PHOTOS BY: Laura Marino
In the latest edition of Central NY Woman Online we are truly honored to welcome cover woman, fashion designer and woman entrepreneur Marie Adornato. We had the pleasure of talking with Marie about not only creating an amazing experience for brides looking for that perfect dress for their special day, but about her ALL NEW couture line of dresses, what her plans are for the future, family and so much more. We hope you will enjoy her interview in CNYWO as much as we did!
Tell us about yourself, and your background. Who is the real Marie Ardonato?
That is the trick question of the century! Who I am is continually evolving, but I can tell you that my fundamental character is probably a result of being the 6th child out of 10 children in a very energetic Italian family. My inherently independent personality made leadership natural for me. Before I ever thought I knew how to run a business, I inadvertently was already taught the values of hard work, perseverance, and good moral character. At age 6, my father taught me how to balance a checkbook. I remember staying overnight at my grandmother’s house, because my mother was in the hospital having another baby, I was holding my grape Hubba Bubba bubblegum and playing with my checkbook. When I was old enough to pull weeds for neighbors, I would spend summer days helping one of my neighbors in particular. Her son had passed away as a child and she would take me to the cemetery to pull the weeds around his tombstone.
Since childhood, serving others has always brought me joy. After 8th grade, I was given the choice to stay in public school or attend Franciscan Academy in Syracuse, which was an all girls Catholic School. I chose to go to private school as I was able to practice my Faith on a daily basis. After one year, the school closed and merged with Christian Brothers Academy. In my sophomore year, I became a student at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse and one of the first years of graduating females.
What made you choose to be a female entrepreneur and open Spy Baby Bridal & Prom?
Entrepreneurs naturally don’t choose to be one. We have a strong passion for not just one thing, but everything we do. Although I had an appreciation for couture gowns because of my experience in various pageant systems, especially the Miss America Scholarship Organization, owning a bridal salon and becoming a designer was not in my career plan. After the completion of my college education at Rochester Institute of Technology, I earned my MBA from the accelerated 11-Month MBA program at Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh. I knew that the corporate career track was not for me when I attended a mentor event in graduate school. The required attire was a business suit. I was the only one in the room with a red bouclé suit with soft pearls dangling from the lapel. I looked and felt fabulous. But, I also knew that my freedom to create something special was more important than the security of a weekly paycheck.
After graduate school, I came back to Syracuse to accept the position of Operation’s Manager for my mother’s bagel company, Dewitt Bagelry. I was a 21 year old with an MBA and still competing in the Miss America Scholarship Program. Within a few years of moving back to Syracuse, I opened Spybaby Boutique as a fun hobby. I was featured shortly after on TLC’s, A Makeover Story. As I began selling pageant prom gowns, manufacturers pressured me to try selling bridal gowns since the sales representatives sold bridal gowns in addition to prom dresses. So I moved to a larger space that could accommodate the space requirements to stock bridal gowns. Spybaby Bridal was now born.
Tell us about your newly created custom bridal collection business Ardonato Couture… Where did the vision for this come from?
The Adornato Couture brand was created over a period of about 4 years. I was seeing a unique need for brides to be able to have the freedom to work with their stylist to design the gown they envision wearing on their wedding day. Customization options at an affordable price were only available by a few manufacturers. Larger manufacturers have streamlined the production process to a point where custom changes are rarely available to the bride.
Who and which things are the inspirations behind creating your looks?
Every bride has her own unique style and vision. She should be ability to work closely with her stylist to create a bespoke, custom gown produced to the bride’s measurements.
What does the word fashion mean to you?
Although some larger bridal manufacturers use google analytics to guide their design process, I look at every design as a special work of art. My first priority as a designer is to make the dress as flattering at the bust, waist, and hip as possible. This might me slight adjustments to bodice length or skirt fullness. I look to the past for inspiration sometimes. I grew up watching my mother shop at the finest gown salons as my parents attended many galas and events. Sometimes mixing vintage styles with new innovative fabrics creates a unique piece.
What does the word fashion mean to you?
