Crystal Lu, Executive Assistant and second generation member of the Casablanca Bridal family, participated in VOWS Q&A series on the state of the industry, outlining the steps Casablanca continues to take to support its stores and offering optimism for the future.

VOWS: How would you describe the impact Covid-19 is having on bridal design?

Crystal Lu: Typical trend-spotting for the upcoming season has proven to be a challenge with the unpredictability and uncertainty brought by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Fittingly, the bridal trends we’ve seen so far for 2021 cover a wide range of style and celebration preferences. Of course, we’ve seen many couples scaling back on their nuptials with intimate micro weddings, focusing more on the commitment they're about to make and prioritizing close family and friends for the event.

However, these intimate celebrations have actually given couples the unique ability to splurge on certain elements of their wedding that they previously would not have been able to with a larger guestlist. Therefore, we currently see two types of brides emerging from the impact of COVID-19: the bride who wants to simplify their look with a clean, chic minimal wedding dress and the bride who can’t wait to dress up with an extravagant wedding day look, maybe even two!

COVID brides right now are looking for simplistic gowns to reflect the current sentiment that they just want to be able to make their vows and are grateful to even be able tobut the feeling of growing anticipation from more delayed weddings will bring on an even bigger reason to celebrate and brides will need an equally celebratory wedding dress to match the occasion.

VOWS: What trends have you identified, and are addressing in Casablanca's 2021 collections?

Crystal Lu: This generation values being able to personalize their wedding so that it can accurately reflect their personality as a couple. The current global landscape has really forced brides now more than ever to focus and prioritize on what will make them feel truly special. We believe this trend of individuality will grow to become distinctly prominent, requiring more customizations out of their wedding fashion attire.

With Casablanca Bridal, they don’t have to look any further! Having our own manufacturing facility gives us the unique ability to allow brides to create completely customized gowns to allow their personal styles to shine through. We’re not talking about just adding sleeves or lengthening the train. We have had brides who have four different dresses that they love different elements of and will work with their stylist to combine all of their favorite elements to create a whole new custom gown that no one else in the entire world has!

An ongoing trend we’ve definitely seen for a few bridal seasons now is minimalismeven before COVID existed. It makes complete sense for brides to opt for clean, minimalistic designs to complement their micro wedding or intimate outdoor ceremony. This is a huge pivot for Casablanca Bridal because we pride ourselves in all our embellished hand-beaded details and exquisite laces. However, simple does not have to mean plain. We will continue to deliver exquisite embellishments, but in a more mindful manner, focusing on intricate details and luxe fabrics with unique finishing touches to match the intimacy of these more personal weddings.

We will not only be introducing these new minimalistic pieces into our upcoming collections, but will also continue to incorporate embroidery and embellishment this next season. It just feels really bright and optimistic, adding a celebratory touch to the overall collection which is something we think brides really need right now.

Our romantic Casablanca Bridal wedding dresses flaunt the most irresistibly detailed 3D floral lace appliqués, soft velvet touches, and ornate hand-beaded details while Beloved by Casablanca Bridal will have light and airy minimalistic boho designs. Versatility in our pieces is also an absolute must as brides are constantly pivoting their wedding plans. This means we’ve incorporated various detachable pieces such as a wide range of gorgeous sleeves, delicate skirts, and even capes to offer brides multiple looks in one for their special day.

It may not be for everyone, but we’re also thrilled to be offering matching bridal masks for any bride that wants a mask to match their gown. We’ve always been able to create matching veils for all of our gowns since we do have our own manufacturing facility providing us with the capability to offer any sort of customizations. Therefore, if you have a bride who needs a mask for their wedding, we can make a beautiful one out of any fabric or lace applique that matches their gown perfectly.

VOWS: What aspects of today's bridal, prom and special occasion customer should store owners be particularly aware of?

Crystal Lu: The most critical areas for our industry to concentrate on right now is to offer a safe in-store shopping experience. Unfortunately, this pandemic is not going to dissolve in the immediate or near future; therefore, investing in the proper safety measures would be beneficial to continue the operations of your store so that your brides feel confident and secure about their shopping experience with you. Many of the brides coming in-store right now also have quick wear dates or nuptial ceremonies, so stores should be equipped with on hand inventory/hanging stock.

We believe store owners should continue to offer a try on and return program for wedding dresses. Although restrictions have alleviated for now, it would be beneficial for retailers to have this program developed as a strategic back-up plan in case mandated shut-downs are reinforced in the future. This program should include virtual styling appointment options as well to provide brides with the same experience they would have in-store.

