Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Meet & Greet: Jeana Lee and Charlotte, owners of Birmingham

Jeana Lee (left) and Charlotte
on her wedding day in a
LulaKate custom gown

Through thick and thin (and even tornadoes!) sisters Jeana Lee and Charlotte have stuck together and made Birmingham’s Bella Bridesmaid a total success. Since opening their store in March of 2007, these southern sisters have collected many exciting stories and experiences that we were dying to hear about. We were lucky enough to catch up with these lovely ladies and get the scoop…

BB: What did each of you do before owning Bella?

JL: I did sales and service for State Farm Insurance.

C: I did marketing for SunTrust Bank.

Sisters pictured with their father at a fundraiser

BB: Why did you want to become part of the Bella franchise?

JL&C: We wanted to become part of the Bella franchise because we saw a great need for a Bella Bridesmaid in our city. Birmingham had nothing that even compared to a Bella Bridesmaid from the utmost excellence in customer service to the chic and modern dress selections. It was a no brainer for us. We immediately jumped at the opportunity and never looked back!

BB: What is the most memorable moment so far in your boutique?

JL: The day that Charlotte and I loaded up EVERY single dress that was awaiting a pick up into her vehicle amidst a tornado. It was April 27th, 2011 and on this particular morning we woke up to news reports that early morning tornados had destroyed several large areas in Birmingham. It really hit close to home because one of our dearest friends, Heidi Elnora, a bridal gown designer, sustained a significant amount of damage from one of the twisters. It really made Charlotte and I think about what we would do if all of the dresses that were awaiting pick-ups by bridesmaids for weddings taking place in the next few weeks were damaged, destroyed or better yet found in someone’s front yard in another state. The meteorologist adamantly warned that the worst was yet to come. The weather conditions were ideal for that of extremely violent tornados. The entire city was a ghost town as everyone was at home in their safe place heeding to the tornado warnings having seen the destruction that the early morning twisters had caused. After a few minutes of convincing Charlotte that yes we do have insurance but that State Farm would not be able to magically reproduce the missing dresses needed in the next few weeks she finally gave in to my action plan of packing ALL of the dresses into her vehicle. Being that it was April 27th we were busting at the seams with dresses that were awaiting pick-ups for all of our May and June weddings. The weather was getting nasty and we were racing against the clock as we loaded Charlottes vehicle to the absolute brim with dresses and then of course all of our important documents. We just kept looking at each other in passing with arms full of dresses saying, "Can you believe that we are doing this?" From there we parked her vehicle in our parents basement. Thankfully Bella Bridesmaid was not in the direct path of destruction for the deadly tornados that wreaked havoc throughout our state that day. Although the loading and unloading was quite the undertaking we agreed that we would do it over and over again if it meant avoiding the nightmare of something happening to those darn dresses!

BB: What are your favorite bridesmaid dresses that are hanging in your personal closets?

JL&C: Having been in a combined 27 weddings (Seriously...Charlotte has been in 16 and Jeana Lee 11), we have quite the combined collection of bridesmaid dresses. Our personal favorites are Lula Kate and Amsale. We have SO many short Lula Kate dresses in our closets because they fit so well and they are so adorable.

Charlotte & Jeana Lee pictured with their mom
in their fave Amsale gowns
JL: My absolute favorite is the Lula Kate "Zoe". I own it in 5 different colors and it's my "old faithful, go-to dress".  My black and white Zoe (white bodice and black waistband and skirt) is nicknamed the "sisterhood of the traveling pants" dress. It has been so many places and to so many events and it fits every single person that borrows it.

C: My favorite Lula Kate is "Maggie". No joke, we could possibly open a Lula Kate freestanding store with just the Lula Kate dresses that are in our closets at home.

JL: On the flip side we adore our Amsale chiffon dresses because they are so elegant. My favorite is G425C but I just ordered G660C for an upcoming event in December.

C: My favorite Amsale gown is G462C. The Amsale chiffon dresses are great because they can be paired with a fabulous pair of statement earrings, pearls and heels for a black tie event, or you can pair it with gold hoop earrings, gold bangles and a great pair of gladiator sandals for a more casual feel.

Dylan Lauren via VOGUE

BB: What is your fave celebrity wedding dresses?

JL&C: One that stands out in our mind is the dress that Ralph Lauren designed for his daughter Dylan Lauren. It was simple yet effortlessly chic.

BB: What are your go to dresses in the store?

JL&C: It really all depends on the bride and what her specifications are for her bridal party. What kinds of body types she is trying to flatter and if she is open to the option of different necklines and any other special request that she may have. Lula Kate almost always ends up being the go to because what girl doesn't like to have options of getting exactly what she wants plus an added bonus is that you can add a ruffle to any Lula Kate dress. Birmingham gals love their ruffles! Amsale is the go to for the brides that want long, flowy dresses.

BB: What is the best wedding trend you've seen recently?

JL&C: When the bride chooses one neckline for her bridesmaids and then allows each bridesmaid to choose the skirt for the dress. Simply reversing the trend of choosing your own neckline. We have done this with several weddings and it is great because the bride still gets the uniformity of all one neckline while still adding that individual touch of getting to choose the skirt that is most flattering for each bridesmaids body type.

Sisters photographed with girls in Bella dresses!

BB: We heard you both recently went to South Africa. Could you tell us a little about your experience and what you did there?

JL: Charlotte and I worked with a township of about 60,000 people in South Africa called Kayamundi. They all live in aluminum sheet houses that have literally been thrown together, no indoor plumbing, no indoor water. There is a program there that works to get the children motivated in their educations and furthering themselves to be better all around. It teaches them dance, sports and a number of things that keep the occupied after school and out of trouble. Even though they live in the slums there are still a number of normal things that they do such as have proms and dances at their schools.

Jeana Lee & Charlotte photographed
with children in South Africa
Charlotte and I helped to orchestrate a "lending library" for all the girls in the program for proms, dances, etc. What they do is look through the catalog of dresses. Decide which they would like and then a town seamstress fits it to them. After the event the dress is returned to the dress library. We took 200 lbs of discontinued dresses that we had been saving up not knowing what exactly for but knew they would one day come in handy. We got to go to the township and help them pick out the ones they wanted for their prom which takes place at the end of this month, as they attend school year round and it is now South Africa's spring season. It was an awesome and humbling experience.

Thank you both!

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