The newly opened Willow Bride is a master class in breathtaking simplicity. The dresses hang like fine art on bare black walls over hardwood floors. Natural light streams in through the front bay windows, bouncing off every crystal in the room. When the space, located directly above Caron Gallery in downtown Tupelo, became available, Elizabeth Rose knew it was time for her to open her own store.
“I had grown up in retail,” she said. “My mother actually had the Christmas store that was where Caron Gallery and Farmhouse are now. It was The Holiday Shop.”
Most of her adult life had been spent in retail, too. Rose had worked for Reed’s Department Store in various positions for nearly twenty years when she set out on her own to open Willow Bride.
In the spring of 2015, Rose’s aunt-turned-business partner Tammy Tallent had approached her with the idea of opening a bridal boutique on wheels in Nashville, Tenn. She agreed to accompany her to market in Los Angeles, simply as a “voice of reason,” but while there, a seed of inspiration was planted.
“I don’t know anybody that could go to a bridal market—unless you’re just not at all into the bridal world or fashion—that could resist the temptation and charm. So, we got caught up in all of it,” Rose said.
It was too soon to buy dresses, but they decided to attend New York market a few weeks later. When Rose got sick and had to cancel her trip, Tallent attended alone and purchased Willow Bride’s first three lines. In November, she pitched a second bridal shop in Tupelo that would be operated by Rose.
“Tupelo didn’t have a small, intimate boutique with different styles and different dresses that caters to a one-on-one approach with a bride,” Rose said.
The build-out began in December and Willow Bride officially opened in June, carrying only a handful of carefully selected lines. Dresses by Hayley Paige, Sareh Nouri, Theia, Daalarna and Claire Pettibone, to name a few, hang along the black walls. Every style is represented, from southern and lace-clad to bohemian to simple sheaths. Rose also carries a couple of lingerie lines for the “big day” or bachelorette gifts.
What Rose hopes will separate Willow from other bridal shops is the atmosphere. The store operates primarily by appointment, with hours available for casual browsing. Because of their dedication to providing a truly bride-centered approach, they only have one dressing room and do not carry dresses for bridesmaids.
“The dress is a very emotional and practical purchase. It is one of the first things most girls start thinking about, and many dream about way before the engagement actually happens. It’s also very practical, though, in the fact that you have got to have a dress,” Rose said.
“We wanted to offer an intimate experience in which you really could come in, try on dresses, try on different styles, see what looks great on your body, see what you feel comfortable in and make a decision that is both emotional and practical. You don’t have to feel rushed or worry about other people looking at you. It’s a special experience where it’s just the bride and wedding party and myself. It’s a celebration.”
Willow Bride is currently comprised of three stores, the ones in Nashville and Tupelo, and an additional salon in Whitefish, Mont. The store out west seems like an outlier, but it was actually the original Willow Bride and part of the inspiration for the other two businesses.
Montana native Cara Lard had founded the business as a one-stop-shop for brides, especially those planning destination weddings. Tallent, who has a home in Whitefish, was offered a chance to purchase the business when Lard relocated to Seattle, Wa. Willow Bride – Whitefish has been scaled back to a bridal boutique only, but Lard’s vision for the business lives on under the leadership of Rose and Tallent.
“We call Willow our midlife crisis, but it’s been a good leap of faith, though,” she said. “We all had a physical, emotional vested interested in this space and when it came open, I knew it was time.”
Story by Carmen Cristo // Photos by Lauren Wood