The word fashion in my opinion means using your freedom of expression to portray an emotion that you are feeling at that time. When people ask me what is “in Fashion,” I always share current trends. But, then explain that your wedding is about YOUR fashion.
According to you, what are the skills that are necessary for becoming a successful female entrepreneur, especially in the bridal and prom worlds?
The necessary skills for success as an entrepreneur include having a smart/hard work ethic, highly organized, and committed to success. Hard work is simply a lifestyle for me, so it doesn’t really feel like work. I return messages from brides at all hours of the night as I am normally sitting in my recliner designing gowns and communicating with my factory in China since they are 12 hours ahead. Staying organized in every aspect of your life is critical, especially during COVID. Entrepreneurs need to be able to be able to quickly make changes to adapt to the current business climate. Committing to your success means even on a challenging day, you have the consistent belief in yourself to keep moving your business forward.
What do you feel are your greatest strengths? What about some of your weaknesses?
My greatest strengths: Appreciating the blessings in my life keeps me humble, kind, and genuine. Being reliable is another strength that is further supported by having a great staff. A weakness that all entrepreneurs experience is the inability to give up some of the control in our businesses through delegating authority. This is tough for me, especially when I drive. I’m always in the driver’s seat.
How would you define your own personal style?
My own personal style would be considered sharp European, with jewel tone colors and adornments. People normally recognize me by my unique glasses. I get a lot of “I love what your wearing, you must be Italian.” Even when I renovated my current building, the floor refinisher asked me if I was Italian because I wanted an extra glossy coat.
When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in fashion?
I would say that I knew I wanted to pursue a career in fashion when I realized that I could use my passion for gowns to create meaningful moments for brides with their families. Life is about special moments and business is about people. My brides will remember how my staff made their shopping experience perfect.
What was your first job and how old were you?
Although I pulled weeds and babysat before I was legally able to work, my first job at age 15 was as a cashier at Wegmans. I was a proud recipient of the Wegmans Scholarship. This job taught me so much. Learning how to listen and properly communicate are skills that are essential in the Bridal Industry. Yet, I truly feel that I was meant to work this job to meet Isaac and Elvira Amar, an elderly couple who had survived the Holocaust and would come through my line every Saturday. I developed a close relationship with this special couple as I helped them with basic errands and doctor appointments. Their stories were chilling to me and made me further appreciate my life.
Who are some of the people that empower and inspire you and why?
There have been some pretty wonderful people in my life who have inspired and empowered me. My parents never ending love story is an inspirational story of the power of love and commitment. My dad always taught me to educate myself, so I never had to rely on any man. When I was disappointed with something he always used to tell me to “cry a little bit, pick yourself up, and move forward.” Being the good Italian daughter that I was, I listened, and followed exactly what he said. I have shared his wisdom in my children’s book, Grandpa’s Special Note. My father was a Neurosurgeon for 42 years and passed away in 2010, when I was 6 months pregnant with my third child.
My mother is an inspiration with her ability to juggle a million things at a time while raising 10 children. Although always saw my mother as “just a mom,” she really is a true boss. My father always encouraged her to pursue her education. She became a real estate agent and then the President of a multiple location bagel company.
I wasn’t married when I started my business. My husband, Michael Egnoto is definitely the most empowering person in my life. He appreciates my independence and respects my attachment to my family name, as I have never changed it after marriage. As a fellow entrepreneur, he understands my passion to create and commitment to doing a good job.
If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
You can always look back and question certain decisions you made. I don’t do that because the business environment back then was a very different landscape than what it is today.
How is your business and styles different today than from when you started out?
My business style has somewhat changed over time as I have matured as a person. I was very young when I started my business. Conducting my business with a high level of professionalism is very important to me.
How did working through the pandemic change your business for the better or worse? How did you get creative?
Working through the Pandemic changed my business for the better. It allowed me to reconnect on a more intimate level with my customers. Virtual appointments without any distractions provided a distinct opportunity to really get to know my brides. I sold the most expensive gown I’ve ever sold in a virtual appointment for a custom gown.
