that one had see-through material and was “super sexy,” she says. She bought the couture gown in Birmingham, but says the try-on experience is more enjoyable.
“This is more relaxed,” says Pensler, 35, of Beverly Hills, as Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” pumped in the background. “I’m not getting married, so I’m not stressed. But when I was going through it, it was very nerve-wracking — you’re worried about what dress to wear, where to shop, does this look good on me?”
Hyduk emphasizes the try-on parties are just for fun; Rigsby holds separate appointments for women intending to buy. Otherwise, it’d be too distracting with friends trying on dresses at the same time.
“When she’s with a bride, she’s laser focused on just that bride,” Hyduk says.
Hyduk, 45, was Rigsby’s producer for the TV show “Keasha’s Perfect Dress,” which aired on Canada’s Slice network in 2012 and now streams on Hulu. While working together in Toronto, Rigsby told Hyduk her lifelong dream was to open a boutique bridal shop. Then she dropped the ball: Would she join her?
“I said, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” Hyduk recalls. “I’m the vice president of a busy television production company. I don’t have time.”
But after building a bridal studio and watching Rigsby hold bridal appointments for the show, the idea grew on Hyduk. Eventually, she said yes to the career move.
The women considered opening a shop in Toronto, Manhattan or Chicago. But rents were high, and it would be challenging for Rigsby to relocate her family to Canada. Then Hyduk suggested Detroit.
In 2012, she and her husband bought a house in Indian Village — what they called their “urban cottage” — and often traveled to Detroit.
“I said, ‘Keasha, things are happening in this city.’ I got her to start coming,” she says. “It took her a year and a half to warm up to it.”
Sitting on a plush couch on the shop’s second floor, the Brooklyn native admits she was apprehensive about moving to the Motor City.
“In the beginning, I was so afraid because of what I read on Google,” Rigsby says.
Now, she says she made the best decision because her store isn’t just a bridal shop, it’s a sign of hope.
“Everyone — male and female, young and old, white and black — they’re thanking me for opening up this store. One guy was like, ‘You know young lady, I’m so glad you came here.’ I think he had one tooth in his mouth, and he’s like, ‘You’ve brought something here to this great city.’ And then he went on about his business and walked down the street, but it just brought tears to my eyes,” she says, her eyes starting to water under her lavender eyeshadow.
Living in Indian Village since January, Rigsby (who doesn’t share her age; she says she turns 21 every year) says she’s seen the tension in the city. It’s something she never experienced growing up.
“My grandpa is Italian, and my grandma is as black as my pants here,” she says, pointing to her black slacks. “They were just in love. We weren’t raised with all of that hatred and animosity against people. I’m color blind. I don’t see color. I just see people, and I hope people, when they meet me, will feel that.”
Another goal: “I want laughter and joy to just pour out of the doorways and echo down the streets of East Jefferson,” she says.
In the past few months, Rigsby has helped more than 200 brides from the suburbs to Chicago, New York, and even London and China, find wedding dresses. The visits are spurred by Rigsby’s celebrity status and relationships with designers, says publicist Malesa Owens McGhee.
“They’re flying in from all over the world just to come to Beautiful Bridal,” she says.
At first, Rigsby hated the dilapidated brick building full of water damage.
“As I was scrolling through pictures Vallery sent, I kept saying, ‘No, no, no’ until I got to the staircase,” she says. It reminded her of Alfred Hitchcock’s black-and-white film “Vertigo,” which she watched as a girl with her mom. “When I saw that staircase, a chill went down my spine, and I said, ‘I. Have. To. Have. That.’ ”
The first two floors of the restored French Renaissance Revival mansion, featuring stained-glass windows and purple drapes, are now available to rent for bridal showers, fundraisers and events — the display gowns can stay or go.
Rigsby says she hopes to fill the mansion, also known as the John N. Bagley House, with 1,000 gowns ranging in price from $2,500 to more than $10,000. She’s nearing her target, thanks to a $50,000 Motor City Match grant.
But whether they’re playing dress up or searching for the perfect dress, Rigsby gives the same advice to all brides: Choose the dress that you love — not the dress that your mother or best friend loves.
“You’re going to show your children and grandchildren the picture of you and your husband on your wedding day. That picture will be on the mantle forever and ever,” she says. “So you want to make sure that you pick the right dress.”
2921 E. Jefferson, Detroit
$40 per hour, per person
Call (313) 502-5746 to book an event or email firstname.lastname@example.org