Maya Holihan is busy building a bridal empire in Hampton Roads.

Maya Holihan had longed dreamed of opening her own bridal salon. After working for Gianni Versace and Vera Wang in New York, she moved to Norfolk in 2003 and began working for Tiffany’s Bridal on Military Highway. While she enjoyed working with the owners, she realized, “I was looking to create an environment that was a bit different than the one I was working in.” At the same time, the owners, who lived in Richmond, hoped to retire if they could find the right person. “I had a conversation with them about whether this was the right fit for me, and that I may be seeking another opportunity,” she says. “Two hours later they called and said, ‘Do you want to buy the business?’”

Holihan was just 31 when she purchased the store in 2004. “We got to work out some really generous terms that worked out for both of us, and I had my dream realized. That was my first store, Maya Couture on Military Highway in Norfolk.”

Since then, she has grown a veritable wedding retail empire in Hampton Roads, with six bridal salons, a wedding planning studio (The Bridal Dish), two bridal shows (Uniquely Yours and MayaPalooza) and a new online business launching in April that will serve as a marketplace for used and overstock bridal gowns and wedding items. We recently caught up with the busy entrepreneur as she was preparing to open, on March 2, a new 16,200-square-foot House of Maya Bridal Salon at 258 Granby Street in downtown Norfolk.

What drew you to the bridal business?

I’ve always been a romantic at heart. I grew up in Cape Cod, and it’s a resort area in the summer, and there are lots of weddings that take place there. From a very young age, I was fascinated with weddings and brides.

What was it like to work for Vera Wang?

It was amazing. I remember being on the job my very first day, and I saw a woman walk out of a dressing room in this absolutely gorgeous gown and I knew that I was where I wanted to be in my career forever. I still remember the look on her face when she saw herself for the first time in that gown. I enjoyed the fashion aspect, I enjoyed learning about each woman and her wedding, talking to the family. It’s just such a special time in someone’s life, and to even just be a small part of that…I was hook, line and sinker.

Tell us about the day you opened your first store.

It was amazing. I had worked there long enough to know what the clients wanted and what they needed … To be able to use everything I had learned from Vera Wang and from Gianni Versace and my service background, I felt like I was set free.

Tell me about the price range for the dresses in your stores.

The price point is about $1,000 to just under $10,000. I’d say the average bride spends between $1,500 and $2,500.

What is the most expensive dress you’ve ever sold?

Probably $11,000 in one of my stores. If you’re talking Vera Wang, the most expensive gown that I have ever sold was $25,000.

What is the most popular look for bridal dresses this year? 

The beautiful thing about bridal attire these days, it’s really anything goes, it’s really about the personality of the woman and who she wants to be on her wedding day. But I would say some of the trends for 2017, we’re seeing a lot of baring of the shoulder–off the shoulder neckline, peekaboo shoulder, high neck and halter—and we’re seeing more romantic silhouettes with lots of ruffles that are really billowy and free-flowing. Then on the opposite side of that, the very modern, structured look…minimal, but with great construction and movement.

Tell me about your favorite bridal story.

I had the opportunity to work with two brides, who were sisters and getting married within just a few weeks of each other. And it wasn’t until nearly the end of the experience that the mom pulled me aside and said, “You really turned what could have been a sad moment for us into one of hope and enjoyment and joy.” I found out that the reason the two sisters were getting married within a week of each other was because their father had cancer and was not expected to live.

MayaPalooza is coming up soon. What can people expect?

When we designed the show last year, we really wanted to do something that was not your traditional bridal show. We wanted it to be very fun, almost like a reception. MayaPalooza offers a break in the planning—it’s for couples to come and put the stress aside and just have fun with our vendors. We call it a wedding/music/lifestyle mash-up because it’s got lots of energy and dancing and excitement. There are mini fashion shows throughout the day where the models walk the runway to live music. We also have a specific area designed just for the men [with casino games, beer, music and tailored services for the entourage and their wedding party], and a VIP experience.

Tell me about House of Maya Online, which will debut in March.

I probably cull close to 75 or 100 dresses each year off the floor, that I can’t sell. Most bridal salons are mom and pop—they’re very small—and if you cannot manage your inventory you will go out of business. I started calling the retailers that I knew, and calling some of my designers and asking them if they were as challenged as I was and the answer was overwhelmingly yes. House of Maya Online is the place for retailers, wholesalers, wedding professionals and consumers to come together to buy and sell gently loved and overstock merchandise.

What do you love about your job?

I just love helping couples realize their true beauty on their wedding day, being able to help them create a moment in a wedding and a look that is unique and speaks to their personalities and the love that they have for each other…It’s such a beautiful orchestration, in many cases it’s a true production. To have a hand in that, it just fills my soul. I get so much enjoyment out of it. HouseofMayaBridal.com, TheBridalDishbyHouseofMaya.com, HouseofMayaOnline.com

Mark your calendar: MayaPalooza, presented by House Of Maya Bridal Salons. March 4, 12-5 p.m. Virginia Beach Field House, Virginia Beach. Tickets from $10.

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