It’s been 46 years since dress diva Yolanda Cellucci transformed her dreams into a glittery and glamorous reality. From “rags to riches,” she emerged as a successful businesswoman and recognized queen of fashion. She is simply a living legend.
I had the pleasure to meet with Yolanda at her chic apartment near Boston. I felt electrified by her charismatic and cordial personality. She kindly made me feel at home.
A very influential personality in the Boston fashion world, Youlanda started out in 1967 by selling wigs, soon afterward opening her eponymous store in Waltham. Yolanda’s bridal boutique grew to include a restaurant, health club, swimming pool, limousine service, hair salon, manicures, facials, massages, and soon became a favorite fashion destination for brides. Having closed the physical store in 2009, she has since opened an online fashion boutique.
Her ideology of glamour and grace helped her clients gain self-esteem. “When I opened Yolanda’s I felt that wigs, make up and clothing weren’t enough, you also needed your body to look good so I encouraged women to stay thin, to dress well, to put on their hair and do their make-up, even if they were just going down to the corner store. Do it for yourself, not for someone else, but because you feel good inside,” Yolanda says.
Years later, she made her store even more successful. “I decided to make my business an event center where the average person came to me for everything, including wedding dresses, tuxedos, a photographer for their pictures, invitations, travel for their honey moon, and cakes.”
Uniqueness, confidence, creativity and a special attention to the clients’ needs were some of the key concepts that helped Yolanda’s business achieve success and popularity.
“If a woman was very big-busted and small-hipped I would convince the company to cut the dress with a size 20 top and an 18 hip. They would say to me that it would cost extra money to do that, but I’d still tell them to do it that way. So, the customers were happy because the dress would fit them,” Yolanda explains, “What people miss about my store is that nothing was impossible, if you pictured a dress as a bride we would figure out how to make it look like a bride. Now the fashion industry is different, people are different; they want something fast and inexpensive.”
Over the course of her long career, the Italian-American fashion diva has embodied the spirit of the self-made woman. “It is important to do things by yourself, especially when it’s something that you love and that you really feel strong about,” she says.Growing up, she didn’t have a lot of money to buy beautiful clothes so she learned to make them herself. “I had a passion for fashion very young. All of us, as young girls, liked fairytales like Cinderella and Snow White. Cinderella was the best one since she went from rags to riches. It meant a lot to me to be proud of myself. As I grow up, I realized that I could do anything if I wanted to.
“I remember when I made my own prom dress because I didn’t have enough money to afford one from the store. I set on the floor and I had a pattern, I cut it out, going by the fabric. The dress was white with sparkles. Everybody thought it was pretty, unique and different and I won queen of the prom. I started to build self-esteem and confidence because I knew that I created the dress.”
Yolanda is not only queen of fashion but queen of charity as well. Throughout her 41-year career, she helped several organizations raise money through her benefit fashion shows. Some examples are the Heart Fund, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Boys and Girls Club. You name it, she did it. “That was my way of giving back to someone. It was so special,” she says.
She has received awards from presidents Bush and Clinton for her charity activities within the community.
Yolanda comes from a very traditional and caring Italian family. Her mom was her greatest inspiration. She became a successful woman because her mom taught her the true values of life. “My mom used to say that if you have a commitment, you have to live up to it. If there is a fence, you jump over it. If you can’t jump over it then you dig a hole under it. Never feel bad for yourself, just go one step beyond,” she says.
Throughout her career, Yolanda’s family was her main priority. “I used to bring my two daughters to my store after I picked them up from school. At night, we would go home together. We did everything together.”
The Italian community, the North End and the people in the Post-Gazette helped Yolanda when she first started her business. “Without them I wouldn’t be here,” she says.
Yolanda is now a source of inspiration for young designers, “My whole goal is to tell young people not to get discouraged, there is a wonderful world out there. Be sure of yourself. If you really believe that the design of your garment can sell, then you will find a way to market it.”
Yolanda will celebrate her 80th birthday at 6 p.m. on Nov. 15 at a “Glitz Gala” at 175 Wyman St. in Waltham. Tickets are $125 per person. This event will benefit the Waltham Boys & Girls Club, Maristhill Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston and Waltham Rotary Club.