Alternative bridal shops in Vancouver—or anywhere else, for that matter—aren’t exactly 10 a penny. In fact, while attitudes towards marriage and civil partnerships have changed dramatically over the years, traditions surrounding weddings have barely shifted at all. It’s a predicament understood all too well by Emily Milardo and Sarah Frood, who opened the bespoke bridal boutique Union Bridal last November in Gastown.
“Sarah and I didn’t know each other before we started,” Milardo says. “We both got engaged and both independently started searching for wedding dresses, and we just weren’t finding what we liked in Vancouver. It wasn’t connecting with us or our style, and so we both went out of Canada to get our dresses, and through that, we discovered all of these amazing independent designers from around the world that just weren’t available here.”
To meet the pair today, you would have no idea that they aren’t childhood friends who spent days cutting and pasting mood boards and scrapbooks, dreaming of their perfect weddings. The idea for Union Bridal wasn’t even conceived together, but instead became a merging—a union, if you will—of two symmetrical concepts and business plans already put into action by each of them independently. “I found out about Sarah before she found out about me,” Milardo explains, “and I was bummed. She was further ahead in the planning stages and I was sad. It took a few months for me to reach out to her, but as soon as we met, it just made sense that we should partner.”
While Milardo was coming to terms with the business equivalent of the other woman, Frood was secretly pining for a soulmate—someone who understood the independent bridal market as well as she did, and wanted to give Vancouverites choice and quality when it came to their big day. “I was dying to have a partner in this business,” Frood exclaims. “So when we met and we got along, and our visions were the same, I was immediately like, ‘Yes! Let’s do this together. I need you.’”
And so, Union Bridal was born. Armed with a handful of dresses Frood had held onto after a successful solo pop-up shop a few months earlier, the two women began scouting premises, trying to find the perfect space to complement their intimate, low-key ethos. A small studio became available in the historic Dominion Building—known for its tight-knit creative community—and despite the rumour that it’s haunted, Milardo and Frood jumped on it. Fast-forward almost a year later, and Union Bridal has now graduated to the seventh floor of the building, to a bigger space and a brighter future.
Upon entering the boutique, it takes the strongest of wills not to drop your bag, sling your jacket to the floor, and throw yourself into racks of beautiful, bohemian gowns, elegant lace numbers, and frothy tulle ballerina skirts. The heady scent of Woodlot candles hangs in the air, and as you battle with the confines of socially acceptable shopping behaviour, a curated playlist provides the soundtrack to this intimate experience. Because Union is strictly appointment-only, there is no chance of an over-eager outsider hijacking your fitting—and you can rest easy knowing that your friends and family are having just as much fun as you are, hanging out in the charming seating area scattered with wildflowers and faux fur throws that make it feel both special and familiar.
“We see one bride at a time,” says Frood. “We wanted to start that way A, to give the bride a really intimate experience and make it feel really personal, and B, to just really get to know our customers. You learn a lot about them and their fiancés, their relationships, their families and friends, and the dynamics. It’s made our heads explode with all the learning about who our girl is.” So who is the Union Bridal girl? Mildardo jumps in: “That girl you just want to be friends with.”
Now carrying seven designers including New Zealand’s Rue de Seine and A La Robe, and Toronto-based Anais Anette, Union Bridal will add to its perfectly curated offering after the New York Bridal Market in October. There are also plans in the works to collaborate more intensely with Vancouver-based occasion wear label Park & Fifth on a collection of rehearsal and reception dresses. The end goal? To have cult French label Rime Arodaky hanging against the beautiful backdrop of downtown Vancouver. Hard to doubt that will soon be a reality.
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