Here come the brides. And they are discovering Panache Bridal, which just opened at 165 Main St.
The name Panache is apropos because it perfectly describes the fashion-forward couture bridal gowns that are the salon's mainstay.
"We offer a range of gowns for everything from destination weddings to ball gowns," said owner Debra Willenberg. But they're not your typical traditional gowns.
Why is this? "Our answer is that we are driven by outstanding design, whether the edgy, architectural inspired looks of Angel Sanchez, the dreamy floating designs of Adele Wechsler or the distinctive, red carpet designs of Jenny Packham," Willenberg said. "We're one of about 10 salons in this country to carry Jenny Packham, who is in the forefront of European design," added Jacques Robinson, an associate of Willingberg's. He calls himself her "helper."
What trends is Robinson seeing? "There's more shape to the necklines. Vintage or retro is in - retro styles from the mid-'30s in Hollywood and mid-'40s - even in the names of the dresses. Matthew Christopher has one named 'Hollywood,'" he said.
Strapless gowns are still popular with today's brides, but Willenberg is getting bored with the straight-across slash of bodice. So what you'll see at Panache are strapless looks but with something to change the line, such as a bit of organza peeking out or off-the-shoulder straps. Some trend watchers say that bridal silhouettes are moving away from the austere, minimalist look and getting softer with a little more embellishment such as beading, a specialty of Packham. Her simple "Honey Bee" gown at Panache features an intricately beaded design in sequins, bugle beads and pearls on a tulle overlay.
Ivory or off-white are still the colors of choice. "Blinding white is not that popular," Robinson said. "If the wedding's outdoors in the sun, you'll have everyone diving for cover."
There are literally thousands of bridal gowns on the market, so how does a bride choose her dream dress?
"Most come in with some idea of what they want, but 50 percent of the time they say, 'Oh noooo,' when they actually try it on," Robinson said. "Our goal is to narrow it down to 10 dresses."
Things to consider in choosing a gown: the level of formality of the wedding, the time of day, the location (indoors or outdoors) and, of course, the season.
And because the gown is captured for perpetuity in a wedding album, the bride might want something that has a timeless quality (the elegantly classic designs of Adele Wechsler fill this niche).
"Every dress has its ideal shape," Robinson said. The goal is to match the shape of the bride with that perfect dress.
Many brides invite family and friends along to offer feedback when shopping for a wedding dress, a standard practice at bridal emporiums in the area. However, the final decision should be the bride's alone.
"The girls get to a point where they usually send a real clear signal," Willenberg said. "Like they'll look in the mirror and get tears in their eyes. We just know."
Panache offers what Robinson calls "high touch" or very personal service. "We love to assist people who've been refugees of other bridal stores."
According to him, the "biggest service challenge" is dressing the bridal party. "Sometimes you have six to eight hostile attendants" who might not like the dress or the color or the price. "Brides try to pick dresses that the girls can wear again, but how often does that happen?"
One option is to have the bridesmaids choose two-piece dresses with silhouettes that fit their bodies. They should be from the same designer so that fabric and color match. However, Robinson said this new trend hasn't proved popular with their brides.
The Los Altos store is the second Panache Bridal, the first one having opened in Redondo Beach last year. "We wanted to open them simultaneously, but we didn't have a Los Altos location," Wellenberg said. Then in July they attended the Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival and decided on the Main Street site.
"Redondo is a Los Altos on the beach," Robinson said. "We've learned a lot from the first store that we're applying here."
"We'll be good for Los Altos, because there are jewelers, photographers, a cake store, and now a full-service bridal salon."
Though the "grand opening" has yet to take place, nine trunk shows are scheduled through June. The February schedule features, in order, Matthew Christopher, Marianne Lanting and Adele Wechsler. Appointments are required.
Joining the bridesmaids dresses on the rack this week is a collection from Vera Wang. The shop also carries shoes, jewelry and other accessories for the bridal party. A hot jewelry item for the bride is a lariat necklace which is looped in back to add interest. Chandelier earrings are also popular.
How did Willenberg and Robinson get into the bridal business? "We build and operate Web sites that sell things," Robinson explained. "A bridal store was one of our clients, and we learned a lot about the business."
When Willenberg decided to open Panache, she wanted it to be more high-end so that she wouldn't be competing with the Web. After all, panache is what it's all about.
For more information about trunk shows and services, visit www.panachebridal.com.