By David Bjorkgren , Special to the Hellenic News of America
A wedding. A prom. Your first formal event. These are special moments that come with a certain atmosphere of elegance and sophistication.
You want to be at your best. Fortunately, there’s Van Cleve to help you arrive in style.
A fashion design leader on the Main Line for 30 years, Van Cleve has moved to even larger and more elegant quarters, the Van Cleve Pavilion, nestled in the Paoli Design Center at 1604 E. Lancaster Ave. in Paoli. The Pavilion joins several other businesses, many focused on home design, inside the one building and completes a lifestyle journey for shoppers taking them beyond one simple shopping experience.
On Dec. 6, Deborah Van Cleve Phelps opened the Pavilion down the street from her previous Lancaster Avenue location at 68 E. Lancaster Ave. The new site offers its clientele 7,500 square feet of showcase, featuring dozens of well- known fashion designers.
Guests gathered Tuesday evening, Jan. 24, to toast the new Pavilion and celebrate Van Cleve’s 30th anniversary. A jazz musician at the keyboard set the mood while guests sampled hors devours, sipped wine and explored the various showrooms and gowns on display. Above, chandeliers and special lighting highlighted the elegant gowns. Models were happy to show off some of the bridal fashions available, as guests posed for photos near a silk flower wall created by Nicol West Segel of Nicol Floral Design.
“We needed more space and I’m basically crazy. I said ‘let’s pull out all the stops,’” Deborah Van Cleve Phelps said about the new location, as she greeted visitors Jan. 24. “I’m never going to retire so I might as well work in comfort.”
Besides the center show room, the Pavilion has spacious fitting rooms, a bridal gown showroom, a fireplace to cozy up to while checking out the dresses and gowns, and a Signature Salon containing specially curated collections.
Phelps said she’s always been interested in the design business and that designing clothing came naturally to her. Even so, staying on top in clothing design requires constant focus, constant vigilance to keep up with the trends.
“You have to be more focused, know where you belong in your niche,” she said. Trends are forever changing and you can’t remain static. “I don’t buy into what other people are doing. I buy what I feel the market is doing, the retail market, and where I should be. I’m not in competition with anybody. I’m only in competition with myself.”
The Van Cleve goal, according to the business’s website, is to be the primary “one-stop shop” for brides, bridesmaids, and flower girls. Van Cleve prides itself on offering the newest European and American fashions to its collection. From dress to accessorized headpieces, veils, custom jewelry, footwear and handbags, Van Cleve has it covered.
But fashion doesn’t stop with the bride. You can also check out the many lines of upscale sportswear and the largest, most diverse selection of Black Tie in the Main Line area. Van Cleve is an award-winner for its Eveningwear, Mother of the Bride and Prom attire.
The Van Cleve Collection caters to women ages 17 to 70. Sales consultants in the store provide one-on-one service for a memorable experience. For brides who want a custom look, the staff will work one-on-one to sketch your ideas, and to involve you in all aspects of production, from picking the fabric and trim to the end product. All gowns are made on the premises with in-house seamstresses on duty six days a week.
Van Cleve’s general manager, Abbie McGrath, loves the new place. “It’s beautiful, obviously,” she said. “We were formerly in two separate buildings so being all under one roof where we can all be together has been great.”
The one-stop location has helped their clients as well, she said. “Our brides and moms, they can all kind of shop together, bridesmaids as well, so I think it’s enhanced the shopping experience.”
McGrath, who has been general manager now for almost seven years, said having the largest selection and service second to none has made Van Cleve a success. “We give brides an excellent experience all around from dressing them to their final fitting.”
Tina Fanelli knows first-hand what McGrath is talking about. She was recently married and went to Van Cleve to purchase her gowns and seek their help.
“I don’t even have the words to express how amazing they all have been,” she said. “They take care of you like you are the only person that matters. That’s how I’ve always felt from the time I walked in to even now.”
Fanelli describes the new Pavilion as “stunning,” and adds, “They deserve to be here. The other building was beautiful, but this is glamorous.”
Fanelli was a first-time customer for Van Cleve who happened to be lucky enough to find them through a Google search while looking for an outfit from a particular designer. She had already been to seven other boutiques in Pennsylvania and Delaware before she stumbled on to Van Cleve where she actually found a design she liked better than the one she was searching for.
“One second and that was it,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was looking for and it just kind of slaps you in the face.
“I’ll forever, ever, come here,” Fanelli said. “You find a good dress, you find good people and you’re there for life. And the building isn’t a bad thing to see.”
Tom Deignan, the Pavilion’s landlord, called Van Cleve’s opening at the design center a “win-win” and welcomed the fashion design business to the other side of Rt. 252. “Debbie Van Cleve is a wonderful person with a wonderful business,” he said. “She’s been a grounding rod here in the Main Line… a tremendous success story and my hats off to her.”
From the Pavilion’s center hall you can visit more than nine other shops in the design center focusing on outdoor gardens, spas, kitchen and bath design, window dressings, closet and storage concepts and art work. With the addition of the Van Cleve Pavilion, the design center has now become more of a lifestyle center, says Doris Elofer, co-owner of Window Concepts, which she runs at the center with her husband Charlie. “The way we like to think of ourselves—someone can come in here, no matter what age you are, no matter where you are, whether or not you have a home, or just getting ready to purchase a home, wherever you are in the life cycle, we have something that we are all able to offer you,” Doris Elofer said. “The most wonderful thing is that we are able to take pride that it’s a beautiful building. We like to think that it’s an experience to come here, more so than just shopping for one thing or another.”
She believes the addition of the Van Cleve Pavilion will be a great experience for everyone. “We’re all very excited about it,” Elofer said. “When a bride is here with her six bridesmaids, and they’re all walking through the building, going from one thing to the other, you know as a business owner it’s all about exposure and that’s what’s very welcoming.”