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David's Bridal tests new upscale stores

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

At the newest David's Bridal store, wedged in a Los Angeles strip mall with an auto parts merchant and a Subway sandwich shop, customers won't find the chain's usual budget-conscious dresses, fluorescent lighting and wall-to-wall carpeting.

Instead, there's glossy tile flooring. Chandeliers. Curated displays of shoes, glittering jewelry and pearl-encrusted clutches. Artfully draped curtains lead into a bright area lined with mirrored dressing rooms and plush chairs, evoking the boutique salons on Robertson Boulevard or Melrose Place. Women try on exclusive looks from couture designers Zac Posen and Vera Wang, some costing nearly $2,000.

About a year after being bought by private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice for $1.05 billion, 65-year-old David's Bridal is trying to establish itself as a more upscale player.

"The retail landscape has changed," Chief Marketing Officer Brian Beitler said. "Every consumer, at almost every price tier, wants to be able to get something that's affordable and to be able to go as high as they can from a fashion perspective."

Most David's Bridal units are boxy, often as large as 18,000 square feet. And the cramped fitting rooms and the shopping floor are "one and the same place," Beitler said.

The new location sits on 10,000 square feet in what used to be a Mood Fabrics store. It's designed to feel more intimate than its sister stores, with a separate alcove for women trying on dresses.

Though the timeline is "not entirely defined," Beitler said future David's Bridal stores will follow the Los Angeles model, with the more than 300 existing stores eventually being updated to the more upscale look.

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