Zabrina Reich of Williamsville is having a year she will never forget.
In January, she became engaged to her longtime boyfriend, Frankie Jacobi. Later that month, she was admitted to the New York State Bar. And on Wednesday, she will cap off the year by saying “I do” in a ceremony at the Karpeles Manuscript Library before her friends and family.
And, oh by the way, she shopped for a wedding dress in New York City while nearly 2 million people watched. And judged.
Maybe you don’t know Reich, but if you’re a fan of the popular TLC reality series “Say Yes to the Dress,” you might have watched her, her parents, future mother-in-law and maid of honor peruse the offerings at an upscale Manhattan bridal store.
That was just the opening act for what she hopes will be a blockbuster finale to 2014.
“It really is insane to think that all of these things actually happened in this past year,” Reich said. “I feel like I have had several years of great experiences crammed into one, and while this year may have been exhausting at times, it was without a doubt one of the best yet.”
And it all started with a scheme that almost didn’t work and a question that did.
Reich, 28, and Jacobi, 30, met through friends when she was at Williamsville South and he was at Williamsville North. After graduating in 2004, she attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. For several years, Reich had dated Jacobi’s best friend, John, and while home on winter break in her junior year, John died from an undetected heart defect.
Instead of leaving for a planned semester in London, the devastated Reich enrolled at the University at Buffalo. Jacobi and Reich helped each other through the difficult time and she returned to Michigan to complete her degree.
“I couldn’t have gone back to Michigan without his support. We were very, very good friends and that’s how it was for several years,” she said.
Reich doesn’t shy away from talking about this difficult time because, she said, “It’s important for people who have experienced tragedy to know that you don’t have to let the bad things in life define you. If you stay committed to working hard on yourself, things really can start falling back into place. Trust me, I had no idea this is where my life would end up, but I couldn’t be more thankful for Frankie.”
Reich and Jacobi reconnected in 2011 when she returned home for a mutual friend’s wedding from her grad school studies in Tel-Aviv. “We hung out every day,” she recalled. “We were inseparable. We were friends for so many years and all of sudden everything was different.”
A romantic gesture
Though Reich wasn’t concerned about getting engaged (“I knew it would happen,” she said), Jacobi wanted to make the perfect proposal. But Reich’s busy schedule put an elaborate plan that included dinner and a stay in Niagara Falls on hold several times, frustrating family and friends who were in on the surprise.
Finally, Jacobi concocted a scheme with her mother about a burst water pipe to get Reich home where he would have “Will You Marry Me” written out among roses and photos.
“It’s a mess, you have to come straight home from work,” Jacobi told her.
It worked – to a point. The lifelong Sabres fan got home, but stayed in the car for about 15 minutes listening to a Buffalo Sabres press conference about the hiring of general manager Tim Murray. Inside, Jacobi was in a suit watching her and wondering what was going on. Candles were lit and the engagement ring was fastened to a bow tie around the neck of one of their beloved chihuahuas, Gingy.
When Reich finally walked in and saw the candles, her first thought was the house flooded and the electricity was out. “She said ‘why are you so dressed up?’ so I handed her the dog,” Jacobi laughed.
“I didn’t pick up on it,” Reich said. “I was so shocked. … I was speechless.”
In the spotlight
“I’m not the type of girl who dreamed of her wedding,” she said, explaining that she had never seen “Say Yes to the Dress,” but was familiar with it through friends. “SYTTD” draws about 1.7 million viewers as it follows brides searching for their perfect wedding gown at Kleinfeld Bridal in Manhattan.
Reich was, however, familiar with Kleinfeld, thanks to family and friends who purchased their dresses there.
Housebound during the polar vortex in January, Reich and Jacobi checked out the show’s website, emailed the casting form and were contacted the next day.
Though Reich worked in retail throughout her life, “wedding dresses were foreign to me,” she said. So she bought bridal magazines and tagged pages of designers. She wanted a ball gown that was “elegant and classic, but not dated.”
“Old Hollywood mixed with modern trends like when they redid the movie ‘The Great Gatsby,’ ” she told the producers.
It was about an hour before anyone saw her in a gown as she worked behind-the-scenes with two people very familiar to “SYTTD” viewers: her consultant, Dianne, and the show’s “star,” Randy Fenoli.
She’s seen on TV first in a $16,800 Pnina Tornai ball gown she described on the show as “a cross between a princess and a cupcake, but I feel like a bride.” Next she appeared in a $6,600 Anne Barge gown with a beaded bodice and peach chiffon skirt that she really liked, but the lack of a strong opinion by her entourage left her “deflated.”
So Dianne started to customize the Barge gown with parts of other dresses. “She paid attention to all the little things I didn’t even know I said,” Reich said. “It was a collaborative effort. I don’t think I could have gotten that help or experience somewhere else.”
For the episode’s premiere in October, there was a viewing party for about 20 friends and family – except for Jacobi, who was not allowed to watch.
“I know it’s a ball gown because we take ballroom dancing lessons,” he laughed.
Reich recently had her third fitting at Kleinfeld and was told the “SYTTD” crew will be at her wedding. The follow-up will air in 2015.
Would she recommend the experience?
“Absolutely,” she said. “One of the things I was apprehensive about was being pressured to buy, but at no point did I feel like I had to buy. Plus (the episode) is a nice keepsake and memento. I am very happy and thankful.”
A perfect end to 2014
This whirlwind year culiminates on Wednesday with Reich and Jacobi’s wedding, followed by a reception in Asbury Hall at Babeville, which also was featured in the TV show.
“We didn’t want it to be another weekend wedding. We wanted it to be special and standout,” Jacobi said of their choice for New Year’s Eve.
The date also allows the couple to have the black-tie wedding they wanted while making it easier for out-of-town family and friends to attend.
“We wanted a party that would be about all of our friends and family getting together and having a great time,” Reich said. The New Year’s Eve date, with its promise of ice sculptures and a big bang at midnight, she added, “sounds like a blast.”