THE MODERN BRIDE: A MOST EXQUISITE EXPERIENCE
WORDS & PHOTOS BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘It’s even more spectacular than I’d imagined,’ I exclaim to Jess as we ascend into the fourth storey loft. ‘Isn’t it?’, she replies with a grin. In front of us, the space is filled with hundreds of bridal gowns. Row upon row. Lustrous. Lacy. Satiny. Sheer. Playful. Elegant. Every shade of white and off-white. Absolutely gorgeous – the lot of them. And yet Jess and I aren’t focused on the dresses at all, but have our sights fixed instead on a scene set further afield.
At the far side of the loft, through a series of four massive floor-to-ceiling windows, we see Guelph’s majestic Church Of Our Lady rising into the sky out of an eclecticn array of rooftops – effectively punctuating the downtown cityscape with its iconic twintower facade. ‘The moment my business partner [and mom], Donna, and I first took in this view,’ Jess remarks while we both stare in awe, ‘We knew we’d found our business’ forever home.’
From our vantage point – here, on the top floor of The Modern Bride, which inhabits the top two storeys of Guelph’s historic Petrie Building – it seems as though our gaze meets the familiar basilica at its own level, eye to eye. When I ask Jess how this can be, she’s quick to answer: ‘When A. B. Petrie had this building constructed in the late-nineteenth century, he made sure that, besides the basilica, the building that would house his pharmaceutical business would be the tallest building in Guelph. So,’ she adds, ‘even though there have been taller structures erected downtown over the past century, the Petrie Building remains tallest between here and the church.’
Hence this stunning, singular view. From this marvelous, exceptional vantage point.
It’s a remarkable story, really – how The Modern Bride has become the region’s eminent bridal boutique. A boutique that draws folks from across North America – and as far away as Europe – to find the perfect dress. And the perfect experience, too. And it’s a story with which I’m somewhat familiar, having written about the business when it first opened, a handful of years ago, in a small shop on Carden Street just opposite Guelph’s City Hall. That boutique quickly grew an ardent following of soon-to-be brides who came to expect not only great gowns but also phenomenal client experience – from Jess, Donna, and their proficient team.
‘Girls have always sought us out not only to find the dress of their dreams, but also for an incredible experience,’ Donna tells me. ‘We understand that future brides go gown shopping for much more than just the gown. They bring moms and families and friends and entire parties because they want to share in the experience of it all.’ Jess can’t resist adding: ‘And we know experience.’ Indeed, they do.
It wasn’t long before Jess and Donna outgrew that original space on Carden Street – all seven hundred feet of it. And so this mother and daughter began searching for something with more room. And with more character. ‘When we started looking for a larger space,’ Jess remarks, ‘I knew exactly what I wanted – a jaw-droppingly gorgeous historic space that you might expect to find in Paris, or New York City. But not – at least as far as I knew it at the time – in Guelph.’ And yet Jess and Donna knew they wanted to stay put – in the Royal City. Jess had gone to university here. They both bought houses here. Jess worked downtown for years. And they both loved everything about the place – from the rivers and parks to the downtown shops, restaurants, and picturesque neighbourhoods.
And so it was by sheer chance that one day Jess and Donna stumbled across a leasing opportunity at The Petrie Building – which was at the time being restored by Guelph developer Kirk Roberts and his partner, Peregrine, who focus on restoration and re-adaptive projects. (Some of Kirk and Peregrine’s other historic properties around downtown Guelph include The Granary Building on Farquhar Street and Boarding House Arts on Waterloo Ave.)
‘We were literally on our way to view another potential space,’ Donna recalls, ‘when we ran into Kirk walking out from under the scaffolding that had been put up as part of the façade restoration effort.’ She continues: ‘We asked about the building, he brought us inside for a tour, and the rest, well, is history.’ The result of this tour: that Jess and Donna would take over the third and fourth floors of this iconic landmark. ‘At the time,’ notes Donna, ‘the entire building had fallen to shambles. The inside was all graffiti and broken glass and holes in walls and worn floors. But,’ she adds, ‘we immediately saw the potential.’ Potential that anyone who walks into the business’ third-floor entrance will intuitively understand.
The place is simply mesmerizing.
Like some sort of hidden treasure in Guelph’s downtown core, the interior of both the third and fourth floors literally seems to glow. Massive windows (whose iconic shapes can – and should – be studied and enjoyed from outside the building, too) light up each floor. And the tall ceilings – fifteen feet on the third storey (with original restored crown moulding) and eighteen-foot ceilings on the fourth – are accented with elegant chandeliers. The beautifully-curated antique side tables and modern sweeping couches and fantastic mirrors add layers of elegance and comfort. And the walls – stark white and unadorned – allow all the other features – most notably the sartorial and the human – to announce themselves. As Donna remarks: ‘We deliberately don’t hang pictures on any of our walls because here, in this place, we want the brides – and their gowns – to shine as the only exquisite artwork in the place.’
And the space is rarely unoccupied. Indeed, The Modern Bride regularly hosts three appointments at a time – and up to eighteen appointments each day of the weekend. While the business is closed on Mondays (because even superheroes need breaks), the other six days of the week are booked fairly solid. ‘And even in this larger space – which spans thirty-six hundred square feet – our client experience is easily as good as it used to be,’ remarks Donna. ‘In fact, we dedicate more square footage per bride than we did in the old space. And with seven full-time and nine part-time staff, we dedicate more expertise, too.’
While the three of us wander through the third-storey appointment rooms (which include a splendid larger suite that can accommodate two gown fittings at once and another private suite that accommodates a single fitting), I marvel at what Jess and Donna have done.
Because here, in this fabulous building, these women have created a spectacular venue that offers, without question, opportunity for brides and their entourages to enjoy the most compelling elements of the experience that defines the modern wedding: selecting the gown. Their own dreams blend here in this place with Jess and Donna’s who have made their dream of building a business that occupies a jaw-droppingly gorgeous historic urban space a reality.