Style Q&A: Heather Batt of Hayden Olivia
Heather Batt launched her uptown wedding boutique weeks before the market crashed in 2008. Ten years later, business is thriving
SEATED COMFORTABLY in an armless, cheetah-print chair, Heather Batt’s simple elegance and calm demeanor suggest she’s accustomed to sipping Champagne with clients while they step behind silk curtains to try on wedding gowns. Here, at Hayden Olivia in uptown, selecting a couture gown happens under high ceilings and three sparkling chandeliers, with friends and family seated on white sofas.
Batt launched the business 10 years ago, in spite of naysayers and skeptics. Deciding there was a market for couture bridal gowns, she found a second-floor space in a historic building on Tryon Street, drew up how she wanted it to look, got approval from the city, and became the general contractor.
On a Saturday morning in late March—a busy season for fittings—we sat down with her at the boutique named for her daughter. (Interview edited for length and clarity.)
Charlotte magazine: Why did you go into this business?
Heather Batt: I’m a Clemson grad and was a third grade schoolteacher. But I couldn’t leave it in the classroom—I brought it home with me. I knew I needed a change. So after a year of research and really digging in to decide what I wanted to do, I chose bridal. There was a niche in couture bridal, meaning a higher end, quality dress that falls in that $3,000 to $4,000 price point. We had many naysayers—many people said, ‘You’ll never make it. You don’t have parking. There’s no retail in uptown. Nobody will know you’re there.’ And so we’ve built this business bride by bride.
CM: Hayden Olivia is named for your daughter. How old is she now? Do you have other children?
HB: She was eight months old when we opened the store, so she’s 10. We opened our doors September of 2008. I’m a mom of four. She is the oldest, then three boys. Pure mayhem. I’ve worked most Saturdays for the past 10 years; my children knew no different than to be with Daddy on Saturday. So my husband now has an amazing platform called Daddy Saturday. They kick me out of the house, saying, ‘You’re going to work, Mom, right? It’s Daddy Saturday.’ They prefer it that way.
CM: What’s the most beautiful dress you’ve ever sold?
HB: That’s a really hard question, because sometimes people associate the most beautiful dress with the most expensive dress, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true. We have gowns that have an opening price point for under $2,000. Bridal designers launch twice a year; I will have a new favorite, and then it changes again.
CM: How have wedding dresses changed since you first opened?
HB: The first five years, it was lace, lace, and more lace. And then we moved into a boho, simple, flower crowns style. Now we’ve moved into classic, clean, silk gowns in all silhouettes. So from massive ball gowns to fit and flair gowns—we’re very much on this classic, clean, simple look. And crepe—silk crepe. Simple skirts. Less strapless and more straps. When we first opened, we were almost 100 percent strapless—that’s what everybody wanted, a strapless gown. And now it’s the complete opposite. So it definitely changes.
CM: What’s the most extravagant dress you’ve ever stocked?
HB: We had a gown that had a ton of real feathers on the bottom of it—I think that gown retailed for $12,000. We have a couple of gowns, right now, that fall between $8,000 and $9,000. But the bulk of our gowns fall in the $3,000 to $5,000 range. Some intricate piece of detailing is what drives the cost up. So if it’s a fully beaded Swarovski bodice or a fully embroidered skirt, then a detail is going to drive the price.
CM: Where are the gowns made?
HB: We try as hard as possible to work with U.S.-based designers. Katie May makes all of her gowns in Los Angeles. Katherine McDonald is out of Charleston, and her gowns are made in Tennessee. With a lot of our designers, their bodices or construction may come from overseas factories, but the finish work is done stateside. And that would be the majority of the rest of the labels that we carry. There’s a label called Sareh Nouri, which we adore, and she’s all made in New Jersey. There was a time where I was able to say everything that hung in the boutique was U.S.-based, and now I can’t do that anymore.
CM: How did you find this location?
HB: Everyone’s always stunned to know I found my space on Craigslist. I had been all over this city with real estate agents and brokers, looking for our space. I could have chosen several vanilla boxes in the SouthPark area, which is where they all wanted us to go, where they advised us to go. Nothing had character. One afternoon, scrolling real estate on Craigslist, this was posted.
CM: What have you enjoyed about this business? It seems to suit you well.
HB: I love the entrepreneurial aspect of it, of owning my own business. But it’s hard—I mean, it’s hard work! We opened weeks before the market crashed. So to sit here today and look back 10 years—I was 27 years old, I didn’t know what I was doing. I just surrounded myself with a lot of virtual mentors and physical mentors, people that would pour into me. Goodness, it’s been a ride.