Step inside the happiest place on earth: New York City vintage bridal salon Happy Isles. The newly opened SoHo shop is filled with racks of silky John Galliano slip dresses and dreamy Dior gowns that are threaded with history. As the wedding world continues to trend anti-bride, the soon-to-be-married are seeking out non-traditional wedding looks and eco-conscious alternatives. They want vintage. They want high fashion. And they find it at Happy Isles.
Store owner Lily Kaizer couldn’t have predicted her salon’s success. After college, she worked at a family-owned vintage store in Los Angeles called Resurrection Vintage. It was “the mecca for all the best stuff,” Kaizer says. “My entire fashion education was from working there.”
After Resurrection, she dabbled in events for a fashion production company, helping execute runway shows, store openings, and brand dinners. But her heart was always in vintage. “At a certain point, I had enough experience where I felt like I could do my own thing,” she says. “When I was at Resurrection, people would come asking for bridal. It wasn’t really the inventory that they carried, so I had this light-bulb idea.”
The concept: Elevated vintage, but with a traditional bridal salon experience. “I just got it together and made it a thing,” she says.
The first Happy Isles store opened in 2016, just south of Hollywood. “People thought I was crazy to open a vintage bridal salon,” Kaizer says. “They had no idea what I meant when I said ‘bridal salon.’” But, during her first appointment, a client said yes to the vintage dress. “It confirmed that what I was doing wasn’t insane and that it was going to work.”
Not only did the business work, it thrived. Seven years later, Happy Isles expanded to downtown Manhattan. The outpost has been open for several months now, and salon appointments are already booked up far in advance.
Kaizer does all of the buying herself. “We source constantly,” she says, mainly through auctions and estate sales, though sometimes by word of mouth. “The more [our brand becomes] known, the more people come to us with pieces that they think would be right for the store,” Kaizer says. “I’m looking for 1930s through early 2000s pieces.”
Designer labels are what draw brides in. “The Dior, the Valentino, the YSL,” Kaizer says. “But I’m also looking for super special pieces that are vintage, no label.” She especially loves 1960s beaded shift dresses. “Trends in current fashion [are constantly changing], so I tweak how I buy for the store, which keeps it fun and exciting,” she says. “What I was buying for the store seven years ago is different from what I’m buying for the store today.”
Right now, brides want Y2k. “Vera Wang drop-waist, Reem Acra pieces with bows,” Kaizer explains. “Last year was a really big year for the corset with all the Vivian Westwood and Wiederhoeft.”
On a recent trip to the New York store, which opened last month, Kaizer showed ELLE.com a rare 1950s Madame Grès blue piece. “Very Grace Kelly,” Kaizer says. “It’s this really gorgeous shade of aqua, and it’s a dream, just classic.”
She also showed ELLE.com a John Galliano slip dress with “a wet drapery moment going on,” as Kaizer describes, that comes with a beaded silk chiffon scarf. “We’re really loving an across-the-neck scarf moment these days,” she adds. Next to the Galliano was a dramatic full-length Reem Acra two-piece that Kaizer says embodies the “golden era of 1990s American bride.”
At a Happy Isles appointment, brides—like Emily Mariko, who got a minidress for her bachelorette at Happy Isles, or actress Melanie Moore, who wore two vintage Happy Isles looks for her New York City wedding—try on around 10 dresses. They’re looking for “the dress,” but they’re also trying on outfits for the rehearsal dinner, after-party, bachelorette party, and honeymoon. Brides come in with reference photos of celebrity and influencer weddings. “We actually have clients coming in referencing past Happy Isles brides that they’ve seen on our Instagram,” Kaizer says.
Why are brides going secondhand? “We are having this conscientiousness around sustainability and fashion,” Kaizer says. After all, vintage bridal is the perfect marriage of smart shopping and sartorial elevation. It also checks a lot of boxes: Something old, something borrowed, and if you go with the Madame Grès at Happy Isles, something blue.
Rose is a Senior Editor at ELLE overseeing features and projects about women’s issues. She is an accomplished and compassionate storyteller and editor who excels in obtaining exclusive interviews and unearthing compelling features.