By Kara Apel
Edited by Anna Chambers
If you're looking for pink, fluffy, "Oh you look beautiful in everything dear," Marcell Steely says Bella Vista Bridal & Wedding Boutique isn't your store.
Steely describes her style as minimalistic: "no hearts, no doves, no castles and no love signs." Bella Vista sells not only Steely's own custom creations, but other designer and off-the-rack wedding dresses at $800 to $6,000.
Her father was a fashion designer too, but that isn't where Steely started. She was an interior designer for 20 years, but after health problems got in the way, she needed a new direction.
Steely said Bella Vista started out of "a labor of love," when her husband decided to open up the boutique's Vista location in 2006 to give her a place to be creative.
Although neither of the pair had extensive business experience, Ren Steely-Judice had no doubts his wife would be successful.
"I had so much confidence in her and her ability to know the dresses and the designs and to be able to interact with the brides and help them feel absolutely beautiful and just want the experience," Steely-Judice said.
The opportunity for them to own their own business has been what Steely describes as "a blessing" – giving them not only the opportunity to be their own boss but also to have a more flexible schedule to be parents to their 7-year-old daughter.
Steely recently sat down with the Carolina Reporter to discuss her design process, inspiration and experiences as a boutique owner.
I know that you said not everybody has that like emotional, like "Aha! moment" – but what is it like to be a part of that when you are there and you get to experience that with someone?
It's great. … You really feel like we've just been able to witness something that's really special. For me, personally, it's not even so much them with that moment. For me, it's the mother and daughter and watching how mothers and daughters react with one another.
We are four generations of only single female children. So my mom was an only single female child, I'm an only single female child and my daughter's an only single female child. So I remember my relationship when we went dress shopping with my mother – and, you know, this is where I am going to get teary-eyed – and I will think of it when I go with my daughter.
And I see the relationships in my store, and some are very sad, to be honest with you. And we have to witness that as well. We have to witness over-opinionated mothers. We have to witness mothers who put their daughters down. We have to witness mothers telling their daughters they're heavy or fat. …
So, when I see that very heartfelt moment, when a mother realizes that her little girl, or her daughter, is getting married, and the daughter realizes, "This is it – I'm getting married." See that? I get really emotional about that, because that is what's special.
That moment is forever. Not the dress, it really has nothing to do with the dress – it's because of the wedding. I understand that.
But it's that moment that the mother and daughter will never forget.
What goes into the process of you designing a dress?
The comfort of the dress is huge with us. … You know, a lot of times people will say, "Oh, well I saw the exact same dress."
And I'll say to them, "Are you sure that it's the exact same? Or was ours silk, which is a lot softer of a product? Are you sure it's the same lace?" Because I'm very particular on the kinds of laces that I'll bring in.
You know, you have to feel how rough it is – how if it's not very smooth, if it's going to be harsh underneath your arms.
Halters tend to have a lot of trigger points on the back of the neck. So if it's not structured and boned well up underneath your bodice, it'll really start aggravating the back of the neck; headaches will happen. …
What kind of goes into your inspiration when you're designing? What do you get inspired by?
We take more of a minimalist approach to our design. … And then, again, that blend of what girls like, but also remembering a little bit more about what men like – I think is very, very important in bridal and completely a missed element.
Men are very architectural. Men like very distinct lines, where women are more soft and lacy and feminine.
And soft and lacy and feminine is wonderful, and it's beautiful, but I think when that can be merged with soft, subtle hints of architectural, I think that it's just phenomenal. So that's definitely our approach.
Why do you have so much passion for designing? Like where did that come from?
Genetic. I mean that's the only thing I can think of at this point. You know, they always say that you understand your parents a lot more the older you get, and that's for sure true. Like I said, my father is a designer, and he designed for many, many folks. And I guess just seeing something created and visions come to life I think is really neat. I know that there were two dresses this past week that we sold that were pretty much solely mine, and just the sheer joy that it gave the girls who got it. They were kind of complex dresses to understand because they were very architectural. And the girls that got it, just got it. They saw the lines, they appreciated the structure, and so that's kind of neat when something like that comes to fruition.
I know you were talking about how you're a little bit different because you have an interior design background. And so what do you take from that and put into your dress design?
Basically one of the things I had to learn is that every artist is different. I can't draw. … I don't even write nice. My writing's even scribbly. …
I guess it was a good 10 years ago into my early 30s, late 20s, early 30s, that I realized when I walked into a room, and I saw it completed, that everybody couldn't do that. … I look completely through boxes and orange carpet from the ‘70s on the floor, and I see it done. It's my canvas.
And this also has translated into that where I can see the fabrics, the way they're going to lay. I know the way the finished product is going to look before it's ever even been started. …
I'm comfortable with my creativity and my talent. And it's OK that I can't draw. It's OK. He [Ren] can. That's the really funny thing. And that's why we make such a great team. … I have some certain sketch diagrams that I can sketch things out … but as far as being able to start from scratch in doing people, I can't do it, but he can.
And so, if I can't get it out, who to get it out better through, through your husband? So he can take what I'm thinking and get it onto paper if I need to. And that's what's really cool.