San Luis Obispo resident Audrey Lariz knew she hit the jackpot when she tried on the first wedding dress suggested by a local bridal store. True to its name, Epiphany Bridal Boutique not only gave Lariz the realization that she'd found her perfect dress but also provided thoughtful service as she navigated wedding planning through an active pandemic.
"Well, SLO doesn't have that many dress shops. To be completely honest, I had no intention of buying a dress locally," Lariz said. "I was planning on ordering something kind of on the cheap side online."
But she didn't want to miss out on the experience of an in-store hunt for her wedding dress. Almost a year after she got engaged, Lariz stumbled upon the newly opened SLO location of Epiphany and purchased her strapless A-line "not quite a ballgown" in August 2020, right in the thick of the pandemic.
"Two months after opening, we were in shutdown. Things happen ... but you still continue to serve throughout the pandemic and make sure that everyone knows their dresses are coming, make sure that everyone is talked to," Epiphany co-owner Mariam Ohanyan said. "If anything, it felt like after the shutdown, people started taking marriage even more seriously, and people thought that anything can happen in this life.
"Love never got canceled during the pandemic."
- Photo Courtesy Of Mariam Ohanyan
- UP-FRONT CLARITY Epiphany co-owner Mariam Ohanyan credits honesty with her clients as the business's backbone when dealing with lengthy timelines for wedding dresses.
Ohanyan joined Epiphany's debut store in Carmel as the manager and lead bridal stylist. Soon, she became a co-owner and now runs its SLO counterpart, which opened in January 2020. Ohanyan told New Times that like most businesses, Epiphany found its plate full when it reopened after the COVID-19 lockdown in June 2020. With weddings postponed to 2021 and 2022, the staff was compelled to work seven days a week—something they still continue to do.
"It was really, really hard. Imagine those who just got engaged before the shutdown, and they cannot try on dresses. We created a waitlist throughout those months of people who wanted to come and gave priority to those who pre-booked," Ohanyan said. "We only do private appointments, so only one bride at a time. All the girls who had purchased their dresses before the shutdown had to start their alterations. So we also had to maneuver those brides."
But Epiphany's 14-year run since its Carmel beginnings ensured a loyal client base.
"I know there have been so many small businesses that have had to close, which is so sad because people [put] their lives in there. For us, we were lucky because of our solid foundation. So, we got through it," she said.
Ohanyan added that wedding dresses, "almost like a baby," take nine months to a year to make. With the supply chain crisis and the pandemic in full swing, over-preparation prevented last-minute scrambles.
"We always order more, knowing that something can happen. Someone can come in and say, 'This is the color, and this is the style I'm looking for, and my wedding is in two months,'" she said. "We always carry back inventory, that's what helps. If there was no time to order something for [next] year, but someone wants to get married in two months, we have a big selection, and I can quickly check if we have the same thing in inventory. We were prepared always."
But according to Ohanyan, transparency is the store's true lifeboat. Occasionally, she received some clients who had urgently switched over from other bridal stores because their wedding dresses weren't made in time.
"We have always been very honest with our brides. If we know that a dress is going to take seven months to come in, we're gonna tell them [that]. We're not gonna sweet talk for a sale and say that it'll be here in four months," she said. "If it doesn't come in within seven months, we're the bad guys."
Ohanyan added that Epiphany stocks multiple sizes of each dress style so clients can try them on immediately before opting for in-house alterations and customizations. Lariz enjoyed this range of options firsthand. She said that Ohanyan made her try on three other dresses, even though Lariz had already made her choice, to make sure that dress was exactly the option she wanted.
"Literally, the first dress she put me in fit me perfectly. I was glowing the minute I put it on. The one thing that was really nice was that she knew exactly what would fit me," Lariz said. "I think all the dresses I tried on, for the most part, fit me pretty well, which was nice. I'm not a super tiny girl, I'm definitely on the bigger side of the size range. So, I feel like a lot of girls feel self-conscious in that experience where even though they can be custom-made or ordered, it still kinda sucks when no dresses fit you."
Though she was set to wed in March 2021, COVID-19's winter surge in 2020 delayed the event. Then they settled on fall 2021, but date clashes with the venue made them postpone again. Now, Lariz and her husband (they had gotten legally married in the meantime) will celebrate their nuptials in March this year. Her wedding dress is one of the reasons Lariz is having a destination wedding in New Orleans.
"I would have canceled the wedding 10 times if it wasn't for this dress," she said. "Planning a wedding for 2 1/2 years is too long to plan a wedding. The constantly changing environment—now we're dealing with the omicron surge—is so much additional stress."
It's Epiphany's attention to detail that stuck with Lariz. She said that during her latest fitting, Ohanyan and her team asked Lariz to bring over her traveling suitcase before she leaves for New Orleans just so they could carefully wrap and pack the wedding dress into it. To Lariz, the effort from both sides cemented the reason to go ahead with her wedding, no matter its size.
"When you're planning a massive event, it's a really hard process to go through, and the longer it goes on the more frustrating it gets. You're like, 'Why am I going through all this hassle?' Oh, for the dress," she said. "I wanna wear that dress in front of as many people as will show up because that dress makes me feel amazing, and I'm so excited about wearing it." Δ
Reach Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal at firstname.lastname@example.org.