Marianna Bridal has opened its doors on Hertel, within the newly constructed 1585 Hertel Avenue building. The bridal salon joins [Sweat] Society at the location, which is looking very sharp indeed. In addition to visually strengthening the southeast corner of Parkside and Hertel, these new businesses bring their own vitality in the form of distinct services and range of clients.
Susan Christopher, who owns Marianna Bridal, is a native of Buffalo who has returned to WNY after 20 years living in Boston and Chicago respectively. She is also already engaged in the community, where she is a member of the Women’s Business Center at Canisius College Networking Group.
The bridal boutique is inspired by American-Italian heritage, which is another reason that the businesses is perfectly suited for Hertel Avenue. To that end, Marianna Bridal is named after Susan’s grandmother – the business’s logo is the actual signature from Marianna Zupa’s passport upon entry to the US from Italy in the early 1900’s.
“The wedding industry is exciting right now with brides loving the new bridal trends,” said Susan, who features designers that are exclusive to Marianna Bridal, including Sophia Tolli, Casablanca: Le Blanc Collection, Colby John, Sydney’s Closet: Full-Figured Brides, and Martin Thornburg: Luxe Collection.
When I asked Susan where she developed her passion for bridal wear, she told me that she learned how to sew at an early age, as her grandmother was a seamstress.
“We lived next to my grandmother when I was young, on the West Side of Buffalo,” said Susan. “I studied textile science as an undergraduate, and then worked at DuPont Chemicals. I was involved with senior leadership at some major chemical companies, and the manufacturing arena. I understand the production process of textiles and garments, as well as the sewing culture. This gives me an insight into partnering with the designers that we work with. I also fully understand the designers’ expectations, which is why we have exclusivity with our lines. This allows us to offer service, value, and the designs that you would typically find in larger cities like Toronto and NYC, with adjusted price points. Our core values are quality, fit, and detail of the dress.”
Interestingly enough, after taking on a number of high ranking executive roles at companies in Chicago, Susan decided that it was finally time to refocus her career path. She chose the bridal industry because of her passion for sewing couture clothing, but she also felt that that wedding dresses are an emotional purchase.
“It’s a specialty item,” Susan explained. “I’ve been in the manufacturing quality arena for so long. These dresses have all of the elements of couture and fine detail. I wanted to do something fresh and exciting. I lived through the renaissance in Chicago and wanted to be in a different urban environment amidst the pandemic. When I was young, Buffalo’s neighborhoods were places where you could walk to window shop and make your purchases. I didn’t want to go somewhere and open in a strip mall. I felt that Buffalo was finally able to offer an opportunity to open in a mixed-use building that was part of a real shopping experience. I wanted to bring fun and exciting bridal shopping to Buffalo, and to be part of the renaissance that I was seeing.”
Since Susan has opened her bridal boutique, she has done just that. She’s taken the time to get to know her neighbors.
“It’s about the small business community. That’s what I love,” said Susan. “When I lived on the West Side, I would take the Niagara Street but to go to AM&A’s downtown. That’s where you would buy your Easter dress. Or I would walk to Grant Street to all of the small businesses. I see that on Hertel now. This has been a vision of mine for five years now. I wanted to find a place that I could call home.”
For a period of time, Susan “staged” at Tchad design house in Uptown Chicago. That’s where she learned how to fashion together a couture dress and a Chanel coat.
“It was cheaper than therapy,” said Susan [laughing]. “It was all part of the learning process. I was able to be creative, and problem solve, which helped me to build the business. When it comes to wedding dresses, there are five basic silhouettes, but limitless detail options. That’s where the creativity comes in. It’s a real art.”
When Susan finally made her way back to Buffalo, after being away for so many years, she felt that she needed to get to know the city again. Aside from meeting her new neighbors, she began sewing at The Factory Buffalo, with Molly (Hoeltke) Worth.
“It was another way for me to make connections,” Susan said. “It helped me with the creativity, and networking locally. The landscape has changed a lot since I’ve been away.”
Along with the creativity and the design aspects of the business, Susan told me that her she also loves the generational aspect of working in the bridal industry.
“I love working with the younger generation, and the women who are empowered and know what they want,” said Susan. “That surprised me a little bit. It’s been interesting to see this in Buffalo. I was drawn back to this city because of my family connections. I have my grandmother’s portrait in the boutique. I had a signature candle made in her honor, named Marianna. Every bride-to-be gets a candle to take with them when they pick up their dress. Being part of a family is all about the unconditional love. I want to share this with the brides.”
To date, Marianna Bridal has been open for seven months. During that time, Susan has been able to apply her business acumen, as well as her design sensibilities to the shop, which is as alluring as the dresses.
Let’s hope that this “big city” trend continues – Buffalo is prime to reinvent its commercial districts. Hertel is leading the way, and Elmwood and Allentown are following suit. The hope is that in the near future, we will see similar retail advancements in the heart of the city, especially Main Street, Downtown. It’s only a matter of time, now that all eyes are on Buffalo, thanks to people like Susan who are forging ahead and bringing their aspirational dreams to reality.
Photos: Megan McKee Photography