It's been a long time coming. Vintage, upcycled, and recycled fashion — ever the relevant sustainability conversation — is making its bridal debut. “In the past year, weddings have completely changed,” Maison Sully Founder Melissa Sullivan tells TZR. “With micro weddings and courthouse weddings, people have gotten really creative with their attire. Brides have become more open-minded.” Sullivan's company offers an always-evolving edit of vintage wedding dresses with an emphasis on hand-tailored customization. Maison Sully is located in Los Angeles and the in-person atelier is situated in the garden of a private residence in Silverlake.
She picked the right time to launch a vintage bridal atelier. Aside from the fact that sustainable fashion is at the forefront of dialogue regarding climate change, the demographic that's championing vintage clothing — Gen Z — are likely not married yet and will soon enough be looking for a wedding dress. According to Trendalytics, there are around 15,000 average weekly searches for “vintage wedding gown” and that's a 66% increase compared to last year. And while there have always been ways to source a pre-loved bridal gown, this moment in time feels like that decision may finally become increasingly more common.
Sullivan's background is in event production and wedding planning, and she earned her business degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. But her knack for vintage collecting started much earlier. “I am a military brat and I would go to estate sales with my mom as we moved around from place to place,” she says. “Finding these little treasures and collecting vintage is something I've always loved to do.” Fast-forward to five years ago, and she found herself in a small shop with a big idea. “I was at a vintage store with a friend and we found this 1960s-era wedding dress that was really beautiful. I had just started dating someone but certainly was not getting engaged anytime soon, but we laughed and said, ‘Oh, maybe I should start collecting wedding dresses’ — so I did,” she says. For the last five years, she's been collecting vintage wedding dresses and once the pandemic hit, she had time on her hands to finally work on the project.
Sullivan sources pieces that span several decades, starting with the 1930s, but with a focus on the mod and disco eras of the '60s and '70s. “Clean lines with bold accents is how I think of that period,” she says. She nods to icons like Priscilla Presley and Bianca Jagger as inspirations. Because her edit is always growing, she's continuously sourcing and that process is evolving, too. “It's completely random. Now that I’ve put this out into the universe, people are approaching me and being like, 'Hey, do you want my mom’s suit that she wore to her wedding?' or 'This is really weird, but I have a bag of shoes from my grandmother that I was planning to sell, but I never really got around to it' and it's all these vintage Chanel shoes in perfect condition,” she shares. “I think specializing in wedding dresses is helpful. For most vintage dealers, the occasional [bridal] piece will come in, but it’s hard for them to sell it because their clientele isn’t necessarily coming to them for that, so it's a bit of sharing inventory [with other vintage dealers] as well.”
There are two ways Sullivan approaches the atelier. First, selling pieces she has already collected. Second, working hand-in-hand with a bride to source a look. “It’s a fun challenge getting to interpret their modern inspiration images and find something that is older and different and tailoring it to their vision,” she says. A recent example of this was a bride who came to her with Zoe Kravitz's bridal bike short look that she wore to her rehearsal dinner (if you don't know it, look up immediately because it's that good). “She said, 'I really want all vintage but I can't stop thinking about this look, and I don't know what it means but I'm open-minded.' So, I was able to find her this really cute 1970s lace dress with these bell sleeves; it was very sparkly and metallic and had the essence of this biker short moment,” she says. “I think a lot of brides that are wanting to shop vintage inherently are a little bit open-minded so I am really enjoying that aspect.”
Another fluid component to Maison Sully is sizing, which in the realm of vintage is infamously non-inclusive. “I actively try to acquire a variety of sizes, but also when I'm collecting things, I keep in mind what it can be,” she says. An example of this is a Mary McFadden dress she acquired. “It was gorgeous and had that iconic white pleated fabric, but the sleeves were awfully ugly so I thought, OK, this is great because it’s a larger size and the base fabric is really nice. I could take the sleeves off, turn them into little purses, and then make a beautiful size 14 dress,” she says. “Or, maybe take the fabric apart and use two parts of two different dresses to make something.”
Sustainability, uniqueness, and inclusivity aside — there's an innate romantic quality to vintage bridal that's hard to replicate. “It’s like you’re wearing a piece of history,” Sullivan explains. “It already has a soul, then you're giving it your own. I love learning about the history of a piece like how it was acquired and who wore it. It just feels special in a very different way.”
If you’re interested in exploring vintage options, email is the best way to kick off the process (firstname.lastname@example.org) and schedule a short consultation call to discuss safety procedures, style preferences, and sizing. At this time, masks (unless taking pictures) and social distancing are required during the appointment and you can bring up to two guests. “It's so nice to be outside at the atelier, it feels really calm and peaceful,” Sullivan says. “There are butterflies and hummingbirds... it's a dreamy serene place to be here.”