Photo by Michael Schwarz
You know the show (Say Yes to the Dress) and you know the stores (Kleinfeld in Manhattan and Bridals by Lori in Atlanta), but this weekend, brides—and maybe a few super fans—will have the opportunity to get to know one of the program’s stars, Lori Allen. The bridal business guru will be making an appearance at Shooting Star Casino on Sunday as part of the Wedding Extravaganza 2014, and before her trip to Minnesota (her first ever!), Mpls.St.Paul Weddings spoke with Allen about everything from finding fame on TLC to finding that perfect dress.
Tell us more about the event at Shooting Star Casino. What will you be doing for the Wedding Extravaganza?
I am going to be socializing, which I am wonderful at. I’m just there to welcome everybody, take pictures, sign autographs, and answer any questions that they have. Really, I think I’m their social butterfly. That’s what I’m going to call myself.
How did you get your start in the bridal business?
Two weeks after I graduated from college in 1980, I opened Bridals by Lori. I had worked at some bridal stores in college, I’m a business major, and I knew that I wanted to open a retail store. My parents told me for a graduation gift they would get me started. It was a very small store—about 1,000 square feet and maybe 25 dresses. For many years there, I had to keep busy and I had to keep motivated. I really never let anything enter my head that I wasn’t going to make it. This was my dream and I wasn’t going to let myself fail—I’m pretty stubborn. Eventually, we grew into a larger location and we had two stores. Then we decided that people would travel if we had a destination bridal store, so we bought a building that was about 7,500 square feet, which we outgrew in no time. And then 12 years ago, we bought where you see Say Yes to the Dress is now. It’s 25 times the size of what I started out in. So I’m really your American dream.
How did Say Yes to the Dress come into the picture?
They found us. There are very few stores in the country the size of our store and Kleinfeld, and when you’re shooting a show, you’ve got a film crew there of 10 to 20 people, you’ve got cameras, they’ve got all their supplies, and you have to have space for this. They also look for store owners with personality, which is one thing I’m blessed with. The funny thing about it is, a few years earlier, another network approached us about a show. We shot a pilot and we didn’t get it. I was furious. But you know what? I prayed about it and look what happened. So much better, such a bigger network, and such a bigger opportunity for us. If I’d been on that other network, I wouldn’t have what I have today.
Has being on the show changed your business?
It has. Our store, the size that it is, has gotten people from all over the country and some other continents. But that’s even more so now. People come and take pictures by the front door and they come to meet us, so I think not only has it increased business, but it has also created a tiny bit of a problem because we’re also a tourist destination now. We’re still trying to do our job, which is to help brides find their fantasy dress, but we have big groups of people coming by to meet us. Of course, we love our fans, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes we have to say, “Hold on, let me help this bride,” but we always stop and take pictures. Without them we’d be nothing.
What do you love most about your job?
I love that it’s different every day. There’s a different problem every day, whether it be with staff, with a dress, with a customer, or with filming. You’ve got to be on your toes. It keeps me challenged, it keeps me young and invigorates me.
What about the most difficult part?
I think the most difficult part of my job is really just having enough time. Right now I’m torn between a million different things going on in my life, as far as the store, the show, and other opportunities. I want to do it all but I can’t. No matter what I do, I want to do a great job. I don’t want to be halfway here and halfway there. That’s something I have to work on.
And you’re recovering from breast cancer.
Was it difficult for you to take a step back?
It was. I’ve always been the leader and the strong person and the motivator. For this to happen to me, it shows that I’m a human also. My staff really had to step up to the plate because I was out for quite awhile. It was hard for me to do that, but I had to. When you get breast cancer, or any cancer for that matter, it helps you prioritize your life as far as what’s important. And number one is your health, because if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. I’m a lot better and a lot stronger now, but I try to take it a little easier on myself.
You film two shows—Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta and Say Yes to the Dress: Bridesmaids. Do you like working with bridesmaids or brides more?
Definitely the brides. With the bridesmaids, you’ve got all these personalities you’re trying to please. With the bride, you’re trying to please the bride. You’ve got her family members there, and that’s difficult, but it doesn’t get to the intensity that it does in bridesmaids. Girls take paying $200 to $300 for a piece of satin seriously. And if they don’t think it looks good on them, they don’t want to spend the money. It’s a lot of drama.
Do you have any crazy bridesmaid stories to tell?
We had a bridesmaid that was very busty and she did not like the dress. We ordered the dress to accommodate her bust and when she was there for alterations, she still wasn’t happy. She was very angry with the bride and after alterations, she goes into the room, takes a pair of scissors—I’m not making this up—she cuts the dress to shreds, and walks out the door. That’s how crazy they get.
What about the brides? What are some of the biggest problems you see on a day-to-day basis?
Brides have turned shopping for a dress into a career. It’s a social event. Ten years ago, they brought their mother and maybe their maid-of-honor. Now they bring their Aunt Gertrud, their stepmother twice removed, their dad, and their uncle—they’ll bring in 20 people now. When you have this many people, it’s very difficult to get what you want because it’s hard to stand up to 20 people. It really doesn’t matter what Aunt Gertrud thinks because it’s your gown. Bring your mother and a good friend—two people are plenty. Another thing I see a lot is brides that bring in their fiancés. The reason I don’t like this is because this one time in your life, there is this special moment that you cannot recreate. It’s that initial look of you in the dress that actually takes his breath away. It’s a magical moment. That’s what we work for. We work to create those magical moments for the bride. And I feel like when he’s involved in the shopping, when he’s there looking at everything you’re trying on, that magical moment is not going to happen.
What are the big wedding dress trends this season?
The past couple of seasons, since Kate Middleton got married, we’re seeing a lot more coverage. I’m calling it “more is more.” We are seeing straps, we are seeing cap sleeves, occasionally we’re seeing long sleeves. We’re starting to see a bit more coverage, and with the coverage, a really sexy back is in style, or some really beautiful beading. Strapless has had a very long run, and it’s time to start seeing some other styles. It goes to show that you don’t have to show all this skin to be gorgeous and elegant.
Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for brides who are currently looking for their dress?
I tell people this every day. It’s really not about the dress. It’s about the entourage with the bride, approving that she takes the next step in her life. The symbol becomes the dress. She wants everyone there to agree on the dress, but she really wants them to agree that the next step in her life is good to go.