Take 5: Boutique Shopping

Lilac’s Owner on Dressing Up


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Before opening Lilac Dress Boutique, London-born Pilar Burlingham worked at small and large retail institutions including Cartier, Tiffany & Co. and Bloomingdale’s. Her well-heeled work experience paved the way for her to have her own dress shop in Alameda.

1    What’s your secret to success?

Most people thought I was mad opening my shop during a recession, but I thought there was a niche that needed to be filled. The truth is, Alamedans like quality pieces and want to support local businesses when they can. Giving people what they want is key. Also, I think it is important for me personally to be in my shop every day to get to know my clientele and provide my customers with what they are looking for. Really, my customers are my buyers. Whether someone is looking for a plus size, formalwear or weekend wear, I will do my best to accommodate them.

2    What inspired adding weekend wear and enlarging your space?

Alameda is full of casual people as well as those needing clothing for special events, so expanding my business was a natural progression. In my new space, I now offer clothing from a wide range of designers [that] includes fancy jeans, cargos for Saturday morning and just good quality, casual clothing in general. It’s been really fun taking my business in a new direction. And my next plan is to bring in some casual men’s pieces. The fun never stops.

3   How is your wedding business going?

Part of my background was working in a Nicole Miller shop, so I know her dresses well. Her wedding dresses are my best sellers. I learned early on that she designs the perfect destination, garden or wine country wedding gown. A third of my clients in 2012 came from S.F. to find a Nicole Miller wedding dress. That classic look is still very sought after. But I, of course, carry other brands as well. The old Hollywood feminine gown is also quite popular. Regarding wedding gowns, I would say brides now care more about the fabric and cut of dress more than anything. What bride wouldn’t want to enhance her figure? That’s a big part of finding the perfect dress.

4    Who does your window displays?

I dress all of the mannequins, and Susan Bell, a local floral designer, brings in coordinating floral arrangements. In fact, as of June, Susan started consulting with my brides and other clients and now has her own desk in my shop. She consults with customers by appointment only but can often be found on Saturdays just helping out. The  window displays are a lot of fun for us, and we love the feedback we get from them.

5    What is your Belle of the Ball program?

It’s a spin-off of the Princess Project, an organization that gives away free prom dresses. We’ve taken this idea in our own direction. The community donates dresses and jewelry, and vendors and the shop itself donate dresses as well. We pick a Sunday when we are closed to open it to girls to come and shop for free. We try to do it by appointment so that each girl has someone helping her. In 2012 we gave away 64 dresses. Our neighbors at Blue Dot donated fresh lemonade and warm cookies. Young girls and teenagers donate their time for the day and assist in any way they can. It’s a heartwarming, fun event for everyone.            


Lilac Dress Boutique, 1918 Encinal Ave., 510-865-2544, open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.–Sat., www.lilacdressboutique.com