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The bridal industry changes driving Karen Walker’s new Atelier range

Walker launched her 20-piece Atelier range last week. The pieces will each be bespoke, “made specifically for and in consultation with the client by private appointment”, although simpler styles like the $500 Ceremony dress are available online for immediate express shipping now. 

All appointments, viewings and fittings will take place in the Karen Walker Atelier suite above the Ponsonby Road boutique and all styles will be made in the Karen Walker workroom in Grey Lynn. The private appointment will also include a dialogue with Walker herself.

Prices range from $500 to $4,250 for the full-skirted taffeta True Love gown. There are 12 dresses, a tuxedo paired with various options, a cape and three veils. 

The range has been paired with Walker’s bridal jewellery line, which has had 14 new designs added to it in honour of the Atelier range.

The range is based on the Karen Walker archive, and references many existing pieces as well as adding new touches. Most of the Atelier fabrics have been created by Spanish couture fabric house Gratacós.

Walker says her own marriage of 28 years and her love of “a tradition that makes people pin their colours to the mast and take on true commitment,” was at the heart of Atelier.

“Love, love, love a good wedding!” Karen enthuses. “They’re so uplifting aren’t they? There’s a real joy in two people having that clarity of vision to define themselves in the moment and walk that aisle and into life together.” 

Walker’s range is part of a larger global trend. As the US$2.4 billion American bridal market shrinks due to changing consumer behaviour – Millennials aren’t getting married at the same rate as their parents, and they want more inclusive sizing, more customisation and lower prices when they do – Vogue Businesssays new retail models are popping up.

 Traditional bridal retailers like the now-bankrupt David’s Bridal are losing market share to high-end ready-to-wear designers, venture-backed direct-to-consumer brands such as Anomalie and Floravere, and bridal ranges from fast fashion retailers like Topshop, H&M and ASOS. 

Walker shared more detail about how Atelier relates to these trends with The Register.

Several New Zealand retailers have launched bridal ranges in the last year or so. Why do you think bridal is suddenly such an attractive category to Kiwi designers?

I think that more and more people want to buy bridal from their favourite designers rather than from bridal specialists who they perhaps don’t relate to.

Operationally speaking, how does creating a bridal range differ from creating occasionwear and casual apparel?

Well, it’s completely bespoke so different in every way.

What business processes had to change at Karen Walker to accommodate those differences?

We’ve been working in a bespoke, personalised way for many of our high-profile, international customers for some time and this is just about making this approach more available.

Have you discovered any business or design insights from bridal that will feed back into other categories covered by Karen Walker?

No, but it’s early days.

Can you hint at which category Karen Walker might tackle next? Is there any product category you’d never touch?

Lots of new projects and wish projects on the cards. Stand by for more when the time’s right.


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