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The one-stop wedding shop

A couple poses for wedding photos at Yangmingshan Park in Taipei.(Huang Xiaoyong/Xinhua)

Taiwan

The one-stop wedding shop

Taiwan’s hunsha wedding shops provide gorgeous dresses—plus everything else

TAIPEI, Taiwan—On a sweltering summer day with a heat index of 110 degrees Fahrenheit, a man and a woman in formal attire posed on the steps of Shan-Chih Hall in Tatung University. The train of the young woman’s blue gown fanned behind her as her fiancé—perhaps near heat exhaustion in his three-piece suit—held her waist, obeying the direction of the photographer.

Shan-Chih Hall, a replica of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, is a popular spot for engagement photos here in Taipei. That’s not only because of its Roman columns and domed top, but because of its close proximity to “wedding shop street” on Zhongshan North Road. The street is host to rows of hunsha stores, comprehensive wedding photo shops that include dress rentals, hair and makeup artists, and even wedding favors. While planning a wedding in America typically requires a hunt for multiple vendors, hours of scanning Pinterest for do-it-yourself ideas, and purchases of expensive dresses the bride and bridesmaids will wear only once, couples in Taiwan need only choose a package at a local hunsha shop and find a venue. The rest is taken care of.

Yet today hunsha stores face a shrinking customer base due to demographic realities: The average marrying age in Taiwan is 29.7 for women and 32 for men, nearly three years older than American couples. With older couples less likely to have multiple children, and some having none at all, Taiwan has the world’s third-lowest fertility rate—1.1 births per woman. Meanwhile, traditional hunsha stores face new competition from boutiques and freelancers who stress customization.

All along Zhongshan North Road’s wedding shop street, mannequins show off rhinestone-studded wedding dresses in display windows, as photo albums propped open on stands outside entice passersby to take a peek at the photographer’s style. The photos typically fall into two camps—soft, ethereal shots of the couple surrounded by nature or dramatic, highly saturated shots of the bride in a ball gown, veil whipping in the (man-made) wind.

Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

Staff of a wedding shop assist on a photo shoot in Taipei. (Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images)

Eline Pun, an English teacher who got married in December 2016, bought her wedding package from Grace Wedding, a small shop tucked into a nearby side alley. The arrangement involved multiple visits: First she and her then-fiancé, Daniel, discussed with the photographer the locations for their wedding photo shoot—six different locations meaningful to their relationship, such as the café where Daniel proposed, plus an indoor studio. (In Taiwan, wedding photos are taken months before the actual wedding.) They then picked out their photo shoot outfits—a tuxedo for Daniel, and three gowns and a wedding dress for Eline.

The day of the shoot, Pun arrived at 6 a.m. to prepare her hair and makeup, then hired a cab to transport everyone, including the photographer and a hair stylist (who changed the bride’s look for each outfit), to each location. After a long day of posing, they returned to the studio at 6 p.m.

“The whole day was dedicated to making memories,” said Pun. “You get to go to places that mean a lot to you and you get to try on different outfits, so it was really fun.”

The couple’s package included 30 edited photos, a photo album, a scroll for wedding guests to sign, a framed photo, and cards for guests to take home. Pun noted the photographer also touched up their pictures to get rid of blemishes and trim their figures.

She made additional trips to Grace Wedding to pick bridesmaid dresses, a flower girl dress, and her own wedding dress and gown for the reception. The day of the wedding, the hunsha shop provided a makeup and hair stylist and a bouquet for the bride. Total cost: $2,300.

But while hunsha packages may sound like a blessing for weary American fiancées, as I walk past these shops, most look largely empty. Some are boarded up with graffiti on the walls, the color fading from ads featuring happy couples. Rising rents and a declining customer base seem largely to blame.

“The low birthrate is a problem,” said Mei Feng, a manager at Only You Studios. “Now women don’t feel the need to get married.” The result: Only You sits next to six vacant storefronts. Despite a decline in business, Feng said her store was doing well overall. It recently moved into a larger space and also opened a four-story photography studio nearby.

Only You faces fierce competition from other hunsha stores, and from newcomers: Many studios now focus exclusively on taking photos, without all the offerings of a hunsha shop. This gives clients the flexibility to pick and choose what they like about several different vendors, rather than buying the more rigid—though convenient—packages.

In order to stay competitive, Feng said Only You has started to unbundle its products to give its customers the ability to customize. It’s also catering to local tastes: The new four-story indoor studio has backdrops of a Great Gatsby–style living room, a Victorian-style parlor, and a flower-covered wall.

“It’s just a matter of what portion of the market share you can get,” Feng said in the upbeat tone of a seasoned saleswoman. “There’ll always be people getting married.”

Comments

  • Minivan Man's picture
    Minivan Man
    Posted: Mon, 02/12/2018 08:13 am

    Cool idea.  Bringing down the cost of a wedding to where its more likely to actually take place.