Old church becomes one-stop bridal shop

Built in 1828 to the designs of Sir John Soane to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon, Number One Marylebone in London has been used as offices and a venue for fashion shows.
Built in 1828 to the designs of Sir John Soane to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon, Number One Marylebone in London has been used as offices and a venue for fashion shows.PHOTO: ONE MARYLEBONE/FACEBOOK

LONDON • A different bell - the wedding one - is ringing in a building that once housed a church.

With its grand Ionic portico and belfry tower, Number One Marylebone is an imposing structure.

The former Holy Trinity Church, just across the road from Regent's Park in the heart of London, was built in 1828 to the designs of Sir John Soane to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon.

Now, however, its purpose is being redesigned to cash in on the fast-growing business of wedding celebrations.

The grand building, which has also been used as offices and, more recently, as a venue for fashion shows, will reopen at the end of this month as Britain's first dedicated wedding department store.

It will be a one-stop shop the size of a supermarket, selling everything from tiaras to cake toppers.

Weddings are a big and growing business.

Our plan is to take all the sweat out of it - turn the process into something that's a pleasure, not a torture.

MR GEORGE HAMMER on Wedding Gallery, which will open at the site of Number One Marylebone and the former Holy Trinity Church

According to wedding planning website Hitched, which surveyed 4,000 couples, the cost of the average wedding is now £27,000 (S$48,500).

It is almost double the amount from four years ago, with venue hire, honeymoon and food soaking up the most cash.

Growth is also being fuelled by record numbers of people aged over 45 - especially pensioners - tying the knot.

Aside from the usual paraphernalia - dresses, top hats and tails - shoppers at the 20,000 sq ft Wedding Gallery will be able to book photographers and flowers as well as order wedding stationery.

It will also offer cakes and catering, with an on-site kitchen for taste tests, and an insurance package in case one partner has a last-minute change of heart.

DJs and speechwriters are on hand and there is a room called the "hub" where couples can put on headphones and watch wedding singers and bands on a big screen.

If they like what they see and hear, they can then book the musicians.

Couples who fall in love with the shop can even hold their ceremony there because it is attached to a 400-capacity wedding venue.

Mr George Hammer, a veteran beauty and retail entrepreneur, reckons his one-stop shop will take the hassle out of wedding planning. "Our plan is to take all the sweat out of it - turn the process into something that's a pleasure, not a torture," he said.

Mr Hammer, who founded the Urban Retreat beauty salon business, has invested "several millions" in the store, but acknowledged that it is a new venture and a risk.

"It's not like we can look at what (department stores) Harvey Nichols, Harrods or John Lewis are doing. There's no benchmark for this kind of business," he said.

The store certainly is not going to be a cheap excursion. The dresses start at £800 for a Needle & Thread gown and go up to more than £100,000 for high-end couture.

So will the customers come?

Nearby, on Oxford Street, one soon-to-be bride was finishing her wedding shopping.

"It's not like I've been trying to overspend," said the shopper known only as Hannah, a 34-year-old police detective who is getting married in December.

"But 'wedding currency' isn't like normal sterling pounds - everything just costs so much. It's crazy."

But she said a one-stop wedding department store sounded like a good idea.

GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2017, with the headline 'Old church becomes one-stop bridal shop'. Print Edition | Subscribe