Designer Toni Federici and Jilly Smith, her director of operations, preside over a company that is part dream factory and part bridal confectionary. Toni Federici is the only company in America where skilled artisans cut, sew and embellish couture veils by hand.
Toni brought Jilly aboard after moving her blossoming veil production from St Louis to a historic building in their Mount Vernon, Illinois, hometown in 1995. Over the years, the designer and her operations director invented a language of veils while learning the bridal industry through thousands of miles of travel and conversations in hundreds of dressing rooms across the country.
They recently talked about what makes Toni Federici so successful:
Toni: Jilly makes customers, both brides and bridal salons, feel safe. She oversees the details of each order and its production to make a custom order flow. She is the reason we have a Made in the USA label.
Jilly is not only overseeing the needs of production but she is in the field working with brides, coast to coast, customizing and designing to meet brides’ needs.
Jilly: We are like yin and yang. We are a perfect balance – we ground each other in ways we are needed. She is the passion and the fire. I am the balance and the caution.
What keeps you interested in the bridal industry?
Toni: I like all the facets of working personally with the bride, who has never dressed up like this before, and taking her through a transformation from pretty girl in her everyday wear, to almost a past life regression, to how she sees herself romantically. Who are you on your wedding day? How do you see yourself – vampy, sweet southern belle, traditional or rebel? That’s the fun – the creation of those emotions and plugging into the bride’s emotional state.
The veil is the mood enhancer. It is the dial that chooses the personality that you want to show that day. It is psychologically fascinating.
Jilly: I like working with the product itself. Every veil is completely customizable – I enjoy that technical follow-through. I like having a product that fits the needs of the customer whether it’s the bride or the store. When I’m working with bridal salons, it’s my job to show the salespeople how our veils can be anything they want them to be. I love educating in that way – teaching stores how to serve brides better.
Every order that we ship has been cut for a particular bride, and because we cut to the order we are completely open to changes. We can change lengths, embellishments, colors, and even the sizes and shapes of crystals. We embroidered a shamrock on one veil and hundreds of Celtic crosses on another. We monogrammed Alicia Silverstone’s veil in pearls and crystals – we can do just about anything brides can dream of.
How has the bridal industry changed in two decades?
Toni: Twenty years ago, brides did not have information at their fingertips so we were interested in sharing the history and the inspiration behind each veil. I still see our brides being very excited about the entire concept of marriage. Even if, statistically, fewer people are getting married, all we see is the excited brides.
Jilly: When I came into the industry, weddings were traditional and reserved. The difference now is that brides are more experimental with their ceremonies. You have destination weddings, themed weddings, rustic barn parties. There are so many things you can do, why wouldn’t you be excited to plan a wedding?
What have you learned in your twenty years in the bridal industry?
Toni: Now that brides are so well versed from the Internet, I like to take them through a visualization of that day. I have her close her eyes and imagine it is her wedding day and she is there with her mother and sisters. Her mother puts the veil on and as she looks at herself in the mirror, her father walks in and sees her as a bride for the first time. That’s the moment when she is a bride to herself and her family. The change in your life happens right there.
The veil is who you are as a bride. It’s how you want to present yourself. That’s why we don’t make dresses – we are changing the world one veil at a time.
Jilly: There is a lot of false information out there – like the old wives’ tales that a long veil hides your dress or that no one wears blushers anymore. We sell thousands of them.
Brides are self educated about what they are purchasing but this is an emotional purchase. A veil is something you play with as a little girl – it is the one piece that has to be part of the fantasy.
More than any part of the attire, the veil says you are a bride. It is an item that is absolutely exclusive to the bride. It is the only part of her attire that no one else gets to wear.