in downtown Lake Zurich has dressed more than 50,000 brides and three generations of women in the 40 years since its doors opened.
And the founder, who is known only as Volle, said she is proof that with hard work, passion and determination, the American dream still is within reach.
Volle came through Ellis Island in 1923 with her family and millions of other immigrants who had dreams of a better life.
She was just a young child when her family emigrated from Germany. Little did she know then that the passion she would develop for design would open up a world of opportunities for her.
Volle’s family set down roots on the northwest side of Chicago in a predominantly German neighborhood. From the very beginning, she displayed a talent for sewing — and a business savvy that would set the course of her life.
“When I was 4 years old, my mother taught me to sew and I had a real knack for it; a dance teacher lived in the same building as my family and I helped make costumes for performances. She paid me 11 cents a week,” Volle said.
By age 8, she had developed quite the business enterprise. She cleaned houses, baby-sat and did hair.
“I was good for 25 cents a week then, but all of it went to help support my family,” Volle said.
Ensuring the Future
Then, a chance meeting in her home in the early 1930s would enable her budding passion for design to grow ultimately into a thriving business.
“I heard someone crying and I went to see what was going on; my mother was telling an insurance salesman at the front door that she couldn’t afford to buy a policy from him,” Volle said. “As tears came from his eyes, he said if he didn’t sell a policy that day, he would be fired.”
Volle asked the man how much, and he told her it would be 11 cents a week for a 20-year policy.
As she paid on that policy through her adolescent years and into her 20s, Volle sketched hundreds of beautiful and sophisticated dresses and gowns for women as she mapped out her dreams for the future.
All the while, Volle refined her talents, and in 1944, she moved to Lake Zurich.
“I paid every week on that insurance policy until 1959 when I cashed it in,” Volle said.
With the insurance money, Volle planned a trip overseas with dreams of marketing her designs around the world.
Before leaving, she met a German woman named Emme, who not only cared for her three young boys during her travels, but who also was a talented seamstress who would be instrumental in developing Volle's business.
While in Asia, Volle hired three young men from Hong Kong to help manufacture her designs.
For nearly five years, she would send pictures, sketches and fabric samples overseas to the Hong Kong factory where the men would create garments from her designs to be used in downtown Chicago fashion shows where she exhibited her work.
“By then I had six models who were also my salespeople,” Volle said. “I would showcase my designs during shows at big hotels like the Palmer House and the Hilton.”
The fashion shows were coordinated by a former Chicago Sun-Times writer named Maggie Daley — a different woman than former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s wife, who happened to share the same name.
Because of exposure at the fashion shows and connections to the popular media personality, Volle built up an impressive clientele of movers and shakers in Chicago.
“I took on a number of high-profile clients who would call on me and want me to create custom-made dresses and gowns for social occasions,” Volle said.
Volle, with Emme alongside her, sewed in the basement of her Lake Zurich-based design business on Echo Lake Road, where she still lives today.
By the early 1970s, Volle decided it was time to reinvent her business.
“I passed by what was then Sterling Piper Funeral Home and had $750; I went to a Realtor and said I wanted to buy the property,” Volle said. “I was able to cut a deal.”
Volle gutted the building, which today is . She put in the winding stairway that is the focal point as you walk in the door, and where many happy brides have their pictures taken for posterity.
“I remember coming home from college and asking my mom why she went in to selling wedding dresses, and she said she wanted to give a special gift to women on their special day,” said Kerry Dean, Volle’s son who serves as president of the business.
Legacy of Service
The type of customer service that Volle has offered to her clients over the years is something that is difficult to find these days.
“Volle once received a call from the father of a bride at 6 p.m. on a Friday before the wedding; the wedding dress had been hanging in a closet with plastic over it and the light bulb in the closet melted the plastic onto a sleeve,” said Deanna Dean, Kerry’s wife, who serves as vice president.
Volle worked the entire night to recreate the sleeve, and it was done and back in the bride’s closet by 8 a.m.
Though she officially retired a couple of years ago, Volle recently was minding the shop while Deanna worked with a bride. She introduced herself to a customer who recalled a memory from the past.
“She reminded me of when she bought her wedding dress from me; her mother was dying of cancer, and I came to her house and helped to dress her so her mother could see her,” Volle said.
Volle was also an expert at creating custom wedding gowns for brides who could not find what they wanted, Deanna said.
“We did things for brides nobody else would ever do,” Volle said.
Turning Tragedy Into Trust
Just more than 16 years ago, experienced what could have been a business-ending tragedy. The printer’s building next door suffered a major fire on July 24, 1995. lost 3,000 dresses due to smoke and fire damage.
Instead of choosing to close the boutique, Volle, Kerry and Deanna decided they would spend, and do, whatever it took to make sure every bride had her dress for her special day.
“We decided we were going to do the right thing,” Kerry said. So Volle sold property in California to help cover costs, and they traveled wherever they had to throughout the United States to find replacement dresses.
And that type of good business ethic has helped Volle maintain a client base that has spanned generations.
“I’m starting to see generations of women coming through our door; the grandmothers that used to come in, now their daughters and granddaughters are coming here,” Deanna said. “Volle's is the staple of the industry, truly because of the type of service the business was built upon.”
In addition to more than 500 hand-selected wedding gowns, Volle’s sells dresses for flower girls, first communions and a variety of social occasions.
Volle’s has also developed a private line only available at the boutique called Volle’s Exclusive Designer Bridal Line.
Homecoming, turnabout and prom dresses are available as well, in addition to purses, bags, shoes and jewelry.
Third Generation Joins Business
Volle’s granddaughter, student Kristina Dean, helps out with design choices for the business.
“She adds a fresh perspective by going to market and prom shows to help pick designs we will ultimately carry,” Kerry said. “We call her and her two friends who attend the shows Volle’s Angels.”
“If there is something from a manufacturer the bride isn’t fully satisfied with, we can change the neckline, add beading or make other adjustments,” Deanna said. “Just a couple of weeks ago, I literally sewed a bride into the dress — we do what it takes."
Since joining the business, Deanna has added a "seamless" service for Volle's clients.
“Deanna can be the personal assistant to the bride on the day of the wedding; if grandpa doesn’t know how to tie his tie, the groom doesn’t have a vest, or a hem comes out of the wedding dress, for example, Deanna takes care of it,” Kerry said.
As the family reflects on the legacy of the business, what shines through is pride in its humble beginnings and in how far it has come.
“With no connections and blind faith, Volle just charged ahead, and we’re still doing it the old-fashioned way,” Kerry said.
“The proudest thing for me is to see my family keeping the legacy of what I set out to do; it is fabulous for me,” Volle said. “To see the happy faces is the real joy of this business.”
- Read more about Volle's: Volle's Bridal Donates Money To Make-A-Wish