Shopping for bridal accessories
Anyone assuming the new Bridezillas wedding accessory shop is run by a fearsome individual who could fit that description would change their mind after meeting Amanda Davis-Harrison. Suzanne Savill pays her a visit. Pictures: Michael Lloyd
Bridezilla. The very word – a combination of bride and Godzilla – is usually enough to make hapless bridal retailers quake.
Not Amanda Davis-Harrison, however. The name "Bridezillas" adorns the immaculate cream-painted frontage of the shop she has just opened in Keynsham, on the outskirts of Bristol.
Step over the threshold and onto the vintage-style, blue-painted wooden floor, and you enter a white and cream bridal heaven of satin shoes, lace parasols, glittering crystal tiaras and shimmering pearl jewellery.
Even the most formidable and demanding of Bridezillas could surely find exactly what she is looking for here.
And if she can't see what she wants, then Amanda and her staff will go out of their way to help her to find it.
"To me, a Bridezilla is a woman who knows what she wants for her wedding, and there's nothing wrong with that," she declares.
"I'd say that every bride has a few Bridezilla moments when planning their wedding."
Amanda knows exactly what it is like to have a vision of a particular bridal item, but be unable to find it.
"I feel like I settled for my wedding accessories," she declares as we make our way past displays filled with veils, shrugs, crystal glasses and wedding gifts.
"I found it really easy to chose my wedding dress, but getting the accessories to go with it was really difficult.
"I knew in my mind what sort of tiara I wanted, but I couldn't find it. So on my wedding day I was wearing a nice tiara, but it wasn't what I originally wanted. It didn't sparkle enough.
"Also, the whole experience of shopping for bridal accessories wasn't what I'd anticipated. I did a lot of traipsing around shops and searching on the internet.
"In the end I got my tiara from a department store and my shoes from a high street shop. It wasn't a personal experience, and there was no expert advice. I'd wanted to be pampered a bit more when doing my wedding shopping.
"It was a similar experience when I started looking for accessories for my bridesmaids.
"The whole thing was quite disheartening and took me a couple of months."
The challenges that Amanda experienced finding accessories for her wedding in October 2010 prompted her to give up her job as an administrator at a school in Easton so she could set up her own bridal accessories shop.
"I'd always wanted to run my own shop but never knew what sort," she says.
"The difficulties I encountered when planning my own wedding made me realise there was a real need for a dedicated bridal accessories store, with everything under one roof.
"It's all very well trying to buy accessories online, but it's nice to be able to actually see the way the gems sparkle on a tiara and make sure it's the right size before you order it and possibly have to send it back.
"Also, a lot of brides don't really know what accessories they want, so it's nice for them to be able to come into a shop with a wide selection of accessories that they can look through."
It took Amanda just under a year to set up her shop before opening earlier this month, which included visiting numerous trade shows to buy stock.
It is a considerable achievement, as Amanda had no experience of working in retail before opening Bridezillas.
Yet she exudes an air of complete confidence – not in the overbearing manner of a Bridezilla, but in the manner of someone who has great inner strength.
I get an insight as to why when we walk close to a display of bridal accessories under the brand name Abigail Grace.
Amanda tells me that she makes the range herself, using vintage brooches and pendants.
When I remark upon what a pretty name she has chosen, and Amanda replies: "It was the name of my daughter. It's my way of ensuring her name lives on."
Abigail Grace was born in the summer of 2004, and died just one month later from heart problems.
"It was a very rough patch in my life. She was in the Special Care Baby Unit, and I was there with her all the time," says Amanda.
"Then about six months later, in 2005, my father died.
"It was a very difficult time, but it has all made me a very strong woman."
Would she have had the courage to set up her own shop if she had not come through such difficult times some years ago?
Amanda replies: "Maybe not. As I say, I think I've become a much stronger person, so perhaps it gave me the strength to leave my job and run my own business."
So could Amanda be described as the ultimate Bridezilla, for the way in which she set up her own shop after being unable to find the accessories she wanted for her own wedding?
Amanda replies: "I wouldn't say so. I just want to give other brides choice, personal service, and product knowledge."
"I want to give them the sort of things I didn't have when I was shopping for my wedding day."
Bridezillas is open from Tuesday to Saturday at 18 High Street, Keynsham, Bristol, BS31 1DQ.
For further information call 0117 904 3039 or go to www.bridezillas.biz.
Amanda, pictured above, lives in Keynsham with her husband Jos, who runs his own internal communications business, and she chose to set up Bridezillas in her home town rather than in Bristol or Bath city centre.
"I really wanted to support my local High Street," says Amanda, whose shop also caters for other wedding party members, as well as for end-of-term proms.
"We were married across the road in St John's Church. I love looking out from the shop and seeing it and remembering our wedding day.
"I'm really lucky because Jos has been so supportive. He has completely believed in what I wanted to do here, and kept encouraging me at times when I started to wonder if I could actually do it.
"A lot of our customers come in off the street, but we do have Wonderful Wedding Wednesdays, when brides and bridal parties can book to come in for a personal shopping experience and have a glass of bubbly.
"We've had so much positive feedback already – from the brides and from the local traders."