Donae Cangelosi Chramosta leads a glamorous life. The native Houstonian, better known as the Vintage Contessa, regularly jet-sets around the globe to source high-end vintage and estate pieces for the internationally recognized showroom she runs with her husband, The Vintage Contessa & Times Past.
The business is a marriage in every sense of the word, combining Chramosta’s keen eye for designer handbags with her husband Rob’s expertise in fine jewelry, watches, and antiquities like rare coins. Though the business’ name may conjure images of a consignment shop, it’s decidedly not—the couple carefully curates every luxury piece they offer in their showroom on Richmond Avenue.
Chramosta honed her eye working for the family business, a full-service marble and granite company, and it was there as a buyer that her business travels began. When she got great deals on vintage Hermes, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton from her international sources, people took notice. Eventually, she left the family business and opened her own division of the company.
For her part, Chramosta enjoys giving as much as getting: She’s involved in a slew of philanthropic causes, including fundraising for pediatric cancer research and a new endeavor against sex trafficking in Houston. First, though, she’ll throw her 50th birthday party this weekend in full Vintage Contessa fashion–full of glamour (dancing, drinking, and dining, Sicilian-style, in the streets of River Oaks District) and all to benefit Know Autism.
Last week, we caught up with Chramosta from a ski village in Vail, Colorado to chat about the finer things in life, striking the elusive work-life balance, and which charitable causes are closest to her heart.
On the best parts of Houston:
"I am just so awestruck of the generosity of the people that I saw during Harvey relief. It was absolutely amazing. We travel internationally, I meet people around the world, and the generosity of everyone–no matter what your socioeconomic background was or your ethnicity, one person lost something but the other person lost more, and everyone was helping. It was always a feeling I had about our city, that we were there for each other, but I think it was the most obvious display of humanity giving back at its best. I was just so proud to see it, and so humbled by it and so encouraged to do even more."
On her personal style:
"I would say it’s classic with a twist of whimsy. When I started my career with my family, my father indwelled in me to make investments. I was always kind of house poor with the investments I made, so I had to be really creative with the way I spent money. So even back in the beginning I was shopping at Target for my dress, and I would buy one fabulous handbag a year or two fabulous handbags a year. For me it was always about the accessories and how it would dress up my look, and I think that kind of evolved into what my business is."
On her favorite shops:
"I love Neiman Marcus for shoes, and I adore everything Dolce [and Gabbana] ... Tootsies is always my go-to for an event if I need to find something, and then Katia has been a real lifesaver to me. ... I like to buy on sale, and people know that, too, but if it’s something that I can’t live without, I’ll pay retail."
On her favorite travels:
"Our heart is here in Beaver Creek, [Colorado]. My husband's and my first date was here, we got married here, we baptized [our daughter] Bella here; we spend about six weeks a year here. And there’s a little town in Italy, Forte dei Marmi, it means Fort of Marble ... it’s a quaint little town where the kids are with the parents running around at 10 at night, having dinner, and it’s just this little slice of heaven where you feel like time stands still. We try to sneak away there every couple years."
On balancing personal and professional life:
"I have to say that’s the biggest challenge. I grew up being a perfectionist where everything was back or white, and now I feel like my life is gray. Everything is gray. [With] our daughter, we try to not talk about business all the time, but in certain situations it comes up, and because we love what we do ... everywhere we go, we’re doing business, because we love it. ... It’s good and bad. That’s what life is, a constant balance. I try to do it well, but I’m not claiming to be mother of the year."
On how business affects her daughter:
"I feel like the exposure is good and bad. Our daughter is 10, and she has an amazing mind for business. I remember she was 8 years old, we were in Martha’s Vineyard waiting for the ferry to go to Nantucket, not talking about business, and she looked at me and said, ‘Does Daddy own the building that we’re in or does he just rent it?’ I was like, what are you thinking about? ... You want them to maintain their innocence, but also she’s grown up to be street smart and knows a lot about what’s happening."
On why KnowAutism is important to her:
"Our [retiring] office manager of 25 years ... her daughter is autistic. So throughout that history of working together all those years, I’ve seen the reality of the challenges of having an autistic child. I met Tammy [Nguyen], the founder of Know Autism, several years back through friends of friends, and she just has an amazing spirit of what she does to give back. ... She asked me to chair this year, [my office manager] was retiring, and it’s my birthday. I’m a person of strong faith, I believe that if you’re led to things and everything lines up then it’s meant to be. I feel like this is where I was supposed to be."