I got creative by servicing a need for high filtration efficiency masks that even our local, state, and federal governments did not have access to. Through my production facility in China, I was able to secure KN95 respirators immediately after the Federal Government allowed them to be shipped to the U.S. Approximately 60,000 masks were distributed from my store. Medical facilities across the country were ordering these masks for protection.
What role do you think social media plays in your business and what is your favorite platform?
Social media plays the most important role in my business because it is so visual. Brides love to see photos of new arrivals. I am most comfortable with Facebook and Instagram.
Name one special moment during your career that has stood out to you.
There have been so many special moments in my 25 year career. But, one that stands out shows more about the character of my staff than that of myself. We received a call shortly before closing on a Saturday from the aunt of a bride who was suffering from a very aggressive form of cancer that had created growths over the entire side of her body. The bride could barely stand on her own, but wanted to marry the love of her life before the cancer took her life. My floor manager had an instant connection to the bride and her family. She even brought the gown to the bride’s home for alterations. The bride thanked her for making her feel beautiful. Within a few days from picking her gown, it was altered and the wedding took place. My floor manager watched from afar from her car as the bride and groom walked into their ceremony site. A few days later, the bride passed away. The entire staff felt the loss. It’s not always glam and sparkle.
If you could only have 1 piece out of your collection what one would it be and why?
If I could have one piece from the collection it would be the first dress I designed. Remembering where you started keeps you grounded and sometimes you need to go back to the beginning if you feel that you are losing direction.
How do you want women to feel when wearing your collection?
I want women to feel fierce in their wedding gown, even if it’s the softest looking style. The bride needs to feel that she is wearing the dress, not the dress consuming her.
What do you have planned for the next year? What about five years from now?
For the naext year I plan to continue designing and sharing the collection with Spybaby Bridal brides and retail stores throughout the country. Once travel becomes less complicated, I will be traveling to China to work with my factory more efficiently when creating the collection season to season.
How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
Being an entrepreneur has definitely affected my family life. My schedule does not coincide with my kids schedules. When my kids have an opportunity to learn or grow from participating in an activity I will take the time needed to help them pursue their interests. Sometimes I have to hire services to help me maintain organization at home. Since my husband is also an entrepreneur, we many times will need to do things independently with our kids instead of together.
What motivates you?
I am motivated by my appreciation for the freedom to create something amazing. Whether is be a gown or experience, I pride myself in my work and my family motivates me and makes me appreciate my WHY.
What’s the most important business or other discovery you’ve made in the past year?
The most important discovery that I have made in the last year is the support of my staff and customers would get me through COVID.
What’s unique about the service that you provide to your customers?
The products and services that I provide are very unique because of our deep focus on building relationships with our customers so we can service them in the best possible way. My gowns on the Adornato Couture collection are exclusive. So, you will not find the same styles when shopping from store to store. The affordable luxury of our custom gowns along with the personalized service makes Spybaby Bridal a sought after destination for brides from across the country.
Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?
My perspective on failure is that it is not the end of an idea or project. As an entrepreneur, I do not use the word failure because every idea or project develops through positive and negative situations to lead me to something that becomes successful.
“What is your ‘why? ‘”
My WHY is something that I continually evaluate and is constantly evolving. My commitment to providing the best possible opportunities for my children is definitely the basis of my WHY. It took me a long time to come to the realization that my WHY needs to actually include myself. Maintaining my health, creative energy, and ability to help others. I could write a book on the true essence of understanding your WHY because it truly is a much deeper journey into the reasons behind how we live our lives.
Where will we see you next?
You will continue to see me participating in local bridal shows, store trunk shows throughout the country, and at my children’s schools. My children and my husband always come first. Adornato Couture is participating in Syracuse Fashion Week on September 30th at Aloft Hotel, Syracuse Wedding Show at Holiday Electronics Pkwy on Sunday 10/24, and CBA Senior Showcase in October.
Check out Spybaby Bridal at http://Www.spybaby.com/