Saying “I do” to entrepreneurship and goodbye to the corporate world, sisters Natalie Bauer and Melissa Russell left cushy jobs at Mesirow Financial and Jam Productions, respectively. Following their dreams, they opened Bella Bianca Bridal Collection in 2008 in Oakbrook. Subsequently, they opened a Gold Coast location at 12 West Maple Street. The boutiques carry wedding gowns by top designers including Alvina Valenta, Badgley Mischka, Christos, Hayley Paige, Ines Di Santo, Judd Waddell, Lazaro, Modern Trousseau, Rivini, San Patrick, Sareh Nouri, Simone Carvalli, Tara Keely and Victor Harper.
“We knew we wanted the name to be personal, but still convey something elegant and sophisticated,” explains Ms. Bauer. “One day, we were in the car scouting locations for our first boutique. We use car trips between our stores as time to discuss and finalize business decisions. We tossed around my middle name, Bianca, which coincidentally means ‘white’ in Italian. We liked the instant personal and literal connection, and ultimately paired it with Bella, which translates to ‘beautiful.’ We fell in love with the sound of Bella Bianca and loved that its translation, ‘beautiful white,’ effortlessly evoked the industry we were entering.”
Ms. Russell comments on their prior careers: “We were both working in marketing and communications professions, but in different industries. Natalie was in a corporate setting at Mesirow Financial, and I handled event production at Jam Productions. Each role suited our personality well, affording us the ability to depart the positions with tools and insights for client service that are so instrumental to us today. By working with different clients – financial advisors for Natalie and celebrity performers for myself – we discovered what it takes to effectively service customer expectations.”
The competition in the bridal market in Chicago is fierce. How is Bella Bianca unique? Ms. Russell explains, “Bella Bianca will never compromise on three fundamental offerings: First, a fabulous selection of gowns that represents variety in aesthetic and price point; second, an experience that meets and exceeds the expectations a woman has for this experience, from the first time she interacts with our team on the phone to moment she picks up her gown for the big day; and lastly, a boutique layout that encourages excitement and energy, as well as luxury and comfort.”
Ms. Bauer chimes in, “We are enormous advocates of the importance of family, so we appreciate that these significant people accompany a bride on this journey. We’ve designed our boutiques with that in mind, providing private and comfortable space for groups. When a bride says yes to her dress, it’s certainly a cause for celebration, so we offer champagne to the entire party! We know it’s a momentous occasion, which is why we strive to provide the most impeccable service for a memorable experience. Our hope is that our brides will share the story of how they found their gown and recall it with a feeling of happiness and excitement. We’re honored to play a role in creating that ambiance.”
Running their own business has always been at the back of their minds. Ms. Bauer explains, “There are so many things that led us to open Bella Bianca, but it was our experience growing up with two business owners as parents that started it all. We spent time working in our dad’s restaurants and watching our mom grow a small Plainfield-based manufacturing company into a multi-national entity. From an early age, our parents instilled a drive in us to find our niche and combine our powers in dedication, customer service, creativity, attention to detail and courage to make it succeed. We knew we wanted to work together, but the wedding component presented itself during our own searches for gowns as brides. We were disillusioned with the experience and found ourselves (again in the car, ironically!) bouncing around ideas of what this moment should be like and it just clicked…this was it! There was an important element of this industry missing in our market, and we believed we had a chance to make a positive impact.”
And where do the sister see their business 10 years from now? Ms. Bauer shares, “We have grown so much since opening our doors. Five years ago, neither of us would have dreamt we’d have two locations! We are currently focused on growing Bella Bianca’s core services rather than expanding to more locations or taking on outside services. In 10 years, we hope that our business remains a must-visit destination for Chicagoland brides. We will continue to add new, talented designers to our inventory, providing brides access to the most coveted bridal fashion. Above all, we’ll still provide brides with the experience and service they deserve.”