“Freshwater pearls,” she says with a proud gaze. “French lace.” “Swarovski crystals sewn by hand.” Katerina Bocci is narrating the details of each dress in her 2020 bridal collection as two assistants present the 15 couture gowns one by one in her Shelby Township atelier. With names like Andrea and Penelope, each dress, with its opulent embellishments, is like a debutante, and Bocci is a beaming mother figure seated on her tufted throne.
For more than a decade, Bocci has asserted herself as one of Michigan’s most celebrated bridal designers. With her signature elaborate details and bespoke approach, her designs particularly appeal to Albanian, Chaldean, Italian, and Lebanese brides known for especially lavish wedding celebrations. “No two dresses are made the same within each cultural community,” she says in her own Albanian lilt. “God made each individual with their own fingerprint — you should have your own special wedding gown, too.” Ranging from traditional ball gowns to figure-hugging mermaid dresses, each Bocci creation is stitched with romantic flair: a floral appliqué here, a sweetheart neckline there.
Bocci’s hyper-feminine designs are also oft sought-after by local and national celebrities. She’s dressed entertainers such as Fergie, Jordin Sparks, and the late Aretha Franklin. She also counts local news anchor Rhonda Walker among her dearest friends and longest-standing clients. In addition to black-tie gowns for various events such as the North American International Auto Show, Bocci designed Walker’s wedding dress for her nuptials last summer. “Katerina’s story is amazing to me,” Walker says. “How she came here with just a few dollars and no job but just the most drive. I’m drawn to women that have this ambition to do things above what anyone thinks they’re capable of.”
As Walker attests, Bocci’s story is as much about perseverance as it is of craftsmanship and technicality. After successfully running her own bridal studio and an apprenticeship that taught marginalized women sewing and design skills in Albania, she immigrated to Michigan with then two young daughters and just $500 to start a new life in America. She’s since put two of those girls through college and walked them down the aisles for their own weddings in custom couture Bocci designs — in true Bocci fashion, her daughter Lela’s dress was embellished with 24-carat-gold. (At just 15, it’ll be some time before Bocci’s youngest daughter Antonia says, “I do.”)
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Lela recently launched Orelia B Accessories, a line of upscale hair accessories and veils made of the same materials that appear in Bocci’s designs: freshwater pearls and Swarovski crystals. “I’ve inherited the trait,” Lela says of her passion for bridal design. “She’s my role model. Instead of me going to school, I chose to learn from my mom because she’s the best person that I could learn from.”
Despite having European roots, Bocci has embraced her U.S. home and is proud to be at the helm of an American-born brand. “Michigan was welcoming to me and that’s why I keep the business here,” she says. “I have lots of pride when I go to New York Fashion Week and say, ‘I’m from Michigan.’ This year, we had Detroit Cookie Co.’s 8 Mile Mix cookie at our booth. I always try to drag Detroit with me wherever I go.”
Shop The Looks
Katerina Bocci Designs, 14239 Rick Drive, Shelby Charter Twp., 586-247-3622; katerinaboccibridal.com
Orelia B Accessories
at Katerina Bocci Desgins
Lucido Fine Jewelry,250 N. Old Woodward Ave.,Birmingham; 248-723-7880. lucidojewelry.com for more locations
Colony Club, 2310 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-463-4215; gemcolonyevents.com