Unforgettable: Vintage Bridal Gowns

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When I first met Rae and Hannah, I ended up as their Saturday girl, sitting on a stall with them at A Most Curious Vintage Wedding Fair.  Three hours went by like seconds.  As well as being warm, lovely and the kind of women you’d travel across the country to eat cake with, what Rae and Hannah do is extraordinary, a perfect match for AOW readers, and I am so delighted to be able to tell you all about it.

Unforgettable is an original vintage bridal boutique based just outside of Leamington Spa.  They stock an ever-changing collection of handpicked beautiful vintage and antique bridal gowns.  (And readers?  I have seen them.  They are history and stories and love all wrapped up in dresses that make you catch your breath).  They also have the mostexquisite vintage wedding veils, tiaras and even garters.    Rae and Hannah offer private two-hour appointments for brides (and their friends and families) to come and experience the collection.

In Rae’s own words: “It’s like playing really, really amazing dress up.” 

All images (except the second) by the gloriously talented Lucy Stendall

Rae and Hannah haven’t always done this; in fact by day they so something entirely different.  I wanted to know how Unforgettable came about. I asked Rae and it’s quite a story.

“By day I’m a writer in an advertising agency, I was working in Paris when Hannah, my sister and co founder of Unforgettable, decided to get married.  Hannah wanted a vintage dress.  This was 6 years ago, so it was almost impossible to find any bridal boutiques that stocked what she was looking for. 

So I’d shop the Parisian brocantes and flea markets picking up frothy lace and slippery satin antique gowns.  And then bring them back for her to peruse.

It kind of became a bit of a habit.  Even after she got married. We ended up kind of collecting.

And if a friend was getting married, they’d come over to try on a dress or eight.  Then friends of friends would ask.  Then friends of friends of friends. 

 So, about a year ago we decided to go public, and we did our first vintage wedding fair.  We were really nervous but it was brilliant.  Everyone was lovely. So we did another and another. 

Brides began asking if they could come and see us.  And at that time we had our collection in a back bedroom.  Hannah was renovating her huge old Georgian mansion so we converted the attic into our bridal boutique and started offering appointments.  And now we are booked up about 6 weeks in advance. 

The rest, as they say, is history.”

One of the questions Rae and Hannah get asked the most is where they get their dresses.  The first rule of Unforgettable?  Never give away the old ladies.  Over the years, they have built a network (mafia) of old ladies from whom they get their dresses.  That way, Rae and Hannah get the story of the dress and sometimes a photo of the original bride in the original dress.

Can you imagine being privileged enough to know from where and from whom your dress came, and the stories that lie with it?

As Rae says, “Wedding dresses are treasured for years.  Wrapped in tissue paper and squirreled away in attics or the back of wardrobes.  Loved and cherished over the years. 

Being able to share their stories, their histories and let them walk down the aisle and have their moment in the sun again is a pleasure and a privilege.”

Right in the middle of this profound love and respect for the dresses and dedication to their brides-to-be lies Unforgettable.  I wanted to find out what drives Hannah and Rae to do what they do.  And the secret lies in the name.   They call themselves Unforgettable for two reasons:  “Firstly, every single one of our handpicked dresses is too special to be left at the back of someone’s wardrobe.  They need to be admired again.   And secondly, it’s how we want our brides to feel.  It’s how every bride should feel.”  Rae told me that the experience of buying a wedding dress should never be a compromise – and she’s right.  I know many AOW readers have had to settle for second best.  Why do we do that?  Why should we?

When Hannah was shopping for her dress, the experience wasn’t the Hollywood dream.  It varied from a hard sell to total disinterest from the bridal shops and staff.  With Unforgettable, Rae and Hannah wanted to create a little haven, complete with cups of tea (in a vintage china teacup of course) and a slice of cake or three.  Where the attention is on the bride, the way it should be.

A place where the mums can relax on the sofa and the bridesmaids can get involved.  Or visa versa.

A place where’s there’s no pressure to buy, just a chance to discover and experience the dresses.  To find out what takes someone’s breath away.

A place where, when the bride finds the dress and everyone (Rae and Hannah included) bursts into tears, there’s tissues, hugs and more tea on hand.

From spending time with Hannah and Rae, I can vouch for the extraordinary  time, care and attention they give their brides.  Officially, Rae handles the marketing and branding, and Hannah the customer facing sales, but until you’ve seen Rae leap off out of her seat to help a bride-to-be with an original 50s veil, you realise that roles don’t really do their teamwork justice; they’re both extraordinarily talented and passionate about what they do.  “We want you to find the right dress.  But we also want the dresses to find the right bride”, says Rae.  That’s so true.  Rae told me how excited it makes them to hear the stories of each and every bride that comes through their doors.  They want to make dress shopping the experience it deserves to be.

So, readers.  This, to me, is what shopping for a wedding dress should be.  No rush, no compromise.  No digs about your body shape, (they have a seamstress), no worry.  Just joy, stories, history, and time spent on you and only you.  If you are looking for a vintage bridal dress, or even if you are just curious to find out more, I simply couldn’t recommend two more perfect women than Rae and Hannah for the job.

And when you find your dress?  Tell us about it, readers, please.

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7 interesting thoughts on this

7 Comments

  1. Posted April 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Lovely! Have you read the Queen of Babble series by Meg Cabot? It’s extreme chick-lit but the heroine opens a vintage bridal restoration salon and it’s great fun reading about her experiences — the fast food of reading!

  2. Posted April 23, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Eeep, I got my dress from Unforgettable! Well, two dresses, but that’s a whole other story…

    I found them via my wedding photographer, the Amazing Lucy Stendall. It’s such a lovely place to go, wandering up through the old house to the attic room, all dusky colours and wonky walls. I was really nervous, with all those usual body hang-ups, but left feeling absolutely amazing and super-joyful, with a little lump in my throat. Rae and Hannah have the most beautiful dresses, at amazing prices, which is pretty much why I came away with two of them! I love that Hannah loves their dresses so much, but she’s ok with helping you/squeezing you in and out of them even though you think you might pop something.

    Oh, and if you buy a dress, they will give you a little sixpence in an envelope which is closed with a wax seal. Take that, ‘normal’ bridal shops! Well, I’ve never been to a normal bridal shop, but I’m guessing…

    I’m due to go back for fittings with the seamstress, but also to try on some of the accessories (Mary Quant garters, headpieces and stoles, brooches…) and have a bit of a twirl and a play with pretty things. It’s that kind of place. Sigh.

    • Posted April 23, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Lucy, that must win the award for Most Exciting Comment Ever…

      I was totally blown away by Rae and Hannah’s dresses and goods. Seeing them in the attic room must be a whole other ballgame! x

    • Posted April 23, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      I did not know about the wax seal part! Gah! My fan girl love for Hannah and Rae has escalated.

      And reading this Lucy, makes me so so happy. You got the shopping experience every bride deserves…cake, tea, hugs, a historic boutique, the dress that will make you a bride *and* a silver sixpence. I’m also willing to bet you had a good laugh as well (I know these girls) Is there more that a girl could want for?

  3. Posted April 23, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    WOW! I want to go now and just dive into all those beautiful frocks!

  4. Posted April 23, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    I now officially need one of my friends to get engaged so I can frog march them down there straight away! It sounds heavenly…
    x

  5. Rach M
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Utterly want to go!

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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image by Lucy Stendall Photography

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