by beth landman | February 18, 2013 | Style & Beauty
Camille Thiry Russler in her Coconut Grove boutique, Ever After.
Gowns are presented like works of art at Ever After.
Victoria strapless modified A-line gown with a curved neckline and full-length duchess ribbon bands, in silk jacquard and duchess satin, Vera Wang ($15,900).
Corded Chantilly lace gown with a sweetheart neckline and tiered tulle trumpet skirt, Oscar de la Renta ($6,990).
V-neck Heidi gown with taffeta details, threadwork embroidery, and antique-crystal beading, Carolina Herrera ($14,990).
Swarovski crystal earrings, Maria Elena Accessories ($200).
Swarovski crystal floral headpiece with corroded silk detail, Maria Elena Accessories ($850).
On a bright afternoon just before Christmas, a statuesque brunette arrived at the chic Ever After boutique in Coconut Grove for a fitting of her bridal gown, which was being created in couture style. When she set eyes on the tulle muslin with an addition of a six-foot train, a look of rapture crossed her face. The gown’s designer, her wedding planner, and her stylist seemed equally pleased, as a team of eight ladies at the boutique went to work customizing proportions on the garment.
Ever After looks more like a gallery than a typical wedding shop. In this loft space with slate floors, dresses are encased in glass and up-lit like works of art. The owner, Camille Thiry Russler, 38, is a romantic herself. “People in the bridal industry probably got there because of the way they felt about their own weddings,” she maintains. “They are attracted to what a wedding means in a woman’s life and are able to see what they can offer to that moment.”
What she offers is a hipper vision of the ultimate matrimonial attire, and she shops the markets, meets with designers, and attends fashion shows to stay cutting edge. Just last month, she headed to Paris to see the collections. Fashionable doesn’t mean less formidable: The dresses in her boutique range from $4,500 to $30,000—and couture creations can go for as much as $100,000.
It’s probably no coincidence that the store happens to be located on the site of a now-shuttered bar called Murphy’s Law: It’s where she met her husband, who had come to Miami to start a fiber-optics business. Russler was a schoolteacher getting her master’s degree, focusing on special-needs children, and working with fourth-graders in Miami’s inner city. Her personal experience shopping for a wedding gown left a lot to be desired.
“I followed fashion my whole life, and I was excited about shopping for my gown,” she recalls. “I wanted to enjoy it, but a lot of what I saw was frilly, and the places were aggressively selling other things like invitations and party favors, so I couldn’t focus on the dresses.” She went to New York but still didn’t find what she had envisioned. “I had imagined going to Dior or Valentino and having beautiful pieces presented to me.”
Russler decided to make that dream reality and spent two years researching the bridal business. She then began scouting locations, studiously avoiding the classic Miracle Mile location. Russler looked at Brickell and the Design District before settling on Coconut Grove, where she opened her shop in 2002, when she was just 27 years old.
“I wanted more of a beautiful environment, a tree-lined area, where women could come shopping with their mothers and grandmothers and go to a café afterward,” she explains.
The former bar was transformed with the aid of Bloom Interior Architecture firm. “They got my vision entirely,” she says. “We gutted the space and had to scrub nicotine stains off the ceiling that had accumulated during its days as a bar.”
Russler had to interview with designers to carry their dresses, and after one year she landed Vera Wang, followed by Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, and other luxury brands. In 2004, she launched her own line of one-of-a-kind custom eveningwear, broadening her scope to other members of the wedding party and guests. “From design to production to manufacturing, I did it all,” she says. But ultimately, Russler decided to concentrate her couture efforts on bridal dresses and open a boutique area of Ever After selling pieces made by other designers.
Those dressing for a once-in-a-lifetime occasion can be particularly demanding, and the service Russler provides to her clients goes beyond what one might expect from a dress boutique. There was a bride who asked for a 10-foot extension on her chapel-length train, and another who wanted a last-minute change that required moving the comb on her veil an inch. “She was having a Saturday wedding at The Breakers Palm Beach, and she called that day, but there was an oil tanker overturned on I-95 and massive delays,” she remembers. Russler found a helicopter that would arrive on time, but there was room only for the veil, not a person, because Miss Universe was on the aircraft. “We had to get her permission to transport the piece, and she was very nice about it,” Russler says. A new silk organza veil was created, a town car met the helicopter, a concierge met the town car, and the bride was thrilled.
It’s no wonder Ever After has grown from a $1 million to a $3 million business in the last five years—even with the challenges faced by the high-end shop during notoriously difficult times. “A crucial turning point was 2008 because the financial climate was so strained. But I made the decision to stay with luxury, and it paid off,” she says.
At this point (her 10th year), Russler is selling 400 to 600 gowns a year, and she has her sights set on expansion. What is particularly exciting for her is that the concept of a wedding gown is changing. “Brides now are looking to couture and red carpet for inspiration,” she observes. “I think there is going to be a shift from the formulaic pieces to nudes, blush tones, and metallics. There is a new breath coming into the iconic gown.” 2977 McFarlane Road, #100B, Miami, 305-444-7300
PHOTOGRAPHY BY GARY JAMES (RUSSLER WITH GOWN, GOWN, EARRINGS, boutique, gowns,