Elene Celentano gets what she wants.
When she wanted to rise to the top of her new career choice -- real estate -- she did it.
When she wanted to sculpt her thin frame into a taut and enviable physique, she ran, biked and roller-bladed her way to it.
So when it came time this month to look for the perfect dress to wear to her annual New Year's Eve party, Celentano knew it would only be a matter of time before she found it.
Not even she could have predicted just how much time.
After all, not just any dress would do.
This dress that the Ruxton mother of two daydreamed about had to be a lot more than simply pretty. It had to say sophistication, confidence. A new year and a new Elene. It had to be fierce.
"I want it to say that I'm accomplished, that I'm growing, that I'm confident," says Celentano, 42, while whipping her VW Cabrio around town, looking high and low behind Gucci sunshades for "The Dress," and coming up empty at every turn.
"And, oh," she says, while turning an empty space near a curb at Towson Town Center into an ad-hoc parking spot, it has to be a dress "that also attracts people."
Recently separated from her husband of 16 years and building a new career as a real estate agent, Celentano had already been to two stores looking for a dress that could attract clients as well as potential suitors.
At Ruth Shaw in the Village of Cross Keys, she and salesman Ray Mitchener combed the racks, but produced only a number of contemporary outfits Celentano planned to come back and buy later. And at Octavia in Pikesville, she tried on dress after dress, but nothing spoke to her. Nothing said The Dress.
So she hurried to Nordstrom in Towson Town Center to visit her old friend, salesman Gary Meyers, hoping he could provide her with the oxymoron she needed -- an approachable but showstopping dress for an accessible diva.
"A lot of people say to me, 'You're not approachable. You make people feel intimidated,' " Celentano says, shoving her BlackBerry into her handbag and walking directly to the department store's Designer Collections. "But entering into my new career, I've made it a point to break that barrier down."
It's why she is such a fan of Diane von Furstenberg's signature wrap dresses; they are favorites among fashionistas for being subtle and sexy simultaneously.
But wraps won't cut it for Celentano's party of the year, which brings together friends, relatives, clients and business associates for dinner, dancing, drinking and, most important, networking.
"Elene is the woman about town," says Franklin Fitzgerald, Celentano's friend and owner of Clearview Digital Media, a video-production company in Owings Mills. "She has so many friends. She tries to bring together all these good people who have like ideals and types of businesses. She brings out good food -- everything from seafood to desserts and a good variety of drinks and wine. It's a good environment. Last year, I was there until well into the morning, it was so much fun."
At Celentano's last party she wore a knock-'em-dead, slinky black number. But this year, having picked party decorations in shades of pink, green, red and purple, Celentano is vehemently opposed to black.
"Once I went to the store and I bought all those bright-colored bows and pretty ribbons, I just wanted everything to be bright and pretty and festive," Celentano says. "I don't want anything black."
Alas, at Nordstrom, everything that catches her eye, it seems, is in some shade of funeral-goer. And Celentano is frustrated.
She has spent a day searching for a dress, a day she could have used to make deals and settle contracts. She has trekked all over town in power pumps and a Donna Karan skirt suit, to the point where either chocolate or caffeine is an absolute necessity. (She decides on both a Coke and a slice of devil's-food cake.)
After eight hours of shop-trolling, there are still upscale boutiques Trillium and Panache in Green Spring Station to get to.
"I'm going to find my dress," she says, after visits to those stores prove unfruitful. "Watch me."
On Day Two of the hunt, the next week, Celentano plans a different strategy. She's going to abandon her desire to support local businesses and speed down to Tysons Corner, Va., where there are bound to be more choices.
She's not happy about this option. Time is money, and this is a woman who does not have time to spend another full day looking for a dress.
But The Dress must be found.
So she is preparing to go the Northern Virginia suburb when her ever-present cell phone rings. It's Marilyn Axelrod at Octavia, calling to say new ultra-fab dresses have come in over the weekend, and there may be something there that Celentano will like.
In between a contract settlement and an afternoon full of appointments, Celentano zips her VW over to the Pikesville boutique for a second time. Normally, she says, she's not so eager to give a store a do-over, but Axelrod knows Celentano's taste, and more than that, Celentano appreciates that Axelrod took the time to think about her and her needs.
So she tip-taps in her chocolate round-toe heels and Diane von Furstenberg chocolate wrap dress to the back of the store, where Axelrod and store owner Betsy Dugan pull out a purple dress (no), then a gray dress (no) and finally, finally a jade-green dress. The Dress.
"I love this dress!" Celentano says, holding it up against her body like a salsa partner, inspecting the curves of embellished stretch satin in a wall mirror.
In the dressing room, she coos over the $800 Mandalay dress, gushes even. It's three sizes too big and a little long for her tastes, but nothing a few nips and tucks by Octavia's seamstress won't fix.
Axelrod and Dugan are thrilled.
"It is the most rewarding feeling," says Axelrod. "When she's standing here saying, 'I love that dress,' when she uses that word 'love,' then I know I've done my job."
And Celentano truly couldn't be happier. From the spaghetti straps to the ruched waist to the body-hugging skirt, everything about the design screams The Dress.
The embroidery is expert; it's glam but somehow sophisticated, too. The color is captivating. And serious celebrities -- such as Sharon Stone and Kimora Lee Simmons -- have been photographed in this dress. Looking fierce.
"I love it because it's green and it's very holiday. It's very festive, and it's smart," Celentano says. "I would wear this dress forever. This dress feels so good, I don't want to take it off."
She pivots this way and that way in The Dress, now neatly pinned above her knee, and points one foot out, showing off a killer calf.
"Now," she says, arms akimbo in the mirror, "I have to find me some gorgeous shoes."