Love may conquer all, but it was creativity that saved the day for brides and grooms who weren’t going to let COVID keep them from a walk down the aisle. With quarantines and social distancing canceling or at least putting a major damper on celebrations everywhere, clever Hudson Valley weddings professionals stepped up with a host of inspired and innovative ways to create memorable events amid circumstances we’d just as soon forget. From a mobile gown shop and an appointment-only showroom to a roving florist and video tutorials on DIY bouquets, these pandemic-fueled strokes of brilliance will likely pass the test of time, even with a brighter future on the horizon.
Gina Zanowski of Wappingers Falls had always wanted an old Ford truck to “goof around with and drive around in”; she also longed to leave behind an all-consuming career as a maternity sonographer in favor of running her own business. Enter 2020, a new baby, and the discovery of a 1950 Ford F-100 truck with her name all over it, tucked away in a Southern barn.
Affectionately called Georgia Blue Flower Truck, this vintage, highly Instagrammable beauty rolls up to weddings and showers with a rainbow of blooms that function as pleasing decor while serving as the bride’s “something blue” and a hotly desired backdrop for snapshots. “If you take a cute picture in front of something cute, everybody’s happy,” says Zanowski.
A clever distraction, Georgia Blue beckons partygoers out into the fresh air — away from their tables or dance-floor clusters — and in some cases, guests are given the opportunity to assemble their own bouquets under Zanowski’s expert tutelage for a highly personalized, happy-enhancing favor or gift. For added safety, she notes: “Tables are called out one at a time to prevent pileups around the truck.”
Yorktown Heights neighbors Jordan McKenzie and Alicia Nicholson were weathering the pandemic like so many others: in their backyards, on furlough from their jobs, and with a bottle of rosé and a zillion ideas on how to survive the current situation. Calling upon McKenzie’s 20-year career in fashion and Nicholson’s managerial skills in the services sector, the two moms hatched the idea of a mobile dress shop. “Le Sel Bridal offers a concierge boutique experience in the bride’s home or wherever she feels her best,” explains McKenzie, who notes that all safety protocols are followed, including a limit on the number of guests in attendance.
The experience begins with an online questionnaire, followed by a Zoom call to get to know the bride. “We ask her about her love story, what she wears on a Friday night, and why she picked the venue,” says McKenzie, “and we pull gowns based on that conversation.” They then make a house call, “looking like a moving van,” laughs Nicholson, with a rack of sample gowns (from designers like Amsale, Watters, and Rebecca Schoneveld), veils, accessories, a full-length mirror, a riser, flowers, and, of course, bubbly and snacks. When shopping and trying on are complete, McKenzie and Nicholson leave without a trace, only to return when the dress arrives so that it can be modeled in their presence.
“This is a luxury experience, but you don’t need a luxury budget,” says McKenzie, who believes the boutique-on-wheels concept is shaping up to be exactly what that wine-fueled backyard brainstorming set out to achieve: “To give this poor COVID bride the attention and whole shopping experience she deserves.”
A fashion industry veteran, Eastchester resident Maribel Diaz had been designing and selling wedding gowns and eveningwear in NYC for the past 10 years, but when the pandemic hit, she saw the need for a private, appointment-only showroom. “I didn’t want a conventional retail store,” says Diaz of Lotus Threads, the atelier-style salon she opened in early 2021 in a grand, architecturally pleasing 1920s bank building in downtown Tuckahoe. “We are bringing back the era before commercialized, ready-to-wear, fast fashion,” she explains. “We provide personalized, attentive service, reminiscent of the days when you could truly see yourself in a beautiful outfit, in an equally beautiful, positive, and fun setting without distraction or stress.”
Following an initial get-acquainted Zoom call, Diaz schedules one showroom appointment at a time (with a three-hour window in between for cleaning), offering brides, bridesmaids, and mothers of the bride a curated selection of gowns designed entirely by her. “I sit here and play with beads all day,” chuckles Diaz, who creates all embellishments by hand from recycled beads and works with environmentally friendly fabrics.
The former bank vault serves as the VIP room, where Diaz “sketches out” original designs and sips Champagne with clients who envision themselves in a custom gown. That said, she can work within any budget, with the overarching goal of providing an “experience” to all. “The clients we cater to are smart, confident, and irrepressible,” she says, “much like the resilient flower we named our company after.”
Brenda LaManna, founder and owner of White Plains’ Damselfy Direct, endured the excruciating cancellation of 142 weddings due to the pandemic. But LaManna was sympathetic to brides who might feel uncomfortable working with a florist within the confines of an indoor flower shop, so she began offering specialized boxes of fresh or dried flowers for home delivery, complete with vases and video tutorials on DIY table arrangements and bouquets. “This turned out to be very intimate and special,” says LaManna. “There’s a lot of emotion to it: a bride with her family all around her, holding a bouquet made by her sister.” Damselfly also offers live Zooms and FaceTimes on flower arranging by request, noting that such offerings serve as a fun and unique activity at bridal showers and the like. “Making this happen for people during this difficult time has filled our hearts,” says LaManna.