Happy Isles — The Must-Visit Spot for Brides-to-Be
After the initial elation of an engagement proposal, the realization of the massive event you’re about to produce sets in. Planning a wedding can be an incredibly confusing, frustrating and stressful process. (This is perhaps why our closest friends and dearest family members sometimes turn into actual monsters.) And pretty much the most important detail of this elaborate production is the dress. If you’re not ready to shell out five or six figures for a custom-made designer gown, your pickings can seem rather slim.
Three years ago, with this in mind, Lily Kaizer opened the vintage bridal shop, Happy Isles. Each garment (+jewelry, veils, accessories, footwear, etc.) in the gorgeous appointment-only space is hand selected by Kaizer from all over the world. For anyone getting married, Happy Isles means that you can at least cross off that top line item on your seemingly endless to-do list. Recently WestwoodWestwood stopped by the space to meet with the entrepreneur to chat about how she got the brilliant idea, how she feels balance in her life and what’s to come in the future.
This place is incredible, how did you find it?
Long story, but I used to work for a production company before I started the store. And this space used to be the office of that production company. So when my old boss was moving, he told me to just take over the space. And we got to remake it, which was really fun.
How long have you been here for?
Almost three years! It’s only just settling in that it’s a real number — three years to be doing something.
How did it all begin?
My first job after college was this fancy vintage store, Resurrection, and when I was there, we used to get calls all the time from brides. They hated everything in bridal stores. So I had this idea of doing elevated, vintage, bridal gowns. I was younger and it made sense to me. A lot of people don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on designer vintage. But when you’re getting married, you usually budget a bit more for that important piece. So it felt like a cool way to capture a bigger audience and bring them into a vintage world. This is what I want when I get married. I didn’t see myself in those regular types of spaces.
How old were you at the time?
I had that idea when I was 22 and didn’t do much with it. Then I started working for Ed Brachfeld, who has an event and photo production company. He lived in Paris in the ’90s and did all of these crazy campaigns. He did Celine’s campaigns for decades and he’s just a wild creature of a man. I met him at a party and we were like fully rolling. He was like, “Wait, you have to work for me and come to Paris Fashion Week with me next week.” And this was while I was looking into other work. I had no idea what I was getting into. The job started on my 24th birthday — in Paris! It turns out it was so wild and super hard but it gave me all the professional experience I could need and more. We were just working with crazy clients with all of the expectations in the world, but no money. It was all about managing all of these budgets that were ideally meant to offer a high-end luxury experience. It taught me how to kind of make something from nothing. So I was a producer for two years.
What was the production exactly?
Fashion shows and photo shoots, influencer dinners and a lot of store openings. I got all my grey hairs from those two years. But it was amazing. I just packed it in. But after a couple of years I realized that it was such a toxic thing to be in events. The tasks were insormountable but when you pull it off, you get this high and, you get addicted to it. It’s really fucked up. I realized that’s not what I wanted to be.
Yeah you have to be a bit of a masochist.
Totally! I think all event producers must be a little bit crazy.
So how did you transition from producing to opening the store?
When I was at Resurrection I got to see new beautiful things everyday. Having that visual stimulation, beauty is a really important thing to me; it fuels me to be around beautiful things. I was sitting at my desk one day looking through a Dior runway show and I had a lightbulb moment: I had the concept for this bridal shop. It sounded so relaxing! I’d produced pop-ups; I could make a store. So that’s how I started! I got less money from what I wanted but I made it work. Three years later and here it is! Marketing it initially was pretty easy as there isn’t that much going on in the bridal world. And now it’s evolved into parties and events. I have clients that are collectors so I cater to them too and get the best of both worlds.
What are some things that you’ve learned, starting your own business?
It’s a constant emotional rollercoaster. It’s sort of impossible to separate work from life, so I’m learning how to manage the flow. Everything I do at home is to keep my head in the game for the business. It’s my art, the way that I’m living. I try to keep a holistic perspective always — when I’m eating, seeing friends, working on projects, when at the store — to sort of see it as one. It’s very hard to explain but that’s what I’m learning about now: having more awareness of the cause and effect of the decisions I make.
It sounds like you’ve really found a balance and enough work to stimulate and sustain yourself.
I’ve sort of reached that point in the fall. Things are sort of in a place; I can trust it a lot more and I don’t need to take on things for insecurity.
What do you mean?
I can say no to more stuff now. After three years of running a business, you can be more grounded and turn down events or trunk shows. It’s still going to move.
Tell me about the trunk shows and events.
