Bellissima bridal shop set to open on Square

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 19, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Did you fall in love with the flowergirl dresses in Kate and William’s royal wedding?
A new, upscale shop in downtown Salisbury will offer those adorable frocks for sale, alongside couture wedding dresses available in the state for the first time.
Bellissima will be the exclusive North Carolina retailer for seven designers including Nicki Macfarlane, who created the royal flowergirl dresses, and Sassi Holford, whose gowns will appear on the new TLC show “Randy to the Rescue.”
Holford also created the dress for Autumn Kelly’s 2008 royal marriage to Peter Phillips, the first of the Queen’s grandchildren to tie the knot.
Rowan County native Monica Wray Cameron plans to open Bellissima on the Square in January, the busiest month for custom wedding dresses as brides prepare for June weddings.
With prices ranging from $500 for a flowergirl dress, $200 to $400 for a bridesmaid dress and $1,500 to $5,500 for a made-to-measure bridal gown, Cameron will need to attract customers from across North and South Carolina.
Randy Hemann, executive director for Downtown Salisbury Inc., said he’s confident she will.
“She will draw from throughout the region,” Hemann said. “People who want those designer dresses will have to come to Salisbury to get them.”
Salisbury’s central location in the Piedmont and quick access to downtown from Interstate 85 will give Bellissima an advantage and make getting to the shop easy for out-of-town customers, he said.
With plans by architect Gray Stout and construction by Chad Vriesema of Central Piedmont Builders, the 1,200-square-foot shop is under construction on the first floor of the Plaza at the corner of Main and Innes streets.
“I feel like it’s one of the prime retail locations in all of Salisbury,” Hemann said.
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Cameron signed a two-year lease with Downtown Salisbury, which acts as the leasing agent for the Plaza. The city owns the seven-story building, and her rent begins at $500 per month and increases yearly to $1,250 in 2014 if Cameron chooses to renew the agreement.
“The Plaza has been underutilized for some time,” Hemann said. “This is a good fit.”
The previous tenant was a travel agency with one employee.
Cameron said she plans to take full advantage of the 30,000 cars that drive through the Square daily, with dresses displayed in windows lit up until midnight.
Bellissima will have 45 sample wedding dresses by designers including Angel Rivera, who will bring his entire collection to Salisbury for a trunk show March 23 to 25. Cameron is taking appointments now at 704-754-5330 for Rivera’s show, as well as Simone Carvalli’s trunk show Feb. 24 and 25.
An event planner for Rowan Regional Medical Center Foundation, and before that the American Heart Association, Cameron has been in the event industry for more than 10 years. She qualified for a Small Business Administration loan through Community Bank of Rowan to finance Bellissima, including renovations and inventory.
Before she set off in October for the Couture show and New York’s International Bridal Week at Pier 94, Cameron said she painstakingly researched wedding dress designers.
“I knew I wanted the designers with the best dresses you could buy at each price point,” she said. “The goal of the shop is to make everyone feel beautiful and special no matter what they can spend.”
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She started considering opening a bridal shop three years ago, Cameron said, but the thought of giving up a stable salary and taking such a huge step was terrifying.
Then, she and husband Bill Cameron had a baby.
Grant, who turns 2 years old next month, became an inspiration.
“Motherhood changes you,” she said. “I realized if I want to teach him to be brave and go out and be independent and do the things he loves, I had to do those things myself.”
For a year, Cameron met about twice a month with financial counselor Maggi Braun at the Small Business Center in Concord, part of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, to develop her business plan. The service is free.
“I really put my heart into this,” Cameron said. “It’s very well thought out.”
Her loan application and business plan, including a budget and marketing strategy, were several inches thick. She was approved immediately.
“There were moments within this year when I would completely freak out,” Cameron said. “But my husband was so supportive. He makes me feel like I can do anything in the world.”
Her marketing plan includes a full-page ad in “The Knot” for one year, which will reach North and South Carolina, as well as a presence on the magazine’s website.
And she’s got big plans for those big display windows in the Plaza.
