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Shopping Savvy

Super-discounted flash sales offer brides luxe designer styles - without busting their budget

BY NOLA SARKISIAN-MILLER

CTW Features

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Brides-to-be these days have no excuse for not saving money, especially on their milestone-day wardrobe. While many brides have sought out deals on designer gowns at sample sales, second-hand stores and online sites like eBay and OnceWed.com, the latest alternative may save them time along with money.

Until recently, über-popular flash sites, such as Gilt.com, HauteLook and Rue La La, that run members-only sales loaded with discounted designer merchandise, catered to everything - fashion, accessories and travel - but the bridal market. That's finally changing with the recent unveiling of new bridal flash site The Aisle New York and Rue La La's Style: I Do! periodic sales events. They follow on the heels of deals.weddingchannel.com, a venture from The Knot that debuted last summer and focuses on local steals from photographers, jewelers, boot camps and other vendors.

Here is how they typically work: Members get access to private sale boutiques for a short period of time, from a couple days to a week. Dream-worthy, drool-worthy items are typically up to 50 percent off. Membership is free, often invite-only and usually requires a name, e-mail address and sometimes a city and ZIP code. Since The Aisle New York launched in January, membership has tripled and boutiques have included Monique Lhuillier, Elizabeth Fillmore and items from the new Thread Bride collection. A shopper could have purchased an ivory silk crepe sheath gown with satin chiffon draping by Elizabeth Fillmore for $1,690 versus about $3,000 and a one-shoulder silk gazar gown with a pouf accent by Thread Bride for $690 compared to $1,465.

Shopping for a bridal gown online may seem daunting, but brides are a sophisticated bunch and are spending plenty of time researching the Internet before they make their wedding decisions. The Aisle does showcase a number of photographs with their gowns with zoom capabilities and offers sizing by designers. Shoppers can purchase return insurance (for $200) and have the option of returning a gown within five days.

Lucky shoppers who hit up Rue La La's recent bridal events could have picked up a strapless Nicole Miller gown for $399 compared to $1,400, or a Tadashi Shoji flirty frock for $199 instead of $610 along with invitations, jewelry, china and silver. Gilt Groupe's wedding events can net members gowns by Alberta Ferretti and Temperley London and show-stopping pearls from Tara Pearls.

Industry experts say brides can look forward to more shopping options down the road. The private-sale space in general has exploded into a major sector in the e-commerce industry with major retailers getting in on the action, including Saks Fifth Avenue's FashionFix sales. Nordstrom recently purchased HauteLook for $270 million and Gilt Groupe has reportedly raised $80 million to $100 million in private financing, according to BusinessInsider.com. So for brides who can make shopping decisions on deadlines, flash sales can save them thousands on everything from apparel to shoes while helping them pick gowns that'll make 'em look like a million.

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