If you don't reside in Brooklyn, you may not know that there are countless reasons to visit the massive borough beyond Williamsburg: There's excellent programming at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), exhibits at The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA), the best tacos in the city, authentic Guilin noodles, the ever-expanding Brooklyn Flea (and Smorgasburg) and ... the wedding dress shopping hub along Third Avenue. Wait, what?
There's a new guard of bridal-wear designers and retailers, along with various wedding-related vendors, popping up along Third Avenue — from the southern section of Gowanus to the buzzy tech, creative and fashion center of Industry City in Sunset Park. And, yes, those in the know will point to established bridal boutiques on Atlantic Avenue, but these ladies are doing things a little bit differently — and with their own personal connections to the neighborhood.
"I feel like I'm the pioneer," says Rebecca Schoneveld, designer of her eponymous bridal-wear line and owner of multi-brand retailer Schone Bride on a quiet stretch of Third Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets. She lived nearby in the grittier mid-aughts and took note of the historically industrial area's energy and potential years before neighborhood mainstays like Four & Twenty Blackbirds set up shop. In 2013, with an Etsy dress business growing out of her Park Slope apartment, Schoneveld decided she didn't want to commute far from her two young children, and opened a small storefront a block north for her bridal-wear line. Two years later, she expanded to her current space, added additional lines like Temperley London, and opened Schone Bride as a multi-brand retailer.
The area continued to attract a smattering of other designers aside from Schoneveld, like bridal-focused Samantha Sleeper, whose atelier is around the corner from Schone. Schoneveld even recruited her friend and wedding floral designer Rebecca Shepherd to the neighborhood, who took a ground-floor space a few blocks away.
"I was like, 'Rebecca, you need to come down to Third Avenue!'" she recalls, while comfortably lounging on a fringed macramé swing in a tropical-themed corner of her shop. "'We need to turn it into Bridal Row.'"
Her plan is working: AMadden Tailoring moved into Schoneveld's previous location (and handles alterations for Schone Bride) and dress designer Tatyana Merenyuk was already renting out studio space in Schoneveld's production location on 15th Street off Third. Conveniently, Made in Heaven Cakes wedding bakery is just upstairs from her storefront; popular and always-booked venues, The Green Building and 501 Union, are also nearby.
Schoneveld acknowledges her part in changing the makeup of the neighborhood. "I remember our UPS guy coming in and being like, 'hey, everyone's talking about how you're raising the rents in the neighborhood. What's this bridal store doing here?," she says. "I was like, 'I'm hoping more and more people move in.'"
They are: "The future of Gowanus looks really really bright in terms of development," says Corcoran Group commercial and residential real estate broker (and longtime neighborhood resident) Behzad Amiri. The affordable rent — compared to "over $100 a square foot" in more established (gentrified) areas in the borough — overall cool, creative DIY energy and proximity to millennial-filled neighborhoods like Park Slope, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens all make sense for independent, start-up bridal businesses. A long-discussed rezoning of Gowanus, which adds more residential and mixed-use projects with mandatory affordable housing, is finally in the works. Amiri sees this "synergy" of the residences, small businesses, innovative tech companies, creative energy, a burgeoning dining scene and mix of different cultures, as driving a Brooklyn image and vibe that "that people try to copy all over the world."
In January 2017, indie bridal brand Lakum set up shop above above Rebecca Shepherd at 200 10th Street off Third Avenue. There, the four-year old label has a production space, showroom and boutique, complete with exposed brick and an Instagram-able palm tree backdrop. The founders, Sathya Balakumar and Heather Green, found the neighborhood in sync with their brand values and appreciated the the one-block proximity to the F, R and G trains (as do their clients).
"Part of our DNA has always been to make our goods locally," says Balakumar, "so it just really fit into our goals in terms of being able to produce in-house and being in a neighborhood where things are being made."
Sometimes, the connection to Third Avenue comes from a deeper place. Further south, former shipping and manufacturing complex Industry City is now home to the aforementioned Brooklyn Flea, a hipster-y food hall, whiskey and sake distilleries, multiple fashion companies and The One Bridal, a new multi-brand retailer, founded by jewelry designer and wedding expert Sudhey Reyes, who actually grew up in Sunset Park.
"My mom worked on 35th Street and Second Avenue making lampshades for 34 years," says Reyes, while pointing toward the next pier, as we sat in her sun-drenched, sixth-floor boutique. After looking unsuccessfully in Downtown Brooklyn, she fell in love with the complex's airy, sun-lit spaces.
Industry City shoppers with wedding-related needs can also visit the The Wedding Dresser, a collective of locally-based fashion and costume tailors and dressmakers, bridal gown designer Jaclyn Jordan, Soho Letterpress for invitations and photographer Susan Stripling.
