WAREHAM — “Aren’t you going to tell me I look younger than 100?,” asked Rose Cherubini. “That’s what everyone tells me.”
Cherubini, a designer now long retired, does indeed look younger than 100, her dark hair punctuated with a shock of white up the center.
Some of the names and dates escape her as she chats about her 60 years designing for weddings and formal occasions, but she has no problem recounting her rise: from the girl in Somerville who started making dresses for herself to opening an exclusive bridal boutique on Newbury Street in the early 1960s. At the time, prices for her bridal gowns could stretch upward of $5,000.
“What she did at the time she opened her first shop was pretty much unheard of,” says her son Julian. “This was a woman in 1947 starting her own business. It was a complete novelty.”
She’s lost count of the number of brides she outfitted, but they would come to her boutique for Cherubini’s original designs, many adorned with roses crafted of tulle and silk.
Her legend grew as she designed a wedding dress on live TV, fielded questions about wedding attire from an audience on Phil Donahue’s talk show, and designed a dress for astronaut John Glenn’s wife. More than 40 years before “Project Runway” was dishing out unconventional challenges, Cherubini was challenged to create a dress out of burlap. The end result, a shocking pink, bejeweled burlap gown, was photographed by Life magazine.
After closing her wedding dress boutique on Newbury, she opened a store creating custom gowns on Clarendon Street.
Cherubini’s work has recently gotten a second look. A retrospective of her dresses, some of which include handpainted details, was showcased last month at Samson Projects. A catalog of her designs is currently in the works so another generation can swoon over her dresses. We sat down with her in her sunroom to talk weddings.
Q. How do weddings now compare to when you were designing for them?
A. There is a big difference. Weddings at one time were very classy. Nowadays the brides are practically naked. Speaking very boldly, the lower the cut the better for them. That’s what they do. I think a bride should be a bride. But the world has changed, and they’re not going back.
Q. I was under the impression that church weddings haven’t changed much.
A. Young guy like you thinks that’s it. It’s a wedding. But that’s not the way that it is today. That’s probably why I made this kind of a change. I went from wedding gowns to classic gowns.
Q. How did you start to design?
A. I lived in Somerville as a girl, I had friends and we just teased each other. My family was more or less in the business of clothing, and my uncle was a dress designer. We always had a lot of fabric, so I’d go upstairs and whip up a little dress and come downstairs and show my girlfriends. I even used curtains my mother had in the window.
Q. That is very Scarlett O’Hara. Did you go to school for fashion?
A. No. I have to admit, it just came naturally. I needed to do it my way. I always wanted a shop, and I was in Quincy at that time. I just made up my mind. I just had to have a dress shop.
Q. How many women over the years did you outfit for weddings?
A. Weddings, a lot. I kept pictures of them in a box. I brought it here and stored it in my boat house. We had Hurricane Bob at the time. The storm hit the boathouse, and it all went to water. I would say a lot. I did a lot. I worked hard.
Q. Where were you storing the gowns?
A. They were in my closet. They were in good condition too. The reaction I hear is that you could wear them now. A lot of them are timeless.
Q. Did you ever think of your dresses as art at the time you were making them?
A. No, completely not. I was just doing it because I loved doing it. It was a personal thing really. But I’m very happy that other people see them that way. What I see is the hard work, and my love of doing this.
Christopher Muther can be reached at email@example.com.