By  on September 27, 2005

NEW YORK — Tomasina Keremes, 44, co-founder of the upscale Tomasina bridal label, died Sept. 9 at her Pittsburgh home.

The cause of death was breast cancer, according to her husband, Frank Harris, who first met the designer while they were art students at Carnegie Mellon University and now works in design at the Mt. Lebanon, Pa.-based company.

In the early Eighties, after graduating from Carnegie Mellon, Keremes, a Pittsburgh native, joined the bridal business her mother, Demetria, a practiced seamstress, had opened a year or two earlier. Before too long, the younger Keremes decided their Mt. Lebanon business would flourish if they relocated to a storefront location within the same building and focused on wedding dresses.

"Tomasina never had any formal fashion training," Harris said. "After college, she felt like she couldn't make any money from art so she teamed up with her mother. Tomasina quickly figured out, 'I can do this and take this thing somewhere.'"

Creating classic styles with unusual finishing touches such as exclusive embroideries was a strong suit. Keremes helped build the company into a 20-person operation that sells to 100 retailers, including Saks Fifth Avenue. The only Tomasina freestanding store remains at its original location in Mt. Lebanon. The brand, which sells 1,200 wedding dresses annually, is sold in Japan, Canada and Mexico, as well.

Aside from being a talented designer and artist, the company's namesake routinely fielded retailers' calls for advice. One of six children, her easygoing and helpful personality was a winning point with stores, said her husband.

"Tomasina would never say, 'You have to buy eight dresses.' She would say, 'You can buy the dress you want because you'll come back to me next year because that dress will sell like crazy,'" Harris said. "She was right."

One of Keremes' sisters, Stephanie, who has worked in the family business for the past 20 years, has assumed the role of president. In addition to that sister, her mother and husband, Keremes is survived by her father, James; another sister, Esther; brothers Nick, Frank and John, and two sons, Max and Sam. A fund in Keremes' memory has been established to benefit autistic children at the Plea School in Pittsburgh, which her elder four-year-old son attends.

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