I got married this past spring. Three years ago, when I was fairly convinced I was done with being married, I performed the wedding ceremony for my best friend Mamie Morgan and her husband, Alan Hester. It was one of the more beautiful things I’ve ever participated in. Julia Madden Sears was her wedding photographer. My wedding photographer was Julia’s bestie Tara Ashton, which is to say the world is a small and reflective place, and beauty often lies in the details.
This fall, Julia and Mamie opened a bridal salon in West Greenville focusing on indie design and inclusivity, “for anyone who wants to wear a dress to their wedding.” It’s called Opal Bride, and it’s a candy box dreamsicle of a shop, full of lace, tulle, sparkles, and smart women who want to make something good. I sat down with them last month to talk about the power of partnership in all its forms.
Julia has been in this industry for the better part of a decade, and Mamie is a poet. How did all this get started?
Mamie: “It’s her show, her baby. I mean, if you want to see the inside of Julia’s unicorn brain, well.”
Mamie gestures at the shimmery pink and purple surroundings, and Julia laughs. Her laugh is lovely and warm, the kind of laugh that makes you want to laugh with her.
Julia: “It had been my idea for a couple of years. In fact, I’d put together an entire plan before the pandemic. When that fell through, Tara suggested Mamie might be interested.”
Mamie: “Julia sent a four-minute-long voice memo.”
Julia: “It was actually four minutes. The whole vision was too much for a voicemail.”
Mamie: “I was pulling into my driveway, and I thought I’ll just pour a glass of wine and let this unfold. I knew it would do well, because Julia was doing it and she has so much experience in the wedding industry. But I wasn’t sure what I would have to offer.”
It turns out, quite a bit. The intuitions Mamie hones as a teacher and writer are the same she uses to engage with brides.
Mamie: “We’re an appointment-based business, and everything happens in the appointment. It doesn’t matter what someone’s told you about themselves in advance. Within five minutes, you learn a version of their romance, their family and friends, their energy or physicality, their budget. You use all that to help them choose their dress.”
Julia: “It’s why I’ve stayed in the industry. It’s a very close relationship you build with people.”
Mamie: “You have an hour and a half to go from not knowing a person to fitting them with an emblem of the most important moment of their lives.”
And while all the elements of a wedding ceremony change with the times, the chance to wear a gorgeous gown is pretty special. Why does the gown persist?
Mamie: “I think there’s something crystalline about feeling loved by a one and only, about being seen. And perhaps the dress is an extension of that. An introduction. An entrance.”
Julia: “All of our dresses are from independent designers, handmade. That represents a higher level of quality, more intuition in the fabrics, how they lay on a person. Plus, we get to know these people too. We can text designers during appointments with questions about custom work.”
Mamie: “We’ll get new things in all year, take on new designers. And most of our samples will be in more than one size, so you don’t have to struggle to imagine what something might look on you if you’re not a model.”
Julia: “Mamie and I both have a weirdness to our personal style. But that means we’re open to a wide range of what might suit a person.”
Mamie: “We like to work together. It’s gets better the more we figure each other out. Before this, neither of us had ever partnered with anyone other than our spouses.”
Julia: “Mamie’s getting to know me the way no one else knows me.”
Opal Bride, 1282 Pendleton St, Ste B, Greenville. opalbride.com
Photography by Will Crooks