In My Humble Opinion

hgrass by hgrass @

Talk to any financial advisor out there, and he will tell you that the key to financial planning is diversification.  Hold that thought!

I just got back from the Chicago Bridal Market and realize that it’s time for another blog post.  My last few posts focused on my personal life, but I'm in the mood to pontificate about bridal, so here goes...

I love Chicago.  The weather sucks there, but the weather sucks in Philadelphia in March as well so it deserves a pass.  Midwesterners are "different" than people in The Northeast, but I say that with affection.  The restaurants are terrific, the area around the Merchandise Mart (as well as the whole city) is quite clean, and the hotels are first rate.  In short, if I was a city person (which I'm not), I could live in Chicago before I could live in NY, even though I love visiting NY for a few days at a time - but I just couldn't live in Manhattan.

Chicago is not "my" market however, so I'm not as busy there as I am in NY, and I get a chance to walk around and get an overview of our industry (and specifically the fashion).  There is so much product out there and I really only get a quick glance inside each booth, mostly because it’s really not proper etiquette to "stare" into a competitor's display area.  There are always fashion shows going on, and I have many good friends in Chicago.  As I stopped by their suite to chat, I couldn't help but take in a brief overview of their collection(s).  Even with only this quick glance, it is striking how much everything looks the same these days.  I wasn't 100% sure of this until I spoke to a few magazine editor/friends of mine while I wandered the halls and they confirmed my impression.  For an industry that craves new looks, fashion trends and fresh ideas, particularly the buyers - it's really a shame.

Now I'm generalizing a little here (which I try not to do), as I'm sure many lines out there have some pieces that are innovative, and there is only so much you can do with lace, satin, organza, silk, and beading - but an astute buyer won't pick up a new collection just because a piece or 2 looks different (and salable).   Especially if it’s from a brand new company, without a track record on timely delivery, quality control, and customer service.

And then I walked back into my booth and realized that everything DOESN’T actually look the same.  Now there is no doubt that I am prejudiced in this regard, but what would you expect from the Paloma Blanca and Mikaella rep.  I am so proud of my company, its people, and it's product, and I just can't imagine working for anyone other than Marty and The Bernstein Family.  We have a unique look that is truly different from most of the collections out there, and most of it centers around the fact that we manufacture EVERYTHING in our own factory in Toronto.  Most astute buyers can pick a Paloma "out of a lineup" - we have always had our own look and it’s pretty easy to spot.  Almost everything in the market these days is made in China, and while not necessarily a bad thing (I'll leave that debate for a future post), it does tend to make everything look like "it's made in China".  I don't want to come off as a bridal gown snob here, but I am partial to the clean, traditional look that we are known for.  I even have 2 beautiful daughter-in-laws who were "smart" enough to want to wear a Paloma Blanca, and I now truly understand what is so special about a "Paloma Bride".

After spending 3 days with some of best stores in the country (the rest will be in NY in 2 weeks), it is obvious we have 2 incredible collections this season - and Mikaella is just as nice as Paloma!  This may be the best overall product we have come out with in the 10 years I have been with the company, and that is "saying something".  There are some very good lines out there - and I am in no way suggesting that every bride is a Paloma/Mikaella customer.  What I am suggesting however is that Fall is a great time to evaluate your companies and try to diversify.  It's the key to investing, and it makes sense in merchandising a bridal store as well.  If you need another beaded imported line, there are tons of good companies to choose from; but the choices are very limited if you are looking for something that resembles our unique look.

If you already carry Paloma Blanca and/or Mikaella you know what I mean.  We deal with most of the top stores in the country, and are invariably an owner's favorite company to work with.  If you're not currently working with us, take a look at the authorized retailer list on our website and call a few stores.  My guess is that they will verify what I am saying - that we make a beautiful product at a great price; our quality and fit are impeccable, and we just don't say "no" to our stores.  And what overseas resource can ship any style, any size and color in 8 weeks with no rush fee, and 5-6 weeks with a modest rush fee - every time.  One of my accounts refers to us as the "Yes Company"; what better endorsement is there than that!

