Houghton Introduces 'See Now, Buy Now' for Wedding Dresses, But Are Brides Ready For It?

Or more accurately, 'see now, pre-order now.' We're not talking about fast bridal fashion here.
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Or more accurately, 'see now, pre-order now.' We're not talking about fast bridal fashion here.

More and more brands these days are embracing some version of the see now, buy now model, from the Fashion Week runways (with some exceptions) — to, most recently, Coachella, with Alice + Olivia's immediately shoppable Grateful Dead-inspired collection. Now, celeb-loved indie brand Houghton is bringing that concept to the bridal world with its first shop-the-runway collection for spring 2017. 

"That idea lends itself way more to bridal than anything else," designer and creative director Katharine Polk told Fashionista Saturday at the Houghton bridal presentation, located in a tony Upper East Side town house that previously housed the Chrome Hearts flagship. Ten days before the presentation, the brand put out a call to brides-to-be via social media and press placements, and alerted their clientele, that the first 100 to RSVP could attend the two-hour preview, pre-order the spring 2017 gowns and shop the accessories, including Houghton x Commando lace bodysuits. 

To give you some background, the bridal timeline is a totally different beast than even the ready-to-wear format (which the CFDA is in the process of rethinking with help from Boston Consulting Group). We spoke to editor-in-chief of New York weddings site Twirl and bridal expert Anne Chertoff, who explained that after the collections show in April 2016 for spring 2017, it can take anywhere from six to nine months for the dresses to hit the sales floor, depending on the design, ornateness, production, etc. And that's only the samples. Once a bride does a round of sample dress try-on sessions with her BFFs, she might decide on her gown. Then, there's the three- to six-month wait for the actual dress, which will later need alterations and tailoring, adding another six to eight weeks. So do the math.

Therefore, Houghton's "see now, buy now" bridal model could be more accurately described as "see now, pre-order now," and is meant meant to drastically cut the wait time. "We're eliminating basically six months to a year for brides," Polk said. To "streamline" the traditional pre-order schedule, she's offering brides the opportunity to receive the dresses at the same time that the stores will receive their samples. "If stores can do it, why can't the brides?" she asks. If a bride is really in a hurry, Houghton can do rush orders, too, with added fees, for a 12- to 16-week delivery window. And for those based in New York, or willing to travel, she will also offer alteration services in her Manhattan bridal atelier.

But Chertoff is still hesitant to embrace the bridal timeline shakeup. "Shop the runway can work for some people, but generally speaking, you really want to take your time in trying a wedding dress because there are so many factors between fit, price, availability, delivery date..." she explained. Shopper Eliza Weiss, who was invited to the presentation after calling to make an atelier appointment, sees her point. "Because I've already been to a lot of stores and I haven't found anything I've liked, I would feel comfortable [pre-ordering now]," she said. "But if it were my first [wedding shopping trip], then it's maybe a little fast to just commit to such an important dress."

"I also don't like the idea of this auction mentality where it's like, 'you have to buy it right now,'" added Chertoff, her voice starting to rise a bit. (Bridal market is intense, people.) "Why? Because what? Are you getting married tomorrow? Then you can't buy a [luxury] dress like that anyway. You gotta go to BHLDN and go off the rack."

Which brings up another valid point: Like ready-to-wear, the traditional bridal world faces competition from the accessibility and immediacy of fast fashion, with brands like Asos and H&M now in the game. "We can't compete with fast fashion, but we've gotta change," Polk said. "We've gotta constantly be ready change our strategy in order to adapt to what's working."

Polk, whose gowns start at $2,400, does think that her clients are willing to pay more and wait (for a little less time) for a high-end dress. But as times change, are some brides becoming more conditioned to the immediate gratification of fast fashion? That seems to be the case for shopper Rujeko Hockley, whom I cornered by the bar grabbing a bubbly rosé. "I'm ready. I don't need a year," she said. "I've already taken several months and it doesn't help me, personally, to have that lead time."

According to a public relations representative reached by email, approximately 65 prospective brides attended the event and "about half" made appointments to visit the atelier this week to pre-order their dresses. While we're not entirely sold on this being the future of wedding dress shopping, it was an interesting experiment with the traditional — and most likely emotional — purchase process.

Click through the entire spring 2017 Houghton bridal collection — featuring a non-traditional play on wedding day fabrics, textures and layering — below and on houghtonnyc.com.