I’ve been trying to travel more and trunk shows have been super successful. They’re basically a way for me to hook up with clients in major cities, bringing the entire store to another state and into a home or hotel room. I’ll do events and sometimes there’s a charity involved. I go to New York three times a year and to do proper appointments for a week. My audience there is almost as big as in LA! It’s really cool but the travelling does get to be a lot.
I can’t imagine packing everything up!
I’ve gotten really good at it. [Laughs] You get into your groove and use your packing list. Thank god I have the production experience.
You know everything’s always going to be okay.
Even if shit goes wrong, there’s always some lesson I can learn. It helps you get better for next time. It’s a lot of work to just keep your head in the game and remind yourself of all of those things. It’s so funny and weird. Very weird. But I couldn’t imagine doing anything other than this.
So it’s for forever?
I think so. It’s a combination of everything that I love: I love fashion. I love meeting people. Love feeling out women and where they’re at. Love meeting a mom. Love travelling, meeting crazy people.
And you have your own space. It’s so calming. I would get so much done in here.
Yeah it’s important to have a nice office that isn’t depressing.
Who occupies the adjacent storefronts?
Random People. There are casting offices; there are always actors waiting in the courtyard, practicing lines. Gives you a nice slice of LA. There’s some funny guys in the front that have this clothing brand; they’re just some bros from Newport. They’ve invited me to play beer pong.
[Laughs] Yes! I’m actually leaving soon. I need a change of space. In the next six months I have a lot of life events going on. I’m getting married in February and we’re going to try to have a baby next year. I want to live closer to where I work, maybe live where I work.
How does your fiance feel about that?
He’s very down. He also has his own business so we understand what we’re going through and that it makes sense from a financial perspective. The rent is so cheap here it’d be a nightmare to find a new place to rent, but I’d rather pay a mortgage than do something crazy on Melrose or whatever. I’m by appointment so it doesn’t need to be a street traffic moment which is really nice. We just do basically one group at a time. We’ll see what the next iteration of this shop will be in a new space. And what’s most ideal for people.
Would you expand into other categories?
Probably, depends on the amount of space I have in the next spot. I want the bridal world and the party world to be in different rooms. I do have a home collection on the website, so maybe having that displayed. I want to start selling undergarments. I’m always recommending to people to buy things to wear under things, like some sort of nude bodysuit, like Spanx with bra cups in it. I need to have a lingerie corner where they can try it on under a dress. I can’t imagine producing them myself. I just need to have some inventory from an existing company.
No interest in doing some sort of white label situation and selling some undergarments under your name?
The people that have stores and can produce their own inventory, like how do you have the bandwidth for that? That’s one thing I’m also learning about. There are so many things and priorities. I’m constantly learning how to best prioritize and stay as close to what the true goals are.
What are the immediate goals?
To make and save enough money to build a new store. More marketing. Although it’s been three years, more people need to know about it, always. To get out there and get people in.
How do you market?
Instagram. Every once in a while there’s a press moment but basically those two for the moment.
Do you have stylist come in and pull things?
A little but not in a huge way. I haven’t yet met the bigger stylists and they have their world. For me it doesn’t totally make sense to have things out for editorial, because people are spending money to make appointments to come and see the clothes. To have something out, it won’t give me much to show them. I’d prefer to keep all of the inventory present in the store for when someone wants to buy it. Plus I used to work with stylists a lot, so I understand there’s shit that goes down sometimes. Garments aren’t always necessarily well looked after.
Where is everything from?
(Points at a long, long-sleeved white dress with embroidered with emerald jewels, hung by itself on the wall.) This one is from a dealer in Phoenix. She got it from a woman that wore it once in 1957. She was a redhead. Her name was Nan.
Do you know the stories behind many of the pieces?
I know some information about 50-60% of the pieces — but very rarely the entire backstory. Because there’s so many hands they’re exchanged between.
Do original owners ever come directly to you?
More and more. I’d say most things in here have changed hands two or three times.
It’s so interesting to think about it like that, how special one of the dresses might have been to someone.
Totally, everything is a mystery and they’re a needle in a haystack to find. And all the white stuff is really cool and interesting — if it’s white, old and really pristine that’s really rare.
Is it difficult to bring things back to original color?
I don’t do a lot of restoration. I do some beading repair, but I usually won’t buy something if I need to put that type of work into it. It’s nice to have those limits when I buy because it weeds things out for me. It’s nice to have white as a focus too because I could buy the world of vintage, but to know I’m looking for white stuff, it’s very helpful to sway against hoarding. Which I think is something all vintage dealers need to be mindful of. Everyone’s a secret hoarder with way too much shit.
How do you find your dealers?
Any time I’m travelling I take the time to look up the vintage shops in town and connect with owners. And I keep in touch. I’ve found great things in Florida, Texas, California, Philadelphia — there’s great stuff everywhere!