The man who gave us Aveda and Urban Retreat has turned his attention to bridal with The Wedding Gallery, a one-stop shop for everything to do with planning your wedding
George Hammer may not be a name you know, but you will almost certainly know brands he’s helped to develop in London. There was The Sanctuary day spa in Covent Garden, bought as a fledgling business in the 1970s and turned into the capital’s first day spa. Later he gave us Aveda from the US and L’Occitane from Provence. Later still, there was the Harrods-based concept hair and beauty destination Urban Retreat.
“To the question why now, my response is: why has no one done this before?”
Now George Hammer has turned his attention to nuptuals, bringing us The Wedding Gallery. Opened late last year, this is a dedicated space for brides and grooms – bringing shopping, planning and design under one roof. So why now seems the obvious question, and his answer to that is simple: “My response is: why has no one done this before?”
Trained at London College of Fashion, George’s career veered off the fashion rails. His business ventures have largely been about joining the dots, spotting the brand or concept that makes life more pleasurable, or simpler. He points out that when he first started with The Sanctuary, for example, it was in an era when beauty therapists were generally blue-rinsed and clothed in white coats and rubber gloves. So sometimes, it’s about taking an existing model and reinventing it to be more…customer friendly.
In the case of weddings, what George has spotted (as soon becomes clear to any bride or groom embarking on the great wedding expedition) is how much time can be spent booking multiple appointments and then sitting in the back of taxis. So that’s what The Wedding Gallery aims to help with. Here is one central location where couples can come together with planners, designers, cakemakers and the rest. It also has a ‘library’ space, where couples can check out venues and other suppliers. And there’s a club where you can have a meeting, a drink or simply chill.
While George says his expertise is not in weddings, he is not exactly a freshman. The Wedding Gallery sits in the crypt space beneath One Marylebone, which is one of his fine London event and party spaces (under the One Events brand) and hugely popular for weddings. And when that started out, it was a fresh and innovative concept too, offering dry hire in a beautiful and flexible space in order to let people design their celebration their way.
“There are two key criteria for inclusion. It has to be the best or it has to be cool”
At The Wedding Gallery, the idea is to curate the best. But George says best does not mean most expensive. “There are two key criteria for inclusion. It has to be the best, for instance couture or a really great designer, or it may be more affordable but then has to be cool – something different or beautiful. We want the extraordinary here, never just ordinary”. Never one to cut corners, George brought in Christian Lahoude (formerly store designer with Gucci and design director at Tiffany & Co) to redesign the former crypt for retail – and it’s been done beautifully.
Now, as you walk through The Wedding Gallery you might see designs by Oscar de la Renta and then browse Needle & Thread down the hall (back to George’s best and beautiful idea). There is a full in-house styling and advisory service, which can guide people through the whole planning process, or just through the fashion – women’s and men’s. George was adamant that groomswear should not be an afterthought. “I insisted, so we have multiple great names – for instance, Gieves & Hawkes, Tom Sweeney and Casely-Hayford. Also George Cleverley, who makes the best men’s shoes in England in my opinion; Fred Astaire used to wear his shoes.”
The Wedding Gallery is an inspiring space, definitely more fun than starting your wedding planning journey chugging around London in a taxi. “We have designed this to turn what can be a stressful experience into a pleasurable one,” says George. “And people can use it as they want to. They don’t have to buy everything here – they can come here just to browse and then buy nothing at all.”
Over time, George would like the concept a lot further. “For me, ideas are never the hard part, it’s the application, he says. “Getting the balance right is so important. Ultimately, this must be a hub of knowledge, as well as a place that makes planning a wedding a pleasure not a chore. And I can’t think of a better location to bring that all that expertise together than London.”