Rita A. Gamberdella, 74, designer of wedding gowns

November 29, 1998|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

As a young woman growing up in Baltimore during the 1930s and 1940s, Rita A. Gamberdella sat in darkened movie theaters, dreaming of designing clothes for Hollywood's legendary stars.

Instead, she designed haute couture bridal gowns for family and friends and turned it into a full-time business.

Mrs. Gamberdella, a longtime Towson resident, died Wednesday of cancer at St. Joseph Medical Center. She was 74.

After years of working in a basement sewing room at home, she and her daughter, Mary Gamberdella, opened Gamberdella Inc. in 1978. The business has been located since 1991 in an old house with a pink awning and Victorian ambience at 30 W. Pennsylvania Ave. in Towson.

It was there that Mrs. Gamberdella, an elegant woman who favored tailored suits, held court and advised and helped brides-to-be choose gowns and bridesmaids' dresses.

"She really was the backbone of the business and took care of the design end. She was a very nurturing and motherly person, and that had a lot to do with our success," said her daughter.

"Her great trick was being able to fit the right dress to the right body," she said.

Mrs. Gamberdella, who preferred dresses of silk-satin, silk shantung or silk taffeta, made sure everything was done in good taste and style.

Her responsibilities didn't end once the dress was fitted and out of the salon.

Her last act was to accompany the bride to church on her wedding day. There she'd make a final inspection and, as the organ began to play, would whisper last-minute suggestions.

"She'd say, 'Stand up straight and put your shoulders back. Smile. Walk slowly. Hold the flowers below your waist.' She gave them the reassurance they needed at that final moment," said the daughter.

Mrs. Gamberdella was used to dealing with last-minute emergencies that threatened to become full-blown calamities.

On one occasion, she rode in the limousine with a bride who had gotten lipstick on her dress. She feverishly worked on the dress and, by the time the bride arrived at St. Leo's Church in Little Italy, all traces of the stain were gone.

Mrs. Gamberdella worked six days a week, and it wasn't uncommon for her to work three weddings in a day.

"She not only calmed the bride-to-be but also the mother of the bride-to-be. She was wonderful to work with," said Mary Beth Marsden, WMAR-TV (Channel 2) anchorwoman. "She helped me select an Edwardian ivory-colored dress with a corseted bodice and insisted on a cathedral-length veil. She just wouldn't have it any other way," she said, laughing.

"She even sewed a charm, a gold Tiffany heart that said, 'We love you,' that my mother had given her, into the dress. She had made a little silk pouch to hold it," Ms. Marsden said.

Born Rita Cuneo and raised in Little Italy, Mrs. Gamberdella was the daughter of a plumber and seamstress, one of 10 children and the sixth of seven sisters.

She was a graduate of St. Leo Parochial School and St. Michael's Business School.

Services were held yesterday.

Besides her daughter, survivors include her husband of 51 years, Guy Gamberdella, and six sisters, Marie Delvecchio, Clara Healy, Leona Bruni, Frances Della Vecchia, Anna Cuneo and Teresa Cuneo, all of Baltimore.

Pub Date: 11/29/98

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