When Say Yes to the Dress star [search phrase="on" term="Randy Fenoli"]Randy Fenoli[/search] was a 9-year-old boy bored by the cows and hay bales on his family’s Illinois farm, he defied his mother’s warning not to touch her new sewing machine and made her a dress. The next day she handed him a pattern for a skirt and he escaped the fields for good.
When he was in his third semester at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, Fenoli won a contest usually reserved for older students — plus the attention of famed bridal designers Paul and Vivian Dessy Diamond, who offered him his own eponymously labeled lines before he even earned a degree.
But it was another force of nature that led Fenoli to Kleinfeld Bridal salon and made him a star.
“I designed bridal for almost 15 years, and I made a lot of money and invested wisely in real estate,” Fenoli explains. “I lived in New York City in my beautiful condo, but after 9/11, I decided I needed to go somewhere more quiet, with a little easier way of life. So I moved to New Orleans. And then came Hurricane Katrina.” After two income-free years spent rebuilding his life, Fenoli was in desperate need of a job. He contacted his friends in the industry, and Kleinfeld’s Mara Urshel and Ronnie Rothstein created a fashion director position especially for him.
“The day I started was the last day they were filming Season 1 of Say Yes to the Dress, but I had absolutely no desire to be on a reality TV show,” Fenoli says. “So they tricked me — they set me up. There was a bride on the pedestal and she was about 4 feet 11 inches tall, and she was in a pink and green strapless mermaid gown that just cut her in all the wrong places. The producer pointed a finger in my face and said, ‘You can’t tell me that you’re a good fashion director if you’re going to let her walk out of here in that dress! You need to go pull some dresses for her that are more flattering for her body type and bring them into the room.’”
Fenoli did so, and to his horror, discovered that the bride had already said yes to her colorful dress — and that she and her consultant were both mortified — only after the episode aired. “The next day, I hid in the office and I’ll never forget this,” he says. “A woman reached in, grabbed my arm and yanked me — literally dragged me — to the other side of the salon. She said, ‘I watched you on the episode last night and you’re honest. I want you to take a look at my daughter in this dress and tell me if it works for her.’ And I’m like, ‘Maybe last night’s show wasn’t as bad as I thought!’ Instead of being the one who made this girl feel bad, I became the one who will tell you the truth and make sure that you look good on your wedding day. And that’s what the audience came away with.”
Since then, Fenoli has devoted himself to creating beautiful brides of all ages, body types and budgets, meanwhile becoming the unofficial star of Say Yes, its spinoff Randy Knows Best and Fenoli’s own creation Randy to the Rescue. He’s proud that all three shows share his uplifting mantra.
“My brand consists of my three E’s — Educate, Elevate and Empower,” Fenoli explains. “You have to begin with education. That’s why brides struggle. They don’t know the difference between a silk satin and a poly satin. They don’t know re-embroidered Alençon lace from machine-made lace from China. And they don’t know what’s going to look good on their bodies. So my first job is to educate.
“‘Elevate’ is to really elevate a person’s self-confidence,” he continues, “because I believe that every single human being walking the planet deals with some kind of body-image issue. If I can make a woman feel beautiful — especially on her wedding day, with the right dress — then I’ve achieved something. And hopefully it will empower her to feel beautiful for the rest of her life.”