Freeheart Project: A Bridal Shop For Forest Brides & Wood Nymphs
Perhaps, you’re newly engaged or are already immersed in wedding planning. Whatever stage you’re in, you probably have an idea that it involves a personal experience that showcases you and your beloved’s personalities. Diana Leahy’s Freeheart Project is a wonderful one-stop Calyer Street shop for brides who know what they want and how they want it.
As a newly engaged gal, I’m personally interested in the shop and I think Leahy’s overall aesthetic is lovely. It’s all about passion, love, and free expression. Isn’t that what we all want?
Freeheart is not just a wedding boutique. In addition to the mindfully and lovely curated selection of dresses, jumpsuits (oh, yes), veils, and jewelry, Leahy offers wedding services that include planning, magic & mystic readings, makeup artistry and more. It’s not about an image, but a thoughtful experience for the couple.
More so, the shop is not designed with one bride in mind. From various styles and price points, you can get creative or stay in a budget. There’s boho dresses, vintage pieces, one-of-a-kind items, flowers, stationery, and planning for the big day.
I recently caught up with Leahy to learn more about her shop, weddings, and inspiration.
GP: What inspired you to start Freeheart Project? What were you doing before?
Diana: As a first generation Ukrainian growing up outside of Philly, I always felt somewhat different from the other kids. So I used style as a way to express that sentiment, and that helped me feel comfortable and free to explore myself and this crazy world. I went through so many phases and hair colors when I was younger, from falling in love with Kurt Cobain, playing the guitar and wearing my dad’s old threadbare cardigans, to bra-burning hippie sauntering shoeless around my Quaker high school, to Russian thug drinking 40’s and blasting hip hop in the car, etc. When I moved to NYC for college the city still had some grit, and was like fashion mecca to me, but mad expensive for a student. Being a resourceful child of immigrants, I developed a good eye for thrifting and finally started to figure out my own personal style. My first job when I graduated was a Buyer at Lord & Taylor, which taught me all I needed to know about the no-fun technical shit like budgets and sell-throughs, and then I went to Urban Outfitters. Working there was a blast–the buyers enjoyed liberal creative freedom when I started, and I met so many amazing, talented people. We worked really hard and more than made up for it with tons of partying. But the chill vibe faded as the company became more and more bureaucratic and I began to realize that my role was fulfilling someone else’s vision that was more focused on growth than connection. I wasn’t into that and knew I had to move on even though I was unsure of my path. I just knew I wanted to help and to learn about people and be creative.
I quit Urban and went to law school thinking it was the perfect way for me to do some good in the world, and while I was in school it was kind of sweet, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I was learning a new skill set, and doing some pretty awesome work like defending Guantanamo detainees, volunteering in the New Orleans Public Defenders’ Office, and advocating for global academic freedom. But when I graduated, there was very little funding for public interest jobs, so I found the reality of being a lawyer less awesome. I also really missed getting to look at pretty things all day, and the creative process of playing with interesting fabrics and colors and the stimulation of creating.
I can’t say I regret going to law school since I met my husband there! We were both in serious relationships when we met but we had this crazy connection and were intensely drawn to each other and this is so cliche but we knew we had to be together, even though it was very messy for a while. So I was in this corporate law job, and planning my wedding was totally satisfying my longing for that creative outlet. In the beginning of our engagement we thought, of course we have to do what’s expected of us and have the big generic wedding with a 250 person guest list, random officiant, thousands of flowers, and unappetizing food. And then the nagging angst you get when you’re not being true to yourself hit me and I was like “fuck this” and went rogue.
In the end, we planned an intimate, warm, low-key wedding with a 1920’s jazz band we saw at our first concert together, family style barbecue, and an after party until 4 am with our extended crew. It was real and meaningful and I loved the process of figuring out what that meant for me and my husband. But it was also shockingly difficult to navigate, because the wedding industry is tired. It’s stuck in that 1950’s myth of the virgin bride with a cookie-cutter frou frou gown abiding by all the made-up rules and living happily ever after. It’s like, come on, we’ve all seen Mad Men and we’re wise to that facade. I was looking for a cool store with a selection of wedding apparel that a stylish Brooklyn girl could relate to, but I couldn’t find it. So after my wedding, and guiding several girlfriends through the same struggle, I decided to create it, so I could help out other women in this profound time in their lives. Freeheart has unearthed my natural inner teacher and nurturer, and I am all about encouraging and supporting brides to stay true to themselves. I like to think that helping women on this journey find themselves and increase their vibration can make the time we have on this earth a little happier.
GP: Do you have a process for curating and selecting bridal items?
Diana: I let the energy I’m feeling kind of guide the creative process. Last fall I was a total homebody. I put my roots down in the city, chilled out and enjoyed the things that really spoke to me here. So I was drawn to loose, flowing gowns with long bell sleeves and soft laces, and funky sculptural, sequined disco ball party dresses at the same time. This winter kicked my ass so I’ve just been dying to get out into nature and play, dance, lie in the sun and just be. My fantasy is to go off the grid and live in the woods upstate or a beach in Nicaragua. Our latest collection of darkly romantic, ethereal, drapey gowns was inspired by reconnecting with that pure state of being.
