Thursday 8 December 2016

How this Irish bride-to-be said yes to the dress - at Kleinfeld's!

Bride-to-be Vicki Notaro was dreading wedding dress shopping - until she had the bright idea to visit a bridal store made famous by reality television…

Published 20/03/2016 | 02:30

Kleinfeld director Randy Fenoli with a bridal model.
Vicki at the New York shop.
Vicki Notaro with store director Nicole.
A scene from the TV show Yes to the Dress. Photo: Discovery Communications

My wedding dress has never been something I've dreamt about.

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In fact, shopping for a wedding dress is more the stuff of nightmares than any childhood fantasy. And yet, here I am, standing in Kleinfeld's - the bridal store made world famous by reality TV show Say Yes To The Dress - and I've just been asked their equally famous question…

So, how did I get here? Well, it's safe to say that I'm not the bridiest of brides. In fact, I'm allergic to wedding fairs, sick at the thoughts of seat covers and pretty anti-tradition with every other aspect of nuptials. When I became engaged to Joe last November, shopping for a wedding dress was one of the first things I started to panic about.

I would be more than happy to elope, but myself and Joe's wedding is not just about us. It's also about the people who raised us, love us and care about us. Just because I haven't fantasised about walking down the aisle in a white meringue doesn't mean there aren't others who have dreamed of that day for me, and I would hate to disappoint them. So there must be a wedding, albeit an intimate one abroad. And because I have to wear something, it may as well be a wedding dress.

Vicki at the New York shop.
Vicki at the New York shop.

The secret weapon in my arsenal when it came to dress shopping was the knowledge bestowed upon me through binge-watching Say Yes To The Dress (SYTTD). For someone who dislikes weddings so intensely, I really enjoy this TV show. Chances are, you've caught an episode or two… hundred. The show - which airs in Ireland on satellite channel TLC - is set in a New York bridal salon. In each episode, we see brides-to-be finding their perfect dress with the help of the fairy godmother-esque consultants that work at Kleinfeld's.

It's an American programme, so it's over the top and, of course, there's drama. Brides of all shapes and sizes - and with all kinds of budgets - row in with their overbearing mothers, opinionated bridesmaids and clueless fathers. Everyone is looking for the embodiment of their own bridal fantasy, and, nine times out of 10, bridalwear guru and creative director Randy Fenoli makes it a reality as the bride says yes to her dress.

As luck would have it, I'd booked a trip to New York to celebrate my 30th birthday with some friends not long after we got engaged. So, I had a brainwave - why not go to Kleinfeld's? At worst, it would be a laugh and at best, I'd find something suitable among their thousands of dresses. I booked the appointment for the morning of my birthday and asked three pals to come with me.

But a few weeks before our trip, I started to get cold feet. I figured Kleinfeld's would be incredibly daunting, and I worried that my mammy wasn't going to be there. So I suggested she and I go on a fact-finding mission here in Ireland. From watching the show, I knew they'd ask me all about what silhouettes and fabric I liked, so we went to a beautiful Dublin boutique, where I tried on several different styles of dresses. Despite myself, I quite enjoyed it; there was pink Prosecco, an excited atmosphere and I tried on every kind of dress I could imagine. It soon became clear that I looked best in a "fit and flare" corset.

Armed with that knowledge, I nervously entered the famous store a couple of weeks later with three friends (the maximum number of guests you're allowed to bring) in tow. As soon as I walked in the doors I was struck at how familiar the place seemed. All of the consultants I recognised from the telly where there - at one point I shrieked "There's Antonella and Debbie!" to the amusement of my entourage. I don't know why, but I presumed they were drafted in for filming and not actual employees.

You know how things on TV often look smaller when you get to see them in real life? Well, the showroom was even bigger than I expected - larger than life and littered with beautiful gowns. Everywhere I looked brides were resplendent in crystals, satin and beading, mothers were shedding tears and people were clapping as someone was asked the famous question.

Vicki Notaro with store director Nicole.
Vicki Notaro with store director Nicole.

Kleinfeld's is not the kind of place where you relax leisurely with bubbles. You're told in advance that your appointment is 90 minutes, and there are other brides everywhere - they have more than a dozen fitting rooms - so it's a hive of activity.

We checked in and checked our coats, and I waited nervously to see which consultant would be assigned to me. I was terrified I'd get blonde Diane, who is quite intimidating on the telly, but when Paula walked towards me, I recognised her immediately and relaxed. She was thrilled to have an Irish client, and even more so when I told her how well-loved the programme is here.

Paula took us to a consultation room and, as they do on the show, she asked me what my top-line budget was - $3,000 - and what styles I liked. Then I was whisked off to a dressing room, she disappeared into their vast stock room and my friends were led to the showroom floor where they occupied a couch in the middle of the room.

There's no room for embarrassment at Kleinfeld's. Paula instructed me to remove my bra (corsets have them built in) and she and her assistant helped me into gown after gown. There's a pedestal in the dressing room where you can pirouette and decide whether the dress is worthy of showing your party out on the floor. At one point, I caught sight of myself being laced in to a gem-encrusted, strapless frock - and loving it! This is the Kleinfeld effect.

I kept waiting for creative director and star of SYTTD Randy Fenoli to make an appearance - on the show, he pops in when a bride is having trouble with his trademark line, "hello beautiful!" and normally saves the day. I was disappointed when I heard that he's not there all the time.

All the dresses but one were deemed worthy of the long(ish) walk to the showroom, and all elicited positive reactions. I'd tried on six dresses when I decided to go back to number two for another go, and my bridesmaid Nadia was getting ready to FaceTime my mother back in Dublin for her opinion. Before I got in to it, Paula told me she had another dress - one she'd gone looking for especially. I trusted her, not least because she was showing me dresses way under the budget I'd given her, meaning she wasn't just in this for the commission; I felt that she really wanted me to find my dress.

A scene from the TV show Yes to the Dress. Photo: Discovery Communications
A scene from the TV show Yes to the Dress. Photo: Discovery Communications

And then I saw it. I'm not exaggerating when I say I knew it was The One right away - and this from a woman who didn't even know she believed in such a thing. It fit like a glove, gave me the waist of an old Hollywood starlet, and was actually comfortable, something I didn't know a corset could be. I glided out to show my friends, and when one of them burst in to tears, I knew this was it. That's a good sign on the show, by the way; if someone starts crying, you're on to a winner. My mother gave her seal of approval via video call, which brings us up to now and the moment of truth…

"Vicki," Paula says, meaningfully. "Are you saying yes to this dress?" Looking at myself in the mirror, veil on and teary-eyed, I am ready to commit. Applause breaks out, people even cheer. If you'd told me such a thing would happen, it's likely I'd have rolled my eyes, but it is actually really beautiful.

Within seconds I am measured by the store's director Nicole - a regular on the show who insists we take a selfie - and slap down a 60pc deposit. I even cough up for a beautiful full-length veil. I float out of Kleinfeld's on a cloud.

While I'd love to show Weekend readers my dress, I have to keep it a secret - for now - because I want Joe to be genuinely surprised when he sees me in it. We're getting married in New York next spring, and being non-traditionalists, we're going to meet on the Brooklyn Bridge before the ceremony, just the two of us and a photographer. Now that I've bought my dress, I realise the value of it. I want him to think I'm the most beautiful bride he's ever seen.

So cynical brides, my advice to you is this: do whatever the hell you want to do when it comes to dress shopping. It's meant to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so make it one. If that means travelling 3,000 miles to a store from a reality TV show, then go for it. Who knows, like me, you might end up saying yes to the dress.

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