It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since Virgin Brides closed its doors and 21 years since the idea was born. Success is always a work in progress and it’s good to celebrate all the milestones and people that helped you along the way.
The idea for Brides was brought to us by Ailsa Petchey, who worked as cabin crew for Virgin Atlantic. I was interested and gave her five minutes to come and pitch the idea to me at our office in Holland Park.
Ailsa, who had a business degree, had put together a plan to make the experience of preparing for your wedding streamlined, glamourous and a bit more fun. She had helped her friends get married and could see the gap in the market – there were no brands in the bridal industry at the time. She had a great idea and we gave her space in the office in London to do some serious research. At the time was there was a £3bn bridal industry with 600,000 weddings a year – there were real opportunities to be had in this sector.
We launched the first Virgin Brides shop just off Trafalgar Square in London. It was the largest bridal emporium in Europe and we sold around 1,000 bridal dresses and 4,000 bridesmaid dresses a year. It had everything you could need if you were getting married – wedding dresses, bridesmaids dresses, accessories, an organiser, you name it, it was there.
Being a part of Virgin Brides was really great fun right from the beginning – and involved one of the very few times I shaved my beard off. A memory that will always stand out to me is going bare faced and donning a wedding dress (and full face of make-up) for a charity cat-walk. Ailsa put on a suit and walked me down the aisle to hundreds of cheers and wolf whistles.
Even though couples are typically getting married later now than they were 10 or 20 years ago, marriage is still a celebrated tradition – you only have to read about the excitement around Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement (congratulations to the happy couple!) to see how much people love a good wedding.
Unfortunately, after a few years, we decided to wind down Virgin Brides. The team, the service and the products were all excellent, but the cost of growing the business was not proportional to the slice of the market such an effort would attract. We had misjudged the business model, and Brides needed to scale to work for the Virgin brand.
I don’t regret a thing – it was an incredible Virgin company which helped thousands of brides have the best day of their lives. I firmly believe we should make the most of opportunities and celebrate the good times whenever we get the chance – and this was a company that embodied that spirit.