By Sara Bauknecht Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Easter, with all of its frills and bonnets, is just one of several sacred springtime occasions on which style and spirituality intertwine. In the weeks ahead, First Holy Communions will follow, with young girls and boys donning their Sunday best.
When it comes to accessories to complement girls' pure pint-sized princess dresses, Adriana Bellisario Cupelli, 63, has been an industry leader for designing Holy Communion veils and coordinating shoes, gloves and bags for decades. The Accessories by Adriana line takes notice of bridal and runway trends and incorporates them into fashion-forward Communion pieces that are carried by local boutiques and mainstream retailers like Nordstrom.
"Even after 26 years, I can still say that I enjoy it," she says. "It's never (felt like) work for me because it's creative."
Credit creativity or maybe even a bit of karma, Cupelli has managed to carve a niche for herself in an industry she didn't expect to enter. After a stint at design school and jobs with former Pittsburgh department stores (Kaufmann's, Gimbels and Umberto's), she started making hair accessories out of fabrics. When a model brought some to a photo shoot, someone there spotted them and shared them with a buyer in New York City. In the late 1980s, Cupelli sealed a deal with Loehmann's for 1,400 pieces and had to produce them with the help of her family in just four weeks.
The hair accessories were a hit, so she started expanding her business and attending large industry shows in New York City. (She continues to be a staple at New York exhibitor shows and on the trunk show circuit.) Today, First Holy Communion veils, along with hair accessories, shoes, gloves and bags with coordinating details, are the crux of her collections. She also designs custom bridal veils on request.
Many don't skimp on style when it comes to dressing for this religious rite of passage, she says. (Custom or couture dresses can easily run several hundreds of dollars.) She strives to make her styles stand out by sprinkling the latest trends into her accessories. "Right now, it's lots of silks and flowers," she says. "Most little girls don't like to wear headbands, but because these have rhinestones and silk flowers, they'll wear that."
She has a studio in Pittsburgh's Polish Hill neighborhood and assembles everything in-house with assistance from independent contractors. On average, she produces between 4,000 and 5,000 veils per season. Veils typically range in price from $60 to $250.
Being self-employed has allowed her to let her creativity blossom, she says, and her family has been an example to her of what opportunities can be unleashed with hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit. They migrated from a small town in Italy to Pittsburgh when Cupelli was 2. Her late mother, Filomena, worked for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh as a cook for the bishop. Her father, Giuseppe, worked construction until he learned enough English to get his barber's license. At age 90, he still goes to work every day.
"If you're a creative individual the sky is the limit," Cupelli says.