Whoever said that planning a wedding was easy, lied. The venue could be two minutes from your house and you’d still be drowned by a tsunami of choices spanning caterers and flower shops. What’s more, nothing in the wedding space ever seems to be in the same location, forcing you to run back and forth like a headless chicken.
It’s a phase my sister went through five years ago – as will I in the next few months. Imagine my delight then when I came across a description of The Wedding Gallery – a “first of its kind” type of store.
Created by retail entrepreneur George Hammer, known for fostering the likes of The Sanctuary and Aveda UK, The Wedding Gallery is marketed as a department store. It boasts brands such as Ellie Saab, Charlie Brear and Vera Wang, and was designed by Christian Lahoude – an architect counting Jimmy Choo and Tiffany & Co stores among his work.
Dresses aside, it’s a one-stop-shop. Shoes, cakes, bridesmaid dress, wedding planners, perfume and honeymoon packages can all be found under one roof. Well, under the floorboards of London’s iconic One Marylebone. It sounded like a dream, so I went there myself to find out more.
The experience begins in Alice in Wonderland fashion. To get to the entrance, you climb down a set of stairs made splendid by flowery arches – and you find yourself within a library. Of course, the department store is situated behind a secret door, hidden among the books and made to open at the push of the receptionist’s button.
What awaits is a mass of alcoves, pale grey bricks and splashes of pastel-coloured flowers, displayed around products from numerous companies. One specific alcove, your first glimpse of wedding paradise, is held aside for partnering brands, which alternate in showcasing current trends.
There’s a salon, a seated area for you to have a sip of coffee or a cheeky glass of bubbles and, as its “one-stop-shop” declaration suggests, it literally puts in front of you everything jotted down on your “to find and book before the date” list. All you need to do is go from alcove to alcove for inspiration – it makes for a pretty stress-free experience.
This is, I was told, the exact reason why The Wedding Gallery came to be. Hammer’s events business, One Events, takes care of numerous weddings. “I was shocked that clients were just getting PAs to organise things. It somewhat lacked professionalism,” he said.
“My partners and I also have seven daughters between us, all at the wedding age. It was soon made evident that the wedding space was just waiting to be reinvented.”
That, and Hammer has not only a keen sense for, but also loves to create, game-changers. He said: “That’s what I’ve been doing for numerous years. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. A department store such as this will take the chaos and the stress out of getting married and turn it into an enjoyable experience. You won’t have to run around because everything is in one place – there’s nothing inconvenient about it.”
Perhaps the biggest reason why it’s never been attempted was that you needed to bring businesses – “the right businesses” – within the wedding space together.
“Imagine a football team,” Hammer said. “You’ve got 11 players, all great at their own thing. But it’s when they work together that the magic happens. Likewise, we harmonised the brands after approaching them – it’s something you learn to do through experience.
“Of course, they had no idea what we were doing – all we had at the time was a once in a lifetime opportunity, as well as a reputation for successful retail business. ‘You snooze you lose,’ we said.”
Most important though, was the customer journey. Hammer suggested that it was a buzzword companies often tended to forget, so he focussed on it right from the start.
“We had to create a whole new entrance because our main doorway is for events,” he said. “The first view of the company shouldn’t be vans turning up to unload an event. We focussed on more magical elements, if you like. A little library with a secret door which opens into a new world almost like in Harry Potter.
“Everything is set out in a logical and easy to navigate way. Support, relaxation, hospitality and consultation is on the top floor, while the cake makers, florists and all things wedding attire can be found downstairs.”
Personalisation will need to be key. Not only are customers more demanding in terms of tailored experiences, couples are growing far more innovative with their wedding ideas. Your consultant will greet you at the door, and for the most part, you’ll have one person to walk you through the department store.
“The last thing you want is a place that has it all, but you need to describe your ideas to numerous people in charge of various departments,” he declared.
“We’ve trained staff across the board, to be able to help in all areas, which will make the bride or groom feel more comfortable. However, we have two distinct types of ‘assistants’. Stylists, which will make you look fabulous, and consultants, who help plan the event.”
The Wedding Gallery has only just opened, but if things go well, Hammer explained, expansion outside the UK will be imminent. “Only after we get the model right,” he added.
It’s set to revolutionise the wedding experience, not only for brides, but grooms as well. So much emphasis in the retail world is placed on the former that it’s frankly refreshing to see a place where the latter’s journey is just as crucial.