But to be honest, when it comes to selecting individual pieces, I look for the wedding-appropriate version of outfits my friends–wild, inspiring women with a wide range of styles, shapes, sizes–would want to wear in real life. Basically gorgeous white, blush, and gold gowns that have a super flattering fit and highlight the natural beauty of the Freeheart babe that’s going to rock it. I steer clear of dresses that look like they’d be wearing the bride and not vice versa. And most importantly, the dresses need to feel fun! Fashion is often too serious and we want our brides to really enjoy their big day and celebrate their asses off.
GP: What has it been like running a small business in Greenpoint?
Diana: Greenpoint is having an amazing creative moment right now, which makes it an awesome place for independent businesses. Several of my neighborhood friends have their own design businesses, like Astrid of Metalepsis and Maggie of Wares, and I’ve been so lucky to be part of this strong, supportive community, and to work with them and other Brooklynites to create magical work I could have never done on my own.
Anyone who runs a small business will tell you that the work is never done. It always feels like there is more you could be doing, and it’s easy to forget about your life. But Greenpoint is bursting with soul and energy, so it’s tempting to get out and have fun. And while you’re at it you’re likely soaking in the inspiration, whether it’s because you’re getting crafty at a creative workshop, vintage shopping, or eating some of the city’s best food and not-so-subtlely checking out fellow diners. If small business owners want to continue to be inspired by the neighborhood it’s really important that we make a commitment to preserving its identity, and living in harmony with long-time residents.
GP: I have to know! Do you have any noteworthy bridal/wedding stories? Heart warming? Silly? Funny?
Diana: I’ll tell a funny one because I think the mishaps and imperfections make for some of the most cherished memories. My man and I love to host, so for our wedding we decided to make a huge jug of this cocktail that we loved for our guests to add a little personal vibe. The venue had a policy that forbade outside alcohol but they were cool and basically told us that they would look the other way as long as we weren’t totally obvious about it. So we would refer to our signature drink–bourbon, homemade ginger simple syrup and lemon–as the “iced tea” with quote fingers, assuming they were totally on to us. Well, they weren’t. Turns out they told everyone it was virgin and all the guests got totally fucking wasted, including people who didn’t necessarily want to. But it was delish so I can’t really blame them for telling themselves that they didn’t taste the booze.
GP: Do you have any advice for brides starting the wedding planning process?
Diana: Call me! And don’t buy into the anxiety-inducing hype that is designed to make you feel like there are certain things you have to do. Sort through all the bullshit and do what’s right for you and your love, whether it’s going city hall, a swanky baller hotel bash, elopement, or a laid-back beach camping weekend. Your family may think ya’ll are batshit crazy, but when they experience the powerful, raw beauty that is an authentic and meaningful joining of two souls, they will get it.
GP: What are some of your favorite products at Free Heart?
Diana: When it comes to weddings, the more personalized, the better. We have a very tightly curated selection, so it’s pretty safe to say that you won’t see your Freeheart gown on another chick. But I love the idea of pairing the dress with our one-of-a-kind headpieces: lush fresh and silk flower halos, floor length dip dyed veils, or rad bejeweled crowns. I guess my favorite is one of a kind everything, because when we do custom work, through extensive communication I end up learning about our Feeheart brides and that’s the most satisfying part of the job. We’ve got custom jewelry, dress design, and head adornments.
Another way we really connect with our brides is by offering Event Services. Freeheart works with a network of vendors and designers in Brooklyn who are on the cutting edge of the wedding world renaissance. From flowers, to hair and makeup, to wedding date astrology, we have everything covered. We’re even doing full blown wedding planning! By far the most exciting events we plan are our boozy, crafty, tarot reading bachelorette parties–everyone has so much fun and rituals like these facilitate an exchange of stories and wisdom for the road ahead, and that makes me truly happy. It’s a very holistic approach to weddings, which allows us to fully support our clients.
I’m also obsessed with our new collection of limited edition gowns. The dresses are a modern twist on timeless silhouettes in luxe fabrics that make you look effortlessly hot. And because they’re ready to wear, you can buy them right off the rack and take them home with you the very same day, which relieves the pressure to get everything done a year in advance, so you can still live your life.
GP: Describe your perfect day in Brooklyn.
Diana: My ideal morning anywhere involves at least 15 minutes of cuddling. I swear by snuggles and sex as the ultimate antidote to starting off your day in a shitty mood due to typical NYC frustrations like pedestrian rage, MTA delays, etc. Oh and I’d also wake up hangover-free so that I could make it to a morning Ashtanga session at Sangha Yoga Shala in Williamsburg, followed by a bike ride with my hubby to the McGolrick Park Farmer’s Market for fresh eggs, veggies, bread and pickles (and petting other peoples’ dogs). I go there religiously, because there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t do some cooking, my kitchen is my third home. After that I’d put on the Van Morrison Pandora station, fry up a breakfast of eggs, sweet potato fries, and avocado, with bacon from the Meat Hook or smoked salmon from ACME, and eat it on the couch with my man. After lounging around for a while, I’d go down the block to Diamond Bar for a couple glasses of rose, scrabble, and a gossip sesh with my girls in the backyard garden. Then I’d meet back up with my husband for a picnic on the water in Transmitter Park, and he’d bring the food, naturally (tacos and nachos from Calexico). This dream day would culminate with me lying on a blanket at an outdoor concert at 50 Kent or Prospect Park, under a full moon, surrounded by friends.
Note: hours are by appointment only.