Wedding Whisperer

April 2018 View more

Bridal boutiques are a constant subject in Hallmark Channel romantic comedies and reality TV shows like “Say Yes to the Dress,” but outfitting wedding parties isn’t all tears and ruffles, as one local shop owner can attest. Naperville magazine recently spoke with Camille Connolly, owner of Francia Bridal and Formal Wear Boutique in Downers Grove, to discuss how bridal fashions have changed over the more than forty years she’s been in the business. (And see our feature “The Evolution of the Modern Wedding” on p. 82 for more).

Tell me about your shop. How did you get into the bridal industry?
The business was started in 1945 by my mother, Emilie Francia. She was a designer and did all custom-made gowns and ballgowns. The original shop was at 51st and Ashland Avenue in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. I was a physical education teacher for several years, but went into the business part-time after my first daughter was born, and never left. After my mom passed away in 1969, my twin sister was my partner until she moved to Florida. We moved the shop from the Back of the Yards to Berwyn from 1971 to 1997, then to Hinsdale for about 19 years. We’ve been in our current location in Downers Grove since 2016.

We are a full-service boutique that offers bridal gowns, bridesmaids’ dresses, mother-of -the-bride gowns, flower girl dresses, veils, shoes, accessories and tuxedo rentals. We also do wedding gown preservation. I have personally restyled numerous family bridal gowns for daughters to wear on their wedding days. Right now, I’m redesigning two bridal veils that were worn years ago. The hardest part is getting fabric to match. Some of our customers are second- and even third-generation Francia brides.

How have bridal fashions changed since you’ve been in the industry?
Styles have changed drastically over the years. The ’70s and ’80s brought high necklines and long sleeves. Then came the wave of strapless wedding gowns and even black bridesmaids dresses—girls loved them and jumped on the bandwagon. As fashion progressed, the strapless look kind of faded, but it’s still out there. Gowns now feature beaded straps, keyhole backs and fit and flare skirt silhouettes. Shorter-length bridesmaids dresses used to be more popular, but styles seem to be going back to floor-length gowns.

What are some of the hottest trends?
Colors are all over the board. Ivory, cameo, petal pink and all soft hues were popular last season. Brides are now going for deeper colors like burgundy and wine for their bridal parties. Purple has died out very quickly. Navy blue tuxedos worn with Oxford shoes are the hottest trend for men. I love that look.

Wedding trends change so quickly, but overall I’m old school. I like the bridesmaids’ dresses to match. Some brides are having their attendants select different styles of dresses, but in the same color or fabric. It works, if it’s done correctly and the styles blend. You have to look at the overall picture.

Have you seen many “Say Yes to the Dress” moments, when a bride sees herself for the first time in her dream dress and starts crying?
I don’t see brides cry a lot—more often than not, it’s their mothers.

Do you have any advice for brides regarding choosing the right dress?
Brides should shop with open minds. Researching dress styles on the internet can be both good and bad. It should serve just as a guideline. Brides definitely should not bring a huge gang of people with them when they try on dresses. Everyone will offer their opinions, which confuses and frustrates brides.