IN THE UNLIKELIEST OF PLACES—an old auto garage—in the definitively hip and cool Lyn-Lake Neighborhood south of downtown Minneapolis, my first-born bride-to-be daughter set her heart on finding the perfect gown for her late September wedding.
On Saturday, Amber, her sister Miranda and I arrived for our 10 a.m appointment at Andrea’s Vintage Bridal, located in an unassuming block building angled into a corner of West 26th Street and Aldrich Avenue just off arterial Lyndale Avenue.
I was expecting a Victorian venue for this vintage attire. But, instead, I found the sweet surprise of this garage transformation from grease under your nails to manicured nails, from rags to lace. I expect if I’d peeked under one of the many scattered area rugs, I may have uncovered a faint oil stain.
The mismatch of expectations and reality seems fitting for a bridal shop that rates as anything but ordinary in the wedding fashion business.
“No one in the world is doing what we do—focusing on redesign (of vintage bridal gowns),” says Nikolina Erickson-Gunther, who runs the shop with her mother, Andrea Erickson.
From pre-1920s antique to 80s glam and everything in between—sleek 30s, lacy 50s, early 60s ballroom and those oh-so-cool hip flower child late 60s and early 70s—Andrea’s continually stocks around 350 gowns for those future brides, like my daughter, who appreciate vintage and a dress that is anything but the latest trendy style. You would be hard-pressed to find a strapless gown here.
Nikolina, her mom and associates specialize in customer service that focuses as much on individualized attention as the vision of how a bridal gown can be redesigned. Because these are one-of-kind finds, brides-to-be shopping Andrea’s need the ability to envision the transformation of a pulled-from-the-rack bridal dress into the perfect gown.
Working with vintage-attired and vintage-obsessed fashionable Nikolina, it’s easy to imagine any dress customized to fit a bride’s body and style. Nikolina, who holds a degree in film and 10 years experience as a make-up artist, possesses a commanding knowledge of fashion and style that exudes confidence.
Under her tutelage, it was easy to envision sleeves and high necklines removed, lace tacked, straps added and more as Amber tried on about a half dozen dresses before finding hers, one that needs few adjustments. Because I am sworn to secrecy, I cannot share her pick. But suffice to say, she will look stunningly elegant on her wedding day.
That it should have been so easy for my girl to find “the dress” not only pleased, but surprised me. I was not expecting this.
And for someone like me, who really dislikes clothes shopping, Andrea’s offers a relaxing singular customer-focused experienced. Nikolina wasn’t darting between future brides trying to make the sale during our two-hour appointment. She settled Miranda and me onto a comfy cream-colored sofa outside a dressing room and dubbed us “the queen and princess” when I asked her to define our roles. Then she continued in her sole role of adviser and visionary to Amber.
Shopping for a bridal gown can become emotionally-charged, Nikolina says. And that perhaps is the reason her mother brings Pierre, a white poodle, to the shop. Pierre, Andrea’s unofficial therapy dog, accompanies her to her other job as a licensed counselor. Now I am not much of a dog person, but even I was drawn to the charming Pierre who mostly lounges on the floor. Nikolina advised us, if we had food in our bags, to keep them close or Pierre would rummage for the treats. I kept my purse close, having stashed several granola bars inside.
While a dog in a shop can ease tensions, so can the loving rapport between Andrea and Nikolina, evident when Andrea several times calls her daughter Pickles, a sweet childhood nickname. They work well together with Nikolina leading the gown fittings and Andrea occasionally offering input.
Nikolina returned from Boston to Minneapolis to help her mom run this organically-grown vintage bridal boutique, opened some half-dozen years ago. Andrea’s desire to offer brides an alternative wedding dress shopping venue and experience stems from her own frustrations in 2004 as a middle-aged bride-to-be seeking a gown different from what other brides were wearing. She eventually settled on a custom-made dress.
Soon thereafter, Andrea began collecting vintage wedding dresses, eventually opening Andrea’s Vintage Bridal and creating, as her daughter says, “a space that was different.”
On this Saturday morning the old auto garage at 723 West 26th Street proves the ideal venue for my bride-to-be eldest who often shops thrift stores and appreciates vintage.
It is not lost on me either that her father, my husband, works as an automotive machinist, an unexpected historical link that brings this entire vintage wedding dress shopping experience full circle for our family.
Shopping Andrea’s Vintage Bridal was simply meant to be.
FYI: Regular store hours at Andrea’s Vintage Bridal are from 2 p.m. – 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Gowns are shown by appointment. Click here to reach Andrea’s website.
© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling