Joan Pillow hasn’t sold the wrong thing in 35 years.
“I’ll never forget what Stanley Marcus, [president and chairman of the luxury retailer, Neiman Marcus] told our executive class, ‘never sell a customer something that’s wrong because even when she thinks it’s right, wherever she’s wearing it, her friends will wonder where she bought it from.’”
Pillow says this is what has allowed her to stay in business for 35 years. “It’s not just to make a sale,” she tells CultureMap. “It isn’t.”
Her second-floor, appointment-only, Joan Pillow Bridal salon is closing its doors after 11 years in Houston’s Highland Village. Pillow opened her Atlanta salon in 1989, and 35 years later, she announced her retirement via social media.
“It has been emotional,” she shares with a quiver in her voice. “You do something that you love and you don’t think of people coming back and reacting the way they have.”
Pillow is known for buying fashion. She notes that brides today aren’t taken by names, such as the lines she carries from Oscar de la Renta, Naeem Khan, Reem Acra, and Ines di Santo, as they are fashion and beautiful designs.
“I listen to them, I understand my dresses, and I understand a girl’s body, so my selection is always complementary,” she says.
Growing up with her mother sewing, Pillow says she always had a strong grasp on quality and fabric. Her background at Neiman Marcus was “the finishing portion” because she understood high designer couture.
Pillow worked her way through Neiman Marcus’ executive program in Dallas with the goal of becoming a store manager. Upon completing the luxury department store’s program, she moved to Chicago to work at Marshall Field’s, and found herself being transferred to Atlanta to be close to family.
“Rich’s became Macy’s and Davison’s closed,” Pillow recalls. “It was a transition of a lot of different retail chains.”
After 29 years in Atlanta, Pillow closed her eponymous salon, and she and her husband continued commuting to and from Georgia’s capital to guide debutantes and brides on their quest to find the dress.
“Although I didn’t renew my lease, I’m not going anywhere,” she says. “I’ve assured my debutantes, because I have quite a few for 2020, that I’m simply relocating.”
For brides like Randa Carrabba, founder of PowHer.fit, a full-body resistance training and community support app, Joan Pillow was recommended through a friend.
“I initially found my dress at a bridal salon in Dallas but it was outside my price range,” Carrabba tells CultureMap. “When I went to Joan Pillow, she let me buy the sample size, which fit my budget.”
Carrabba says she felt a personal connection with Pillow and her spring/summer 2016 Monique Lhuillier blush pink bridal gown fit her romantic Valentine’s Day meets classic fairytale theme perfectly.
“The entire experience was really special; I felt really special,” she says. “Joan flew in from Atlanta the day before my appointment, her husband was there, patiently, and I could feel the time she took to really pour into me.”
Local jewelry designer Christina Greene McAllen says Joan Pillow was her third stop of the day.
“I probably had eight fittings, and each time, they were very accommodating,” McAllen shares. “Joan went above and beyond when it came to my off-the-shoulder dress. I was worried about being able to dance at the reception, and she blew it out of the water.”
McAllen’s recent summer nuptials in Crested Butte, Colorado featured a traditional and elegant gown with an oversized bow in the back.
Former E! News and Entertainment Weekly reporter Lindsey Caldwell McConathy says her time with Pillow “was unlike any other.”
“Joan really cares not only about finding the perfect dress but also getting to know you,” she tells CultureMap.
McConathy’s wedding planner referred her to Joan Pillow and after reading top reviews on Yelp and Google, she made an appointment.
“I didn’t feel pressured to purchase a dress,” she says. “She really knows women’s bodies. It was the first time I actually felt like it was something I could wear.”
The former reporter says she was aiming for something different but still classy to match her Palm Springs meets the South theme. She fell in love with a Naeem Khan fringe dress she purchased from Joan Pillow, featuring beaded fringe, and wore it as her second dress.
“Joan is an expert in buying,” McConathy shares. “I hadn’t seen anything like this before.”
Pillow shares she has made a lot of friends in the Bayou City, and although her doors are closing, she will continue to dress debutantes who become brides, and later, friends.
“There’s no city like Houston,” Pillow says. “And, I’ve lived a lot of places.”