With its grand Ionic portico and belfry tower, Grade I-listed Number One Marylebone is an imposing building. The deconsecrated former Holy Trinity Church, just across the road from Regent’s Park in the heart of London, was built in 1828 to the design of Sir John Soane to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon. Now, however, it is being refurbished to cash in on the fast-growing business of wedding celebrations.
The building, which has also been used as offices and, more recently, fashion shows, will reopen at the end of October as the UK’s first dedicated wedding department store, a one-stop shop the size of a supermarket, selling everything from tiaras to cake toppers.
According to the wedding planning website Hitched, which surveyed 4,000 couples, the cost of the average wedding is now £27,000 – almost double the amount that it was four years ago, with venue hire, honeymoons and food soaking up the most cash. Growth is also being fuelled by a surge in same-sex marriages and record numbers of over-45s, and especially pensioners, tying the knot.
Aside from the usual paraphernalia – dresses, top hats and tails – shoppers at the 1,860 sq metre (20,000 sq ft) Wedding Gallery will be able to book photographers, flowers and order wedding stationery. It will also offer cakes and catering, with an on-site kitchen for taste tests, and an insurance package in case one partner has a last-minute change of heart.
DJs and speechwriters will be on hand, and there is a room called “the hub” where couples can put on headphones and watch wedding singers and bands on a big screen. If they like what they see and hear, they can book the musicians.
Couples who fall in love with the shop can even hold their ceremony there, because it is attached to a 400-capacity venue.
George Hammer, a beauty and retail entrepreneur, believes his one-stop shop will take the hassle out of wedding planning.
“Our plan is to take all the sweat out of it. You know, turn the process into something that’s a pleasure not a torture”, he said.
Hammer, who founded the Urban Retreat beauty salon business, said he had invested “several millions” in the store but acknowledged it was a new venture and was a risk: “It’s not like we can look at what Harvey Nichols or Harrods or John Lewis are doing. There’s no benchmark for this kind of business.”
The store will not be cheap. The dresses start from £800, for a Needle & Thread gown, and go up to more than £100,000 for high-end couture.
A mile south, on Oxford Street, one bride-to-be was finishing off her wedding shopping. “It’s not like I’ve been trying to overspend,” said Hannah, a 34-year-old police detective who is marrying her partner, Laurie, in December. “But ‘wedding currency’ isn’t like normal sterling pounds – everything just costs so much. It’s crazy.”
Having ticked off almost everything on her wedding to-do list, Hannah said that a one-stop wedding department store sounded like a good idea.
“But not if it’s all really posh stuff. That’s not for the likes of me and Laurie – it’s probably more for your west London crowd.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010