“I’m lighting those window up and really utilizing that marketable space,” Cameron said. “I want you to look at those dresses when you’re stuck at the stoplight.”
The designers she carries will list Bellissima on their websites. That’s already has resulted in inquiries from several brides across the state who are looking for a particular dress.
• • •
Bellissima will attract two types of brides, Cameron said.
One will want a certain designer or dress and will search, and drive, until she finds it. The other will walk into the store and try on dresses until she finds the prettiest one, regardless of brand.
She said she plans to cater to both.
An Elon University graduate who studied political science and history, Cameron will offer wedding planning services and custom wedding, shower and special event invitations. Rowan County graphic designer Jeremy Kesler, who created Bellissima’s distinctive robin’s egg blue logo, will design the invites.
Cameron and Kesler worked together on branding for Bellissima, which means “very pretty” in Italian and was inspired by Cameron’s honeymoon in Italy.
Bellissima will offer two-hour, private appointments, complete with champagne. Every bride will receive the same attention, whether her dress budget is $1,500 or $5,500, Cameron said.
“I want women to realize that traveling to Charlotte or Winston-Salem is not going to make it any better,” she said. “They don’t have to go out of town to buy their dress. They can do it here.”
Not what she calls a “girly-girl,” Cameron said her appreciation for well-constructed dresses, eye for what flatters every figure and practical business sense are a good combination for a bridal boutique. She also loves helping people.
Cameron is looking for a part-time seamstress and part-time bridal consultant. The shop will feature two dressing rooms and a fitting room.
One weekend a year, Bellissima will host a prom blow-out when Cameron will place all her prom dresses — in the $250 range — in the front of the store and “let the girls go nuts,” she said. She won’t sell the same dress to two girls attending the same prom.
Decor will shine and sparkle with a chandelier, mirrored glass table, crystal sconces, cream carpet, ivory walls and white built-ins. A seating area will offer a small couch and sidechairs for the bride’s mother and best friends.
Brides will step onto a pedestal to view their dresses in a three-way mirror.
“I want it to be beautiful but comfortable,” Cameron said. “Not stuffy, and definitely not uppity.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.
What: An upscale shop for couture wedding gowns and other designer formal dresses
Where: 100 W. Innes St., on the Square in downtown Salisbury
When: Opening January. Hours 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Any other time by appointment.
Who: Owner Monica Wray Cameron, 704-754-5330 or 
Dress prices: Wedding $1,500-$5,500. Bridesmaid $200-400. Mother-of-the-bride $300-$500. Flowergirl $500. Prom $250. 
Look: Facebook page at Bellissima. Website under construction at  
Coming up: Trunk shows for Simone Carvalli Feb. 24-25 and Angel Rivera March 23-25. 
A limited number of one-hour appointments are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Bellissima is the exclusive North Carolina retailer for seven designers.
• Simone Carvalli Couture bridal gowns made of silk, lace and Swarovksi crystals. Hour-glass shape. Traditional or fashion-forward styles. 
• Angel Rivera Designs begin with expert pattern-making. Dresses feature silks, laces, embroideries, beading and trains.
• Robert Bullock and Steven Birnbaum. Sixteen years of bridal experience and 28 years in fashion design. Timeless, sophisticated gowns.
• Sassi Holford. Designed the gown for Autumn Kelly’s 2008 royal marriage to Peter Phillips. Classic English wedding gowns with a contemporary edge. Will be featured on the new TLC show, “Randy to the Rescue.”
• Two by Rosa Clara. Spanish designer with dresses that offer volume (tight waists, simple bodices and full skirts) or clean lines (plain gowns with swishy skirts and bodices with asymmetrical necklines or bare backs).
• Elda De La Rosa. Well-known in Chicago for handmade, dramatic creations. Selected to design gowns for Oscar presenters.
• Nicki Macfarlane. Designed the flowergirl dresses for the 2011 royal wedding of Catherine Middleton and Prince William. Award-winning designs regularly featured in British bridal publications. 
Thirty years of experience creating exquisite weddings outfits for children.