As a university-trained fashion designer who’d interned with both a London jeweler and a high-end hatmaker, Aline Niedrich was well-qualified to launch her own accessory label back in 2012. Which she did, building an audience on Etsy under the name Polly McGeary for her sparkly, feminine shoe clips and hair bows. But it was a chance flea-market find two years later that set the Berlin-based maker on the path to building Polly McGeary Wedding Antiques, a romantic mother lode of sentimental vintage and antique bridal accessories.
At first, Aline wasn’t sure what to make of the two delicate, antique myrtle corsages she’d unearthed on one of her regular flea market jaunts; she just knew that they were pretty. “Then I learned about the amazing German tradition for the silver and gold wedding anniversaries, when these kinds of corsages are worn by the celebrating couple,” Aline recalls. “I started talking to my grandma about the tiaras, and she herself had three crowns that were keepsakes from friends.”
Aline listed the corsages online, and they sold out within 24 hours; soon, customers began asking her if she had myrtle tiaras as well. So she did what any budding bridal-accessory entrepreneur would do, and…called her grandmother again. “I asked her how we could get more of these tiaras and corsages, so she asked her friends and the women in her knitting circle, and some of them still had sets from their own wedding anniversaries, as well as some from their families.” Word spread, and several of her grandmother’s friends sold Aline their keepsake sets; today, she supplements these with finds from local antique sellers, and of course, flea markets.
The tradition may be old fashioned, but the look holds tremendous appeal for modern brides. “I love my customers, who inspire me with their special requests and their stories about their weddings,” Aline adds. “I love when I get to help a bride to find the perfect tiara!”
Read on to learn more about Aline’s creative journey and the most memorable pieces to pass through her hands, and shop the Polly McGeary Wedding Antiques collection.
How did you decide to sell your antique wedding accessories on Etsy, and how has that decision affected your work or your creative process?
I was a buyer on Etsy long before I decided to open my own shop; I think the first item I bought was a laptop bag from a girl in Israel. I loved the idea of not just buying something, but also connecting with the maker or seller. As a seller, I became part of the community through my Etsy street team, and met people who would become real-life friends. We meet up every few weeks, call each other to build one another up or talk about problems, or just go out and have dinner all together. It’s awesome to meet like-minded people who get it when you’re talking about your shop stats, shipping issues, and the life of an Etsy seller.
Where did the name of your shop come from?
When I worked for a hat designer in London, we had a lady who came in almost every two weeks to pick up her custom headpieces. She always brought her 5-year-old daughter, Polly, with her. Polly was free to pick her own outfits every day, she had the most amazing, colorful taste ever. Her favorite was to wear her mother’s silk scarves as big bows on her head. When the time came to design my final thesis collection, I thought of a grown-up Polly who would wear the clothing I designed. And McGeary is an Irish last name I came across when working in London—I just think it’s the raddest name ever. A lot of people think it must be my name. I wish!
What’s your workspace like? What do you love most about it (or wish you could change)?
I recently moved flats and decided to put my studio in the spare room; I used to have a separate studio, but I think I can work more effectively with the studio in my flat. Although the window in my workroom isn’t the biggest, I have the best daylight for taking pictures. I also love that I have my great grandfather’s dresser to hold most of my tiaras and crowns.
How would you describe your personal aesthetic? Is it the same as the aesthetic of your shop?
I like an eclectic mix of new and antique furniture. Mixing new with old is something I love—it brings together history and the present. That’s probably why I’m so drawn to the idea of a 150-year-old heirloom that gets to have a second life as a wedding accessory. And I love the look of my model, Nadine: She has a very classic face, with fiery red hair and amazing Art Deco tattoos.
What are some things you’re looking for when sourcing items for your shop?
First, I’m looking to see if the pieces are in good shape, and if they are from a particular time period. I do sometimes find sets that are in very bad condition; I remember once finding a beautiful, rare tiara from around 1870 crammed inside an egg carton. But I often work with a friend who is a goldsmith, and sometimes I will send the really damaged pieces to her so she can fix them. Old tiaras in very good condition are very hard to find.
What’s the most popular type of item in your shop?
The tiaras are my most popular item. I think it’s because they are so unique—none is like the other! Every piece has its own history, even its own aura. I think that’s what brides and grooms are attracted to the most.
What piece or pieces were you most excited to add to your shop, and why?
The most random item ever was actually a set of three flamingo-feather flower brooches. I found them at a flea market; they were from the ’50s and in their original packaging! I think flamingos are so fascinating, and the fact that their feathers were made into flower brooches is just amazing!
Your items are all one of a kind. Is it ever hard to say goodbye to something and send it off to a customer? Have you ever been tempted to hold onto a special piece?
Every time I wrap up a tiara or a veil, I get super emotional—especially with items I got from family members of the couple who originally wore them, as they’ll often come with letters or boxes with the couples’ names on them. There’s one set in particular that I photographed and intended to sell, but then had the feeling that I needed to keep it for myself. It’s a dainty silver tiara with a matching corsage that I got from a man who sold the silver treasures of his aristocratic family. The tiara is from 1872 and was worn by one Paula Lehner and her husband, to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.
Do you have a specific type of person in mind—an imaginary customer—that you think of when you’re sourcing antique wedding accessories? If so, what are they like?
I don’t have a specific person in mind; all my customers are so different. There can be a rockabilly bride with pink and blue hair, or the bride from Korea who happens to have German ancestors. I try to find all the amazing tiaras that I can and provide them to my customers, whatever their taste.
What have been some of the most exciting moments in the life of Polly McGeary Wedding Antiques?
I have a customer whose husband bought her one of the prettiest tiaras I have ever had. Her wedding pictures were simply amazing—they even appeared in an issue of Martha Stewart Weddings. I was super proud that she took the time and effort to have me mentioned in the story, and I have a copy of the issue framed in my studio. I was also invited to represent European sellers for Etsy’s IPO bell-ringing ceremony in 2014, and I felt very proud and lucky to be able to go to New York and celebrate with fellow sellers from all over the world.
What are your plans or goals or for the future of your business?
Currently I work in a retail shop two days a week to keep my income stable, but I would love to be able to quit my second job and work full time on my shops! I am also planning on doing more collaborative photo shoots soon. Most of all, I am looking forward to seeing my label grow.
Photographs by Janina Wagner.