Even if you’re not offering at-home try on programs online, embracing technology is still pivotal to the success of any retailer trying to survive this pandemic. Store owners should consider updating their web platforms so that they are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also user friendly so brides can easily find all styles of dresses from your store online or even book an appointment. This generation of brides is used to being able to do everything with the touch of button whether it be ordering food to their doorsteps, making a restaurant reservation, or even planning their entire wedding. Since COVID has also limited the number of guests allowed to attend fittings, having an updated web platform makes it easier for brides to share their wedding dress options with the rest of their bridal party.

VOWS: How has Covid-19 impacted the operation side of Casablanca... and what's your strategy for dealing with a potential long term disruption?

Crystal Lu: Our factory is located in mainland China, however we fortunately were not as negatively affected by COVID unlike some other manufacturers in the country. The location of our facility was isolated from the epicenter of the virus breakout and our strong relationship with the governor of our province allowed us to return to work earlier than most right after Chinese New Year on February 10th. We had local officials help us implement the best health practices to abide by strict COVID regulations and are thankful to have recorded zero cases to date.

The biggest challenge we’ve faced is managing the disruption of our supply chain as the global economy faced a major supply shock after the pandemic hit. There was a brief period of time where our manufacturing facility was prepared to make gowns, however some of our suppliers could not deliver laces or other raw materials in a timely manner due to COVID restrictions, ultimately affecting our production. As a result, we are reducing even eliminating our dependence on some sources and suppliers that are perceived as risky.

In the midst of the pandemic, we were also affected by the influx of essential goods being shipped and prioritized. Stores were forced to stay closed due to COVID regulations, preventing them from even receiving packages. We didn’t want our stores to panic about brides that had already placed an order, so we worked with our shipping carrier to ship orders directly to brides under strict terms. In preparation for the future, we have partnered with numerous alternative shipping carriers to ensure all of our products will be shipped on time.

VOWS: What do you see as the most critical areas for our industry to concentrate on for today... and long term?

Crystal Lu: With the circumstances of the world changing daily, we as an industry need to efficiently lean in and understand the pulse of what is happening on a daily basis. It is so important for all of us to be flexible, work with one another as a team and protect our industry from any long-term disruption. Designers & Manufactures truly need to keep open communication with their stores, as they have their finger on the pulse of what all brides’ immediate needs are. I think it is our duty as designers to provide our retailers with programs, financial support and resources to ensure they are as successful as possible during these unprecedented times. As an industry, we shouldn't just keep up with change, we need to keep ahead of it!

VOWS: How has Casablanca responded to this pandemic-caused disruption... and will these programs extend into 2021?

Crystal Lu: This pandemic-caused disruption has forced us to innovate and adapt to the new normal. We have pivoted our business strategy by continuing to deliver personal experiences, embracing technology, and offering financial aid to our customers in the face of the pandemic, including our Q4 Margin Builder Program, VIP & Regional Pop-up Shows,Virtual Fashion Shows & Showrooms with 360 Photography, CASA C.A.R.E.S. Financial Assistance Program, Assist Cash Flow and Extended Terms.

VOWS: What is your forecast for the bridal and formal industry for Spring 2021 and beyond?

Crystal Lu: The entire world sort of froze for a moment as everyone anxiously waited to see what the future might hold. As nationwide and global restrictions were enforced, couples held off on all their plans to wait a month... two months...then finally three months before finally realizing that this pandemic may last longer than what they bargained for. Thankfully, weddings are not being cancelled, but simply postponed for the future.

Couples are still falling in love, getting engaged, and wanting to be married. It may not be exactly what they originally planned for their special day, however couples are still wanting to take their vows during the pandemic and we might even see an uptick in weddings/celebrations as newly-weds plan on celebrating again on a larger scale once restrictions are fully lifted.

We recently received insight that experts in the jewelry industry are noticing a huge spike in engagement ring sales. We speculate couples cohabiting during the pandemic have contributed to this surge of engagements due to the fact they have been quarantining together now for 8+ months. With this trend, we will not only see a spike in weddings for 2021 due to postponement, but an entire new group of engaged brides starting their search for a wedding dress.

VOWS: Do you think there are positive aspects for our industry that have come about due to COVID-19...and if so, what are they?

Crystal Lu: We believe the bridal industry has always struggled to incorporate technology mainly because its roots are deeply embedded in tradition, making it remarkably resistant to change. However, this pandemic has forced Retailers to creatively pivot their business strategies and make a significant shift towards entering the digital space. We hope that this learning experience will encourage Retailers to continue to embrace technology by incorporating it more into their in-store service and updating their web platforms to be user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing because the future generation of brides will not only want, but will demand that level of service in order to compete with eCommerce platforms.