By Christina Verigan
Founder, President, and Director of The Bridal Garden
Geraldine Brower juggles a lot of roles: philanthropist, businesswoman, former teacher, and fashionista. The Hudson Valley native began her professional life in education, working as an elementary school teacher. She developed a deep respect for the profession and loved working with children, but the challenges and opportunities of the business world eventually led her to Wall Street.
While working in the exciting world of commercial real estate, Ms. Brower honed her business skills but she also longed for a deeper satisfaction. To fulfill her spirit, Brower volunteered at several children’s charities in New York City, and eventually, she jumped headlong into the world of charity work. In 1997, she founded The Bridal Garden (bridalgarden.org), a nonprofit bridal boutique that sells donated gowns. All proceeds go to support local programs sponsored by Sheltering Arms Children’s Service (SACS), The Bridal Garden’s affiliate. SACS provides early childhood learning centers and after-school programs, including the Brooklyn Charter School in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The organization also supports families with day care services and pre-schools that provide education for toddlers with learning disabilities.
Ms. Brower, who now lives on the Upper East Side, has successfully networked with wedding industry leaders to keep The Bridal Garden stocked with high-end styles, including Vera Wang, Carolina Herrera, Monique Lhuillier, and Badgley Mishka. The vast majority of the dresses are donated by gown designers and retailers—and have never been worn. The rest have been worn only once, having been donated by generous brides.
SACS isn’t the only winner when it comes to The Bridal Garden’s efforts. Brides on a budget flock to the store to find dresses marked down 75 percent, and the recession has only helped business. The Bridal Garden’s other secret to success is that service doesn’t come second. Ms. Brower strives to provide customers with boutique service. Shopping is by appointment only, and each bride gets VIP treatment and assistance; Ms. Brower heads a team of style experts that help clients find the dress for their special day.
Founder and President of Brides Across America
As a professional wedding consultant, Heidi Janson understands the emotional importance of weddings. A wedding is a ceremony for couples to demonstrate their love and commitment, and many couples want their big day to reflect the depth of their feelings. However, as many brides know, the perfect wedding can come with a hefty price tag—not to mention a lot of advance planning.
Ms. Janson’s business, HKJ Group, advises bridal salons across the country in marketing and special events. When she learned about the difficulties military couples encounter during wedding planning, she was moved to make a difference and founded Brides Across America (http://www.bridesacrossamerica.com). Military brides, whether they’re marrying soldiers or soldiers themselves, have a tough time with wedding planning. Not only are many military couples on tight budgets, they also have limited time to plan because of deployment schedules. Many couples have a civil ceremony before a deployment, deferring an actual wedding until the soldier returns home.
In 2007, Ms. Janson started Brides Across America at her bridal boutique in New Hampshire, where she gave 50 gowns to military brides in need. Bridal suppliers, designers, and retailers donated unworn gowns and bridal shops opened their doors to military couples. Since then, the organization has given away 5,000 bridal gowns, making for thousands of grateful, gorgeous brides. “My goal is to make sure we don’t forget all the servicemen and women overseas fighting for our freedom,” says Janson.
This spring Brides Across America was also honored by the Joining Forces Community Challenge, which is sponsored by the White House. Ms. Janson and two of the organization’s brides were invited to met First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden in Washington, D.C. This summer, Brides Across America will host its sixth gown giveaway—the organization aims hosts two events per year. Bridal salons across the country will open their doors to brides or fiancées of those who have served in active duty in the past five years. Manhattan salon Bridal Reflections (260 Fifth Avenue) will hold NYC’s only Brides Across America event (so far) on June 25.
Priscilla Kidder (1917 – 2003)
Founder of Priscilla of Boston
For 64 years Priscilla of Boston was known for stylish, classy wedding gowns, and the Priscilla behind the brand was Priscilla Kidder. A graduate of the New England School of Design, Ms. Kidder was style-savvy with a sharp eye for design. For a while she worked as a bridal buyer at local department store R.H. White, but she had a different vision of what a modern bridal boutique should be. Anticipating a surge of weddings after World War II, she opened The Bride’s Shop on Newbury Street in Boston in 1948. Her intuition was spot on and the store made $10,000 in sales in its first week!
Her business soared and she secured the sale that would forge her reputation as the go-to bridal guru: She was asked to design gowns for Grace Kelly’s bridesmaids. After that she went on to design wedding dresses for a presidential line-up of First Daughters, including Luci Johnson and Tricia and Julie Nixon. Demand for Ms. Kidder’s dresses skyrocketed and she started the Priscilla of Boston label, so brides around the world could wear her designs.
Ms. Kidder retired in 1993 and passed away 10 years later. Without her vision and guidance, Priscilla of Boston lost its way. In 2002 it was bought by Macy’s parent company, Federated Department Stores, and in 2007 it was sold to David’s Bridal, which was looking to break into the high-end gown market. Late last year, David’s Bridal announced that it was discontinuing the Priscilla of Boston label, but Priscilla fans can scour eBay and other alternative vendors to find their favorite designs.