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Thousands of brides are on a first-name basis with Yolanda. At the store that bears her name and all her sequined flourishes, Yolanda is often in the show room, presiding over the dramatic entryway.
"We feel from the moment they step in the foyer — there’s a beautiful chandelier, a spiral staircase — the feeling of them stepping into a place that’s a little bit of a fantasy land is what we wanted," Yolanda says.
In the fantasy land that is Yolanda’s, generations of brides have come for help.
"Well, my mom knew about Yolanda’s before I did, but we came for my sister’s wedding, which was only planned in three months," says Tara Keating. "I needed a dress asap to be in that, so we came here and I actually got a Vera Wang right of the rack — it was amazing. So I figure I'd come back for my dress."
David Josef, the in-house designer at Yolanda's, did an aqua two-piece for Tara's mom. "Now you have to understand that her hair is a copper color, and a very soft, pale skin. So we did a beautiful aqua, which compliments her perfectly," he says.
"I have to tell you, it is a very touching moment because Yolanda's is — it's more than coming and buying a dress. Really, you turn into family. Every client turns into family. And we miss our clients. After they leave after the weddings, they all say they’ll send pictures and they never do."
Keating promises to send pictures from her wedding on Saturday and leaves with her dress shrouded in a long white bag.
Yolanda, who is former Gov. Paul Cellucci’s cousin, started out selling wigs to cancer and head-injury patients. She opened her first retail store in 1968 with seven dresses.
Her business has survived by growing with the times. In 2005, it became a one-stop shops for weddings — with photography, a salon, cakes and even a fitness spa with a bridal workout routine.
Yolanda, who is 75, says she’s seen a lot of changes in brides’ tastes over the years. "When we first started out, brides came in for that very traditional kind of dress — like a Grace Kelly high neck, lace, beautiful ball gowns — very conservative brides came in wearing gorgeous corsets and wonderful pantyhose to try it on," Yolanda says.
"Now they come in with no bra, no pantyhose, no nothing. They're covered with tattoos and they're looking for the slinkiest dress that's out there."
Yolanda insists the timing of the closure has nothing to do with the economy, she says her store is doing well. But bridal outlets, the running of the brides and the Internet have changed the way women shop for gowns.
"Before they had a little dream in their head of what they wanted. They’d describe it, you’d pull it out, they’d buy it," Yolanda says. "Now there’s pages and pages — there’s the high neck, the low neck, the straight, the full — they don’t know, they just see pictures and they want to try it all and they do."
David Josef admires her work ethic and understands why her daughters — one a dress designer, one a model — declined to take over the family business. "It truly is the end of an era," he says. "Yolanda for 40 years made it look easy. She made it look easy! Going to New York every two weeks, buying bridal gowns, buying the shoes, the earrings. In this economy no one wants to work that hard. Yolanda is the old school way of doing it."
Yolanda will continue to work as a wedding consultant. Her $10 million in wedding dress samples and mother-of-the-bride dresses will be on sale until the store closes at the end of August.
This program aired on July 15, 2009.
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