For the past 35 years, Deborah Van Cleve has been the first—and last—name in Main Line glamour. Thousands of brides have found their dream dresses at Van Cleve’s bridal and evening wear boutique.
Main Line bridal style: It’s classic, traditional, tasteful, with clean lines—and a hint of sexy.
Main Line MOB style: These days, most women don’t want to look like stereotypical mothers of the bride—or groom. They want to look special and beautiful. Some want classic looks, some want edgier designers. As a courtesy, they usually consult with their kids on the color of the dress. Other than that, the only rule for mothers is to wear dresses they love.
Her first career: I was born in Philadelphia, but my family moved to Houston when I was a month old. I stayed in Houston until I was 35. There, I was in the interior design business.
Her move to Malvern: I came back here in 1986 and transitioned into fashion, doing home parties for a 100-square-foot accessories boutique near Valley Forge National Historical Park. When the partners split up, I bought the business for $5,000 and kept it for several years. I opened in Malvern, in the old Cocked Hat building, and expanded into clothes—but only sportswear, not bridal. Later, I moved to Paoli, eventually expanding into the building next door. Other vendors sold gowns, invitations and everything you’d need for a wedding. It was a one-stop bridal shop.
Where she is today: In 2008, the economy crashed. Vendors couldn’t pay their rent and left. I didn’t know what to do. My father used to say, “If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything.” So, for three months, I waited. One day, a man from Pronovias—one of the most exclusive bridal gown designers—walked in the door. He wanted Pronovias gowns to be in my store. So I went into the bridal business. Eventually, we moved to our current building to better serve our brides.
Next up: Five years ago, I was going to retire—I was looking for the next chapter. Then I decided that I haven’t finished the chapter I’m in.