I was present for the grand opening of Bombshell Boutique in St. Paul, and have been a fan of owner Denise Alden’s fabulous shop ever since. She stocks gorgeous, covetable clothing and proves to her customers that style has no size. Let’s hear from Denise!
What inspired you to launch Bombshell?
In a word, beauty. Or rather, the lack of diverse images of beauty in the world. Beauty encompasses so much, and so many, and yet we’re subjected to images that all look exactly alike. That, and I figured I couldn’t be the only fabulous babe who wanted clothes to match her personality!
Do you have a background in retail or sales?
None whatsoever. Talk about a steep learning curve!
What was the biggest challenge you encountered in getting your business off the ground?
It’s hard to say. Looking back, there were lots of challenges and learning on the fly when we began, but I now know that opening a shop is child’s play compared to keeping it open, you know? Financing is a big challenge, and balancing work with your life. Everyone always says that when you have your own business, you never stop working, and I used to think they were wrong or overly dramatic. Not so much anymore: I have to make a conscious effort on a regular basis to make sure I’m not always thinking (or, god forbid, talking) about the shop.
How did you select the lines that you carry? How often do you consider adding new lines?
Okay, maybe this was, and continues to be, one of the biggest challenges of running my business. I knew I wanted to carry lines like Igigi and Kiyonna, but I also did lots of searching for lines that weren’t available, or that were from very small designers, or from Canada and Europe, to really bring the designer experience to my plus size market. When I select lines, I really look for fit first. Our aesthetic is about celebrating beauty, and that philosophy is one that many vendors selling plus size clothing were (and are) confounded by. I look for fitted, tailored clothing that shows off the figure, not over-sized clothing designed to hide something. I am always looking for new lines, because believe it or not, in the short time we’ve been open, several lines we once carried are no more.
What do you wish you could tell the current group of plus-sized clothing designers?
I don’t know that I have anything to tell current designers of the clothing I buy, but I would caution new designers, large or small, to really do their homework on fit. Many large companies will add a plus size line onto their straight size line simply by “adding inches.” This practically guarantees poor, crazy fit. You have to commit to plus size, and that means a size 18 fit model.
Do you think high-end designers will ever make good on promises to manufacture clothing in plus sizes?
No. There are lots of reasons for this in my opinion, but it is a chicken and egg problem if ever there was. I can’t buy plus size clothing if it’s not available (duh), but on the other side of it, I can’t manufacture clothing that plus size women won’t buy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some version of this: ‘Well, if Gucci (or Marc Jacobs, or Chanel, et al) made clothes in my size, I’d buy them.’ However, the same person will balk at spending $200 on a dress or jeans in a boutique. Designer denim could run $1200: are they really going to spend money on designer clothing? I don’t think so, and neither does the market.
Can you recommend any plus-sized style or fashion bloggers that inspire you?
I am in love with Stephanie Zwicky; I think I first discovered her through you and your blog! I enjoy Nicolette Mason; I really like her point of view. I am also inspired by Anna at Curvy Yoga, as well as Advanced Style. And I am thoroughly entertained by Tom and Lorenzo. They judge stylists’ choices, not celebrities (well, not too much!) and they feature the few plus size celebrities there are. I have learned a lot about styling from my gay uncles (that’s how they refer to themselves). They’ll post a photo of an actor in designer duds, and then post the look from the runway. I’ve found it invaluable to see how things fit and are styled outside of a fashion show.
Any plans to create an online shop for Bombshell?
No. We do so much here that doesn’t translate well to the virtual world. Interestingly, Chanel doesn’t sell their clothing online (yet), either. Here’s why, according to Bruno Pavlovsky, President of Fashion at Chanel: “We sell a lot of clothes. Our clothes are quite sophisticated and one of our strengths is alterations. To be able to wear Chanel clothes, you need to try them on. You need to be in the fitting room. You need to have a tailor who alters the clothes to fit exactly to your body. I think it’s part of Chanel. It’s more than just our service. It’s part of our differentiation to have ready-to-wear that is perfect for our customers.” Well, we are not Chanel, of course! But we feel just as strongly as they do about assisting our customers with fit: whether that’s selecting silhouettes for her figure, or suggesting tailoring, or even offering styling advice when it comes to colors and accessories. We can’t do that online, and we’re really about creating memorable experiences and lasting relationships with our customers.