Leah Harrison | Staff Writer
Some people plan the dates of their Chautauqua visit around the morning lectures, and others around the opera or symphony schedule. But for the past decade, some Chautauquans have been sure their time spent at the Institution coincides with Sandy D’Andradé’s trunk show.
D’Andradé’s handmade knitwear exhibits craft and skill uncommon in today’s mass-produced culture, and with a more than 30-year career under her belt, D’Andradé still feels the demand for unique, intricate separates. For the first time in her 10-year presence at Chautauqua, she and her husband, Matt Alperin, have sold their clothing throughout the whole season, alternating between a showroom in the Athenaeum Hotel and the Main Gate Welcome Center.
Aside from just their popularity, D’Andradé’s sales are otherwise connected to Chautauqua. The designer originally brought her show to Chautauqua after being asked to do a benefit for the Chautauqua Opera Guild. As part of the benefit, D’Andradé creates garments inspired or themed by the operas performed during the corresponding season. Fifteen percent of every sale goes to the Opera Guild.
For the 2012 season, the Chautauqua Opera Company performed Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, a story centered around a bride who, when pressured into marrying someone she does not love, loses her mind and kills several people. The visual that sticks with most audience members is a wedding dress covered in blood.
“I made a skirt and blouse that’s evocative of the opera, but nothing quite so graphic,” D’Andradé said. “For opera fans, they could recognize the inspiration. But others would never know where the idea came from.”
The Lucia outfit is made with white yarn overlain with red thread by a technique called thread lacing. From a distance, it looks pink.
Trunk show visitors can browse and try on D’Andradé’s handiwork, and if they are interested in purchasing it, measurements are taken and the piece is made to fit the customer.
One of D’Andradé’s biggest sales was an outfit based on The Crucible. Shying away from an outfit too reminiscent of puritan severity, the designer made a long, straight skirt and matching top with slits on the sides and a Puritan collar. The pieces evoke the modernist era rather than the colonial, but the connection is clear.
It is a profitable venture for her business, but D’Andradé enjoys speaking with customers as much as selling clothes. She prides herself in a relaxed atmosphere where shoppers need not feel any pressure to buy something they try on. There have been times when she takes suggestions about future designs or matching pieces.
“One of the things that’s wonderful about Chautauqua,” D’Andradé said, “besides people who appreciate my clothing, I meet wonderful people and get to visit with them, hear their stories. I met some wonderful people over the years.”
From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, Tuesday and Wednesday, D’Andradé and Alperin will host the Trunk Show in the Athenaeum Hotel Blue Room.