Stepping inside Donae Cangelosi Chramosta's Richmond office is like stepping into one of those insanely decadent Vogue spreads filled with merchandise that, if liquidated, could cover an Ivy League tuition. The office is stuffed from head to toe with classic and contemporary Chanel purses, obscenely expensive Birkins and posh Pradas, not to mention a collection of Louis Vuitton bags so massive, you wonder if there are any left in stores. These are pieces you knew existed, but never thought you would ever see up close -- and certainly not all at once. Welcome to Chramosta's store, The Vintage Contessa at 6222 Richmond Avenue, No. 540.
What she does:
"I purchase and sell vintage designer handbags and accessories," Chramosta said. Some of the bags look quite modern, however, which brings up an important point. On a buyer's trip to Paris, Chramosta noticed that many of the bags labeled as "vintage" were in fact made as recently as 2000. "The term 'vintage' is becoming much more loosely used," she said, adding, "If they can do it in Paris, we can do it in Houston."
Although her love for fashion came at an early age, she began her career far from it, starting with a degree in journalism from Texas A&M University and a 22-year involvement in her family's marble and granite business. She was so rooted in the family business, in fact, that The Vintage Contessa began as merely a part-time affair six years ago. The business grew and became a full-time venture, with a "by appointment only" studio space that Chramosta shares with her husband, who sells vintage men's accessories, and a Web boutique where ladies can choose to purchase her bags, which retail from $250 to $40,000.
Bags on The Vintage Contessa's Web site are categorized for different styles -- Classic Elegance, Glamorous Diva and Bombshell, to name a few -- then further broken down into the silver screen siren or sirens who epitomized said style. Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn embody Classic Elegance, Elizabeth Taylor heads Glamorous Diva and who other than Marilyn Monroe to represent Bombshell?
What inspires her?
"I am obsessed with fashion," said Chramosta. "I'm constantly looking at different sites and blogs. Everywhere I go, I am soaking things up." A specific source of inspiration is the "strength and tenacity" of Gone with the Wind's Scarlett O'Hara.
If not this, then what?
"This is my dream," she says. "I'm living my dream." If not here, then where?
Chramosta travels year-round. She goes to New York and Colorado at least six times a year and visits her familial roots in Italy annually, but wouldn't call any other city but the Bayou City her home.
"I just love Houston as my home base," she said. "My family's here and family means so much to me."
True to her journalistic roots, Chramosta wants to write fashion stories for a national magazine. She is already a contributing writer for CultureMap, where she blogs about fashion and travel. Inspired by her daughter, Bella, she also hopes to write a children's book one day, teaching in it the same values she imparts to her four-year-old little one: being beautiful both inside and out.
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"It will be about fashion and style," says Chramosta. "But it will focus on what's on the inside. Everyone's so focused on what's on the outside. I tell my daughter, 'You're beautiful, but what's more important?'"
To which Bella responds, "Gentle. Loving. Kind. Smart. Proper. Ladylike."
More Creatives for 2012 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
Paul Fredric, author John Sparagana, photographer Damon Smith, musician and visual artist Geoff Winningham, photographer Johnathon Michael Espinoza, visual artist Jaemi Blair Loeb, conductor Katya Horner, photographer Johnathan Felton, artist Nicoletta Maranos, cosplayer Carol Simmons, hair stylist Joseph "JoeP" Palmore, actor, poet Greg Carter, director Kenn McLaughlin, theater director Justin Whitney, musician Antone Pham, tattoo artist Susie Silbert, crafts Lauralee Capelo, hair designer Marisol Monasterio, flamenco dancer Carmina Bell, promoter and DJ ReShonda Tate Billingsley, writer Kiki Lucas, choreographer and director J.J. Johnston, theater director Mary Margaret Hansen, artist Richard Tallent, photographer Viswa Subbaraman, opera director Emily Sloan, sculptor and performance artist Sonja Roesch, gallery owner Enrique Carreón-Robledo, conductor Sandy Ewen, musician Camella Clements, puppeteer Wade Wilson, gallery owner Magid Salmi, photographer Carl Williams, playwright