No line is perfect for every store, and stores know best what works for them.  That being said, if you’re looking for something a little different to diversify the fashion on your racks, you may want to consider Paloma Blanca and/or Mikaella this season.

If you'd like to discuss the collections, including company policies and the availability in your area, feel free to contact me.


hgrass by hgrass @
Anyone who knows me well knows that I've never really liked fishing.

I think it's because I have trouble sitting still anywhere but on a beach, and I don't love boats.  But fishing is a very popular sport, and many of my friends love to fish.  I've been asked many times to go, but I usually politely decline.

My best friend Mike Raske loved to fish, and he asked me to go with him many times.  I went a few times with him when I was in my teens, but its been a long. long time since I took him up on his fishing offer.  I wish I had.

Last week he had a heart attack and a stroke and died the next day.  I spoke to a mutual friend at the funeral, and he spoke to Mikey the night before - and he was "fine".  Losing a friend (or husband or father or son) is terrible, but somehow it seems worse when you have absolutely no time to mentally prepare.  

He was the best man in my wedding and I in his.  Yes... that's me in my White Tails (with way more hair) and Mike in the ruffled shirt I made all my groomsmen wear.   

It's always been Mike and Cindy as long as Carol and I can remember - for over 40 years it's been the 4 of us.  We spent New Years together, and many trips and mini vacations when we were younger.  That slowed down somewhat when we both had children, but we talked recently about starting to take some trips together now that we were pretty much empty nesters.

But I talked to him on the phone every few weeks for as long as I can remember, and I can't get a grip on the fact that I'm never going to speak to him again.  He was one of the smartest people I knew, and had a law degree (although he switched careers many years ago).  Some of you may have known him as the owner of Sydney Bush Slip Company, as many of the bridal stores and designers did business with him over the past 30 years.  Whenever a store who knew him found out that we were friends, I always got the same reaction: "Michael was a great guy and a pleasure to work with".  

That was the Mike I knew.  EVERYONE who knew him loved him, and you could tell by the conversations at his funeral.  Sometimes you go to funerals and hear all of the plaudits and praise that gets spread around and you say to yourself..."Who are they talking about"?  But not this time.  All of the kind words and great stories didn't do justice to the kind of man that he was.  He was a terrific family man - a great husband and a loving father to his 2 daughters.   And he loved those girls and couldn't talk enough about them.  Not in a bragging way (anyone  who knew him knows he didn't have a "bragging bone in his body").  But he was so proud of his girls, and they loved to fish with him.  He loved dogs, and always had a springer spaniel since the day I met him when I was 15 years old.  And yes, even his daughter Dani's brittany Elle was at the funeral!  That was so Mikey.

I've been in a funk for over a week now, and I think I'll feel better when I finish writing this blog and get it all "out".  But I'll never be quite the same, and I realize that these things happen when we get older and lose the ones we love.  And Carol and I DID love Mikey.  

Dani and Lauren wrote a beautiful eulogy for their father, and read it grave side.  It closed with a poem, and we cried when we heard it.  But it was such a beautiful poem, and so fitting of a tribute to my friend - for a life well lived.  RIP Mikey, I will never forget you!  H

Gone Fishin'

I've finished life's chores assigned to me,
So put me on a boat headed out to sea.
Please send along my fishing pole
For I've been invited to the fishin' hole.

Where every day is a day to fish,
To fill your heart with every wish.
Don't worry, or feel sad for me,
I'm fishin' with the Master of the sea.

We will miss each other for awhile,
But you will come and bring your smile.
That won't be long you will see,
Till we're together you and me.

To all of those that think of me,
Be happy as I go out to sea.
If others wonder why I'm missin'
Just tell 'em I've gone fishin'

by Delmar Pepper
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