On one serendipitous occasion, I had the chance to work with a personal shopper who went above and beyond in helping me select an outfit that flattered the whole package (and folks, let me tell you – it ain’t easy). She put me together from head to toe, grabbing an I-can’t-afford-those pair of heels, suck-me-in Spanx, gorgeous teardrop earrings and a chic little clutch. I mean, really – this girl went all out. She turned what would have likely been a five minute, hot flash catastrophe into a wonderful experience. Gabi Lee of The Sentimentalist is on the same page – she brings a whole lot of cool to the quest for the perfect dress with her undivided attention in a shop filled with beautiful gowns. Dream come true? Most definitely.
NAME Gabi Lee
LOCATION Atlanta, Georgia
EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND Questionable at best, a spotty amount of college, most knowledge gained through a painful amount of screwing up.
COMPANY The Sentimentalist
ESTABLISHED May 2014
Tell me a bit about yourself & how you got started in the bridal industry. I dabbled in the wedding industry several years ago and fortunately found myself falling in love with a position managing a bridal boutique in Portland, OR. After working for the designer, Elizabeth Dye, I became passionate about bringing fashion-forward American designs to Southern bridal. I’ve always been a hopeless romantic and I’m particularly gifted in playing dress-up, so I’m not too surprised I ended up here.
As a designer & vintage bridal shop, your collection runs the gamut in terms of styles, silhouettes and embellishments. When you’re searching for pieces to add to the collection, what do you look for? The simplest answer is that I look for pieces that I imagine my girls feeling comfortable and beautiful in. Our brides tend to be pretty cool, always sweet, usually a bit retro, and occasionally “alternative”. I think our collection reflects that. We’re always looking for something a little different, but also drawn to timeless silhouettes. Lots of “flowy”, lots of lace, lots of boho, lots of sleeves, lots of vintage inspiration. What you won’t find are big ball gowns (except maybe our blush linen one) or exaggerated mermaid gowns. Attention to detail is a plus, great texture is also pretty cool, and it’s hard to resist the really out-there stuff you haven’t seen before…like a blush linen ball gown.
You create an intimate experience for your clients at The Sentimentalist. What is the process like when a bride-to-be comes in looking for “the dress”? Who is your typical bride? I kind of already chatted about our “typical bride”, but in addition to being all around rad, she is also pretty fashion forward. Our brides often find us on their favorite design blogs or through Instagram, so she usually has a good hold of our aesthetic and might even have a few favorite designers in mind. Being knowledgable makes the process a little easier. We try to really break it down on our website and give gals a good idea of what to expect. You generally have the whole shop to yourself for about 1 or 2 hours. We’ll chat about your wedding plans and dress thoughts, then dive right into the collection. We’ll make suggestions and pull some dresses we think you might like, but for the most part, it’s our biggest goal to move in the direction of what we see you feeling great in and loving. It can feel a little overwhelming in the beginning, but by the end of the hour, we usually have it narrowed down to a few favorites. Sometimes it takes a second consultation to be sure, but we’ve been known to nail it on day one with our especially sentimental brides : ) From there, the “special order” process begins, during which the designer creates your dress in your size and with any custom specifications. In the meantime, we are happy to help with styling, planning and designs service, and vendor introductions. Or you can bring a bottle of rose, and we’ll just chill out together.
What does a day in the life of The Sentimentlist look like? On the weekend, we see brides all day every day. That’s the fun stuff. Lots of energy, excitement, giggles, and stories. During the week, we manage orders, troubleshoot, check in gowns, ship ship ship, receive, email email email, answer questions, answer phones, calm brides, prep brides, become best friends with brides, preview new collections, review old ones, schedule trunk show, schedule special events, maybe take a dress up break, drink lots of coffee, and mom (my business partner) is always doing lots of math. When the shop doors lock, you can find me riding my bike around East Atlanta, chillin’ at yoga, or drinking gin on a patio somewhere with my girlfriends.
How did you get the word out about your company when you first launched? How have you handled marketing since? We were really lucky to already have a few big-hitter industry pals before opening. And I really wanted to invest in branding over marketing. So, with popular friends and boss branding, we just kind of blindly said “go”. We got pretty intense with social media and invited everyone we knew to a big opening party. We also said “yes” to every collaboration project and editorial photo shoot, so we had a lot of free marketing under our belt pretty quickly. Those few things snowballed, and then I’m not sure what kind of magic kept the word coming. We’ve dabbled in advertising since- with a few of our favorite wedding magazines and blogs, and we’ve been pretty happy with the results. I believe in being picky with advertising, and now I say “no” much more often. But I strongly suggest collaborating with people you believe in.
I can only imagine how wonderful it must be to participate in such an important aspect of the wedding process. What has been the highlight of The Sentimentalist since launching? Our opening party was such an outpouring of love, and I’ll never forget those first few moths filled with encouragement and excitement. Since then, I’ve had some serious fun with industry friends. Our Southern Weddings V6 photo shoot at Serenbe was a great one, and our recent editorial in Weddings Unveiled with Rustic White Photography was a dream come true. Otherwise, my constant highlight is seeing the relief in the eyes of “our girl” when she finally walks in the door and lays her eyes on our sweet, simple collection. There is usually an exhale, a look of gratitude, and an easy breezy blissful wedding dress purchase to follow. In that moment, I know we’re doing exact what we are supposed to be doing. Oh, and the wedding videos our brides send us months later, oh those get me every time. Puddle. Instantly.
What is one pearl of wisdom you would share with someone considering starting their own business? Be fearless. Don’t be stupid, but be fearless. Even those who are succeeding are failing at least half of the time. It’s inevitable, so you might as well be fearless and blindly positive you got this. I’ve settled into a healthy reality with my business goals and the inevitably more hesitant and cautious place that a manger ends up, but we wouldn’t have gotten here without a big dose of fearlessness in the beginning.
Guilty pleasure? I don’t really feel guilty about any of my decadent food and drink habits. So, maybe Lana Del Rey, although now I feel guilty about referring to her like that. So yeah, definitely Lana Del Rey.
Favorite movie? That’s a close tie between Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and the film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire.
Cake or pie? I would prefer to eat cake and bake pie. Or eat cake while baking pie.
Song that makes you want to dance? Anything from Robyn or MIA.
Perfect vacation? London, with my mom. Is that lame?
Photography by Rustic White Photography