Something Borrowed, Something New

Two Mobile sisters draw on Southern hospitality and fashion lessons from mom for their bridal shop.

Corinna Hill, Louise McClelland and Elizabeth Parnell bond over a family classic. // Photos by Elizabeth Gelineau

It’s a tradition and a point of pride for most Southern women to share amongst each other. From weddings to everyday entertaining, there’s a big chance something borrowed will be nestled amongst the details. China from an aunt’s sister’s cousin appears every Easter. A bride wears her mother’s earrings on her wedding day. A container used to pack for a dinner party is returned to the neighbor freshly washed with a homemade thank-you inside. In true Southern style, Louise McClelland has “borrowed” a collection of recipes for holidays, parties and showers through the years, all compiled into a three-ring binder. “It is well loved,” she says, flipping through the pages. The cover is decorated with hand-drawn pictures her son Hugh created when he was little that depict all his favorite foods. Extra drawings of broccoli, fried chicken and more act as dividers throughout. Handwritten pages, scanned recipes, highlighted portions and notes to the side personalize the contents. “Some recipes are typed out, and then a friend copies some out of her cookbook so we can see all the splatters on the page,” laughs McClelland. “So, it’s a mismatch.” 

Left to right Louise McClelland serves her shrimp pacific in an icer that was a wedding gift. The three-ring binder decorated by Hugh McClelland when he was young is a family recipe treasure chest.

McClelland has long had plans to make duplicate copies of her recipe book to give both daughters, Corinna Hill and Elizabeth Parnell. However, she always feels there’s one recipe or other that needs tracking down before it’s complete. “I need to just quit adding stuff and give it to them,” she says. Hill and Parnell grew up with the recipes on tables during holidays and weeknights alike. The girls both have their favorites from the collection. Hill is partial to tomato toasties, mini toasts topped with marinated tomatoes, bacon and onion, while Parnell loves the ham delights, flavorful sliders that developed a somewhat cult following in the family. Food has always been a focus and a way to bring people together in the McClelland household. Even in the midst of after-school activities, family dinners were a nearly nightly routine. “I would make dinner almost every night for them even while I was working,” says McClelland. “She is a great cook and she loves to help host,” says Parnell. “She’s always doing bridesmaids luncheons, holidays and things like that.” 

In addition to sharing recipes, McClelland raised her daughters sharing her expertise in another area: fashion. “I used to sew a lot, all my outfits through high school and college and a little while after that,” she says. “And I would sew for them.” They also learned on the go — that is, while shopping. When Hill and Parnell were young, McClelland taught them the importance of quality clothing through in-store education. “We would always go shopping with Mom and she would point out the fabric, what felt nice, what didn’t,” says Hill. Those shopping trips helped develop the sisters’ eye and appreciation for colors, fabrics, shapes and styling. “They used to say when we would go shopping, ‘Mom, why do you touch everything?’” laughs McClelland. 

- Sponsors -

Left to right Handwritten recipes passed down from friends are a recipe-book staple. Elizabeth Parnell pulls a dress from the selection of classic white gowns.

Perhaps this fashion background makes Hill and Parnell’s career change two years ago less surprising. At the time, they were teachers in Mobile, both married with children, and their careers were taking a toll. “We were burnt out,” says Hill. “And we are really, really close, so we wanted to work together.” Once they had a plan for the next chapter, there was only one proper Southern place to have that conversation with their mom: the front porch. “We went out and they said, ‘We have something to tell you,’” says McClelland. “I was thinking, ‘I don’t think I can take care of two babies at one time.’ I thought they were both pregnant!” The news instead was that they had decided to start a bridal boutique.

Although they had no business background, the sisters were not altogether unprepared for their leap of faith into the bridal world with Lilibet Bridal & Couture (formally Over the Moon Bridal Boutique). They had essentially studied fashion their whole lives, their understanding fostered and refined by McClelland throughout the years. Now, when Hill and Parnell attend to brides during their appointments, they draw on the fashion knowledge from mom as well as their own experience wedding dress shopping. “I remember Mom brought all this antique lace [to my appointment] and I couldn’t understand how we were going to incorporate it,” says Parnell. “I think she thought, ‘Oh, this would make a pretty bolero’ and I couldn’t see it at the time. Now, I think back on that and say, ‘Oh, I get it, this is what she meant.’”

