Kristin London started Detroit Bridal House in her basement in 2016. She’s now moving to a space in Midtown.
By Stephanie Steinberg
Photography by Erin Kirkland
Walk down the staircase into the Detroit Bridal House, and the upbeat jams pumping on the stereo are the first indicator this is a wedding dress shopping experience unlike any other.
In the basement of the University District house, twinkling lights adorn the ceiling above a long rack of ivory gowns. A cake stand piled with sugar cookies sits next to champagne flutes and a bottle ready to be popped. “The Detroit Bridal House Welcomes [insert bride’s name] and Bride Tribe” is chalked in pastel letters on a wall. Candles flicker on tables, and comfy couches surround a coffee table spread with bridal magazines. In a corner, an elephant print drape carves a small space for a fitting room.
“I love the idea that this is just like trying on dresses with your friends in the living room. There’s something special about that,” says owner Kristin London.
The 27-year-old Detroiter started the Detroit Bridal House in September 2016. A year and a half later, she’s helped 150 brides — including myself — say yes to a dress. Brides travel from Canada, Chicago and Northern Michigan to try on the Grecian styles and silk crepe dresses. In a short time, London has turned the basement bridal startup into a successful shop, which means she’ll be moving to a new home in Midtown this spring.
Owning a wedding gown shop is something she’s wanted to do since she was a little girl, but outfitting women in lace and trains is not London’s only job.
By day, she works full-time at Wayne State University coordinating services for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. She saves her nights and weekends for two-hour dress appointments. Her schedule is jam-packed, but London loves her side gig, and says she felt a calling to do this.
“In the summer of 2015 someone asked if there were any bridal shops in the city and, at the time, there were none within the city limits,” says London, sitting on her navy couch. “Obviously, there were some in the suburbs. I had this big idea that I was going to do it.”
London’s gowns are unlike those found at dress shop behemoth’s like David’s Bridal. Her niche, she says, is “nontraditional.”
“Everything in here is one of a kind and special. You’re not going to see a lot of it. It’s chic and high fashion, but also affordable,” she says. “I think that’s really important. A lot of times we see things in magazines and fashion shows, and that’s what we want, and then it’s so expensive that we can’t afford it.”
“Then, I have My Daughters of Simone, which is really for my hippy brides,” London smiles. “It’s this classic lace. They’re two really cool sisters that design.”
She recently started carrying the London-based designer Sabina Motasem and claims she is the only retailer in America selling those gowns.
“No one in the States has Sabina’s gowns,” she says. “I’m sure that will change soon because she is doing amazing things.”
In April, London is moving to a new location in Midtown on Forest between Cass and Second. While the 1,200-square-foot space is no longer in a house, she plans to continue the homey vibe and connect with each bride.
“One of the things I really love about doing this is having one bride at a time and getting to know my brides. Each and every single person that comes in the store, I feel like we’ve made a connection,” she says. “There have been plenty of women in here that don’t buy dresses, but I’m still in contact with them.”
Kiara Hay, a 25-year-old Oak Park resident, was one of London’s first brides.
“I was looking for a certain Stella York dress and she was one of the only bridal shops near me who carried them,” says Hay, who got married on a Riviera Maya beach in Mexico Feb. 17, 2017.
Hay chose an ivory mermaid dress with a sweetheart neckline, low back and cinched belt.
“It was the last dress I tried on, and I originally wasn’t going to because I didn’t like how it looked on the hanger,” Hay says. “Kristin urged me to just try it, and I did, and I fell in love.”
Hay admits she went to other bridal shops, but they weren’t as personable.
“When it was time to pick up my dress, I invited all my friends, and she had Champagne and treats waiting for us. She had everyone go around and say a funny or personal story about me, which was special because not everyone there was able to come to my wedding,” Hay says. “It was an experience I will never forget. “
London emphasizes that choosing a wedding dress is not the biggest decision a woman will ever make, “but it’s a big decision.”
“You’re going to be in this dress and see pictures, and your kids are going to see pictures, and your grandkids are going to see pictures for let’s hope hundreds of years, and you’re choosing that here. So, I don’t want to rush that time,” she says. “Plus, I love the time I spend getting to know brides at the beginning. You don’t come right in and just start trying on.”
London sits the bride and her “tribe” at the couches and asks how her fiance proposed and their love story.
“That’s one of my favorite things to talk about: ‘How did you meet?’ Especially in this day and age, where it’s hard to meet people and technology is taking over,” London says, “and there’s not always this ‘we met at a bar’ or, ‘we met at church.’ Sometimes there’s this story like, “We met on Twitter,’ or ‘We met on Instagram,’ and there’s so much character within these stories, and I don’t want to miss out on that.”
At the end of the appointment, London captures the experience by taking a picture of the Bride Tribe holding a DBH sign. She then posts the photo on Instagram with lyrics to the bride’s favorite song. And if the bride ends up saying “yes” to a dress, London does a little happy dance.
“To me, wedding gowns are a piece of art, and I get to be that curator,” she says, “and I feel so honored every single time someone says yes.”