Both the Industry City and Gowanus/South Slope areas are easily accessible via public transportation from all boroughs (or a nice walk for south Brooklyn-based clientele), but it's not just New Yorkers who are making the trek. We're told many shoppers travel from throughout the Tri-State Area and other parts of the U.S, especially Philadelphia, and even abroad, including Mexico and Argentina. The founders we spoke with all point to Instagram, mentions in bridal media outlets and, of course, word of mouth as ways clients discover this part of the borough. Green and Balakumar also mentioned that the Google search for "Brooklyn Bride" has enticed customers. But what makes this "Brooklyn Bride" so distinct and specific?
"I think it's more what she's not," says Green. She may not be interested in the "cupcake" bedazzled princess ballgown dress or even the "boho-chic" lace slip dresess that populated Bridal Week runways of seasons past. She may still want the delicate embroidery, but be interested in something cooler like, say, Lakum's modern take with geometric lace from Japan or a knit-like weave by Australian designer Suzanne Harward, found at The One Bridal. She may be looking for a sleeker, more architectural silhouette, or she just wants to wear a sparkly crop top and pants because, at the end of the day, she wants to be herself — whatever that may be.
"They want to have fun with it: be unique and a little more creative in a way that's a little more self-expressive," says Schoneveld, about her Brooklyn bride. Unsurprisingly, mix-and-match bridal separates populate the racks in all three locations including crop tops, skirts in mini and to tulle-layered ballgown styles, various cuts of trousers and, of course, chic suiting. Meanwhile, Reyes stocks her boutique with "edgier" and hard-to-find international collections, including Rosa Clara's couture line, Halfpenny London and Cortana.
"No one in the New York region [carries them]," says Reyes, about the latter. "So people travel for those two designers, in particular."
Customization is also a key factor in helping the Brooklyn bride express her individuality and personality on her big day. At Schone, clients can take the bodice of one dress and pair it with the skirting of another and change out the fabric and/or embellishments. Lakum also offers design flexibility, offering such options as extending the hem on a top so less midriff is exposed (or the opposite) and/or switching out embellishments or fabrics, and the like.
Size inclusivity, and flexibility, is also essential. Both Lakum and Schoneveld offer ready-to-wear sizing instead of the inflated and antiquated bridal sizing that I still don't understand. Schoneveld's designs range from size 00 to 30 (all at the same price) and the showroom samples for brides to try are offered in 6, 10 and 18, with 22 available in some styles. As for Lakum, "whatever size she is, we can make it," says Green.
These designers and retailers also buck the traditional 12-plus-month schedule for dress delivery. Balakumar says they've rushed a pantsuit in an impressive eight weeks, while pieces embroidered in India may take about four months. Lakum collections are also available to order immediately after they're presented during Bridal Market, instead of waiting a full year for the styles to hit the sales floor. Reyes says her brands tend to be flexible, depending on the style and situation, while Schoneveld will accommodate rush orders on her own designs.
For the most part, pricing is accessible, relative to bridal, of course. Lakum designs range from $3,000 to $8,000 for the most elaborately embroidered, although most sit in the $3,000-to-$5,000 range. The One Bridal collections run from $3,000 to $7,000-plus and Schone Bride runs from about $1,800 to $3,200. Schoneveld also prides herself on being transparent with the bride about the pricing behind her locally-manufactured pieces.
There's also that "Brooklyn" mindset that attracts brides, with or without BK zip codes, to the area. Schoneveld finds her brides to be more "practical," prioritizing comfort and friends and family over "pomp and circumstance." She also points to shared values that the borough celebrates: "the locally-made aspect" and support for small and female-owned businesses.
The area's sense of community is also unique. Green and Balakumar regularly refer their brides to related vendors nearby, while happily gifting clients mini bottles of neighboring Red Hook's Van Brunt Stillhouse goods. Schoneveld likes to suggest post-fitting brunch and shopping "tours" of Park Slope, while Reyes encourages her clients to explore the expansive Industry City offerings. Both Gowanus and Industry City are filled with art galleries, creative and tech studios, bar and restaurant hotspots, boutique shopping, plus ongoing indie-cool events (and people) — offering a destination for brides and fam to make day out of their appointments.
Of course, there's the personal touch, too. Green asks for music preferences to curate soundtrack for each private fitting. The One Bridal will see a max of two brides at a time, while Schone Brides offers almost-hidden, cozy fitting areas in separate parts of the shop for semi-private gatherings.
In other words, being a Brooklyn bride is not just an aesthetic, but also the environment you're in while achieving that aesthetic. As Balakumar puts it, it's all about "an authentic experience."