The sisters’ warmth and hospitality in bridal appointments come from a combination of Southern tradition and family example. While they entertain brides and their entourages at Lilibet, their mom entertains friends and family, both similar in several ways. Hill and Parnell pull dresses that make brides-to-be feel beautiful and McClelland prepares recipes that make company feel taken care of. The goal for each is to show hospitality and value towards guests. McClelland does this in a special way in naming her recipes. “I name each recipe after the friend who gave it to me,” she says. “The friend who gave me a Vidalia onion recipe told me that the lady who gave it to him said, ‘You can’t give that recipe to anyone.’ So, I named it ‘Nick’s Secret Vidalia Onion Recipe.’” One of her signature dishes, marinated shrimp, has been requested so many times that McClelland can’t quite believe her guests keep asking for it. And, naturally, it has a bridal touch of its own. “I always serve it in an icer that I got as a wedding present,” she says. The dishes never fail to bring guests a taste of home. “Her recipes, to me, are really nostalgic,” says Parnell. 

Left to right Framed photos of past bridal clients fill the shelves at Lilibet Bridal & Couture. Champagne sits in a chiller given to Louise McClelland as a wedding gift.

In the bridal shop, the sisters show each bride-to-be their full attention, with appointments taking place one at a time. “People love how private it is in here,” says Hill. “It’s really important to us to give the best quality service. We feel like we know each bride really well by the time the appointment’s over.”

Prospective brides entering the boutique on St. Francis Street experience a sense of support while shopping. A shelf in the viewing room bears framed photos of past brides who have bought and worn dresses from the boutique, adding a familial touch. The sisters have developed a skill of knowing which gowns might look good on which brides, even if the style or fabric is something they have not considered before, a skill showcased by McClelland early on. “She loves certain fabrics, she knows what cuts are going to look good on us,” says Parnell. “And she was right, she always hits the mark.” “I appreciate when I’m shopping and someone says, ‘That doesn’t work,’” says McClelland. “I was shopping for Mardi Gras one time and made a special trip because this shop had gotten something in that they thought would work for me. It was too much dress, real full skirt and I said, ‘This is just too much, I can’t pull this off.’ And the dress lady said, ‘You’re right, it’s too much dress.’ And I will go back there because they tell me the truth.” Even during their own wedding shopping experiences, the girls learned what they think they might want at first isn’t always what they end up with. “When I was wedding dress shopping, I always said I would never have a strapless dress,” says Hill. “But we ended up buying a strapless dress.” Ever the fashionistas, Hill, Parnell and McClelland put their style intuition into practice by adding delicate tulle sleeves, proving one small addition can complete a look.

Maintaining a sister-business partner relationship would be tricky for most siblings, but it helps that Hill and Parnell are self-described best friends as well. “We work really well together,” says Hill. “I’m not just saying that. We very rarely have disagreements. We’ve realized what the other person is good at and let them take on that role then we try not to get in each other’s way.” Aside from the clerical duties and behind-the-scenes logistics that come with owning Lilibet, the rush they get when a bride chooses her dream dress for her big day is something that never gets old. “It’s one of those things that you look forward to your whole life and any mom who has a little girl thinks about it,” says Parnell. As for McClelland, she enjoys watching her little girls-turned-bridal businesswomen succeed. “It’s all them, and we really are just so proud,” says McClelland.

The shrimp pacific recipe was given to Louise McClelland by her good friend MaryLou Hyland.

MaryLou’s Shrimp Pacific

Serves 8 

2 oranges, peeled and cubed
1 tomato, peeled, seeded and cut into wedges
3/4 cup vinegar
1/3 cup salad oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon capers
1 cup sliced onion
1 tablespoon parsley
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, cooked

1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients but shrimp. Then gently stir in shrimp. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight, stirring occasionally.

2. Serve cold over a bow of ice with skewers.

Sage’s Sour Cream Biscuits

Makes 24

2 cups self-rising flour
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup sour cream

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease mini muffin tins and set aside. 

2. Mix all ingredients together until a dough forms. 

3. Fill muffin tins to the top. Bake about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Cook’s note: McClelland says a good friend cooks the biscuits until just underdone and then cools and freezes them. Just pop into a hot oven and toast before serving.

Mary’s Tomato Toasties

Makes 50

9 roma tomatoes, sliced* 
1/2 yellow onion, sliced 
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste 
50 small toast squares**
3/4 cup mayonnaise
8 slices cooked bacon, crumbled

1. In a large bowl, add sliced tomatoes, onions, olive oil, salt and pepper. Cover and allow to marinate about a day or overnight in the refrigerator. 

2. In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise and crumbled bacon. 

3. Spread mayo mixture on toast and top with marinated tomatoes and onions. Serve immediately.

*Each tomato will give you about 6 slices.

**Louise McClelland uses “Ille de France” mini toasts, which contains 50 toasts. If you can’t find mini toast, you can make your own with a skinny loaf of French bread. Slice, brush with olive oil and toast. 

Get the best of Mobile delivered to your inbox

Be the first to know about local events, home tours, restaurant reviews and more!