The term “bride” and “wedding” often brings up images that some of us just don’t relate to. Sometimes weddings can feel so hijacked by one aesthetic that it just seems like it would be easier to elope than have to try to navigate our personal style within the narrow stretch of limited decor and dress options. This is exactly what Emily Milardo and Sarah Frood, founders of Union Bridal, felt when they went dress shopping for their own weddings. It was impossible for them to find styles that fit their cool, laid-back Pacific Northwest vibe. So they started Union, to provide just that—contemporary and unique gowns for the carefree, stylish and non-traditional bride. We wanted to find out more about their new store in Vancouver.

What is the vibe you wanted to create at Union?
Sarah: We wanted to create a space that would be beautifully minimal, and would be relaxed and comfortable for brides and their entourage – basically your coolest girlfriend’s apartment. It is important to us to make the dress shopping experience fun and laid back, in what can feel like a stressful or intimidating process. You’d be surprised by how many brides come to their appointment extremely nervous about trying on dresses!

We are all about style when it comes to finding a wedding dress, but we also don’t take ourselves too seriously – we believe in creating an amazing and unforgettable experience for our clients.

What makes the designers and dresses you select unique?
Sarah: When we initially started dreaming up ‘Union Bridal’, we knew that we wanted to offer something completely different from what was available in our market – something different than the strapless, sweetheart, cupcake gown. We carefully chose designers from around the world that reflected the aesthetic and values of the modern West Coast bride: Laid back, romantic, fashion-forward, and incredibly well crafted.

Emily: Our collection spans from modern to ethereal to bohemian, ensuring that each bride has the opportunity to find something expressively her own. All of our designers are exclusive to our studio in Vancouver, and often hard to find across Canada in general.

What is something that you saw that was lacking in mainstream boutiques and brands?
Emily: We both went through the wedding dress shopping experience, and couldn’t find a boutique that spoke to our individual styles. While everything from the gowns to the experience felt cookie cutter and filled with pressure and expectation, we noticed that the bridal industry outside of Vancouver was moving in a different direction, and we wanted to be a part of it.

Sarah: We wanted to create a store that would speak to our kind of bride – a woman who’s looking for a beautiful gown that pushes the bridal boundaries, in an intimate and comfortable setting with the people she loves most. And maybe some champagne and a dance party to go with.

How much of the wedding budget should be spent on the dress?
Emily: They say that a bride should allocate 10% of her wedding budget for the dress, but we say, figure out a number you’re comfortable with, and stick to your guns. At the end of the day, couples should prioritize what’s important to them, be it a live band or a taco truck, and this shouldn’t be compromised due to the dress. But hey, if you have a generous budget, then go wild.

Is there something that you advise your clients to do before coming in or is it easier for the selection process if they come with blank slate?
Sarah: We try to get to know our brides before their appointment –  their style, their wedding vision and their favorite designers, so we can get a sense of the type of gowns they’ll be interested in.

It’s definitely helpful for a bride to know her wedding date and venue before starting the search for a gown, this can have such a huge impact on what kind of gown she’ll be looking for. But really, we love a bride who comes in for a fitting with an open-mind and a unique point of view, since sometimes she’ll fall in love with a gown that she never thought she’d try in the first place.  

How do you help your clients when they feel like they haven’t yet found the right dress?
Emily: Brides often put a lot of pressure on their wedding look and can start to overthink it, especially if they are getting a lot of opinions from friends and family. We’re not here to pressure women into a gown that they might not be totally in love with – so when a bride is having a hard time deciding, we really just try to listen and understand what’s important to her, provide her with all the information we can, and encourage her to trust her gut. Ultimately it comes down to the dress that makes a bride feel the most amazing, and the gown that gives her goosebumps when she thinks about her fiance seeing her in it for the first time on their wedding day.

What timeline do you advise for dress shopping?
Sarah: We recommend starting the search about one year to nine months in advance, and then ordering about eight months before the big day. This gives time for the gown to be made, delivered, and tailored to fit perfectly. That being said, gowns can absolutely be ordered in a shorter time frame, but a bride may have to compromise on certain designs, or pay an additional fee for the rush order.

How much can be altered or redesigned?
Emily: Depending on the request, most of our designers are fairly open to special requests and customizations, as long as they don’t compromise the integrity of the gown. We’ve had clients add sleeves, change necklines, and lower backs. These kinds of changes do require extra time and additional cost, though, so it’s good to be prepared for that.

If you are in the area and have an upcoming wedding, check out Union Bridal on 207 West Hastings Street, Vancouver.