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For the Spoiled Chics, accessories were mother of invention

Sunday, April 20, 2003

By LaMont Jones, Post-Gazette Fashion Editor

Who are Spoiled Chics?

A. Members of a Dixie Chicks knock-off group.

B. Diva spendthrifts who always get what they want when they want it.

C. Style mavens who rock the latest fashion trends and enjoy buying them at a traveling, in-home accessories boutique.

Carina Perrone, left, and her sister Cora DeLoia, along with sisters Cecilia Sheeren and Cindi Bamford, started the business Spoiled Chics. The sisters sell fashion accessories at invitation-only parties in people's homes. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)

If you answered C, go to the head of the checkout line.

Spoiled Chics -- pronounced "chicks" -- began late last year as the brainchild of four close-knit sisters who like to shop when they get together: Cora DeLoia of Robinson, Carina Perrone of Upper St. Clair, Cecilia Sheeren of Houston, Texas, and Cindi Bamford of Nassau Bay, Texas.

One day last year, DeLoia and Perrone were returning to Pittsburgh from one such trip and began talking about how much their friends would like their latest finds. As usual, some would ask them to contact Sheeren and Bamford to help them acquire the same irresistible handbag, belt or piece of jewelry. Rather than going through that same old routine, they thought, why not simply begin bringing the market to Pittsburgh?

So they did, giving birth to Spoiled Chics with a party in October at DeLoia's house.

"We brought back about 18 or 20 bags and took orders for bags," she said. "We just showed the bags and took orders, but it didn't work out well because some bags were discontinued or you couldn't get the right color or it was no longer available by the time we ordered. So we decided to build up an inventory by buying the bags right away and bringing them back."

That really sent the fledgling business into orbit in January. They attended an accessories market in Atlanta and bought accessories from designers around the country.

"Girls are happy when they have their prizes right in their hands," she said. "Instead of leaving and going home with an invoice expecting to receive their products a week or two later, they get to go home with the stuff. They wanna show their friends."

Since then, there's been about one party a week. Women in Pittsburgh and Houston book invitation-only Spoiled Chics parties, usually evenings, at which dozens of women come to their homes to browse, buy and socialize.

"It's like shopping in a boutique but having your girlfriends with you," said DeLoia.

Betsy Mancino and Jean Ann Bradley of New Castle co-hosted a Spoiled Chics breakfast party in February where the guests, most over the age of 60, snapped up spring handbags and other items.

DeLoia, 47, enjoys this entrepreneurial venture more than her past careers in public relations, medical sales and small business ownership. She co-owned Abondanza, a gift and home decor boutique, at Nevillewood in Collier from 1999 to 2001. That's when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 caused her to re-examine her priorities, and she decided to focus more on family.

Cherisse Abinanti, left, and Temma Lipsitz look over purses at a recent Spoiled Chics party. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)

Spoiled Chics "gives us the opportunity to work around my family's schedule and still feel like we're accomplishing something that we're really loving," she said. "That's one of the reasons Carina and I book only one party a week. Our priorities are centered around our family.

"This is a lot more fun. Between Carina and me, we've had a lot of different careers. I have to say, this one is a keeper."

At a recent afternoon party hosted by Temma Lipsitz in Upper St. Clair, teachers perused watches with interchangeable beaded bands, clunky metallic and leather belts, necklaces of coral and turquoise beads and novelties such as miniature metal handbags that hold mints.

But the biggest attraction was the handbags, an array of sizes, shapes and fabrics with embellishments such as bones, feathers and coconut shells. There were Kate Spade-like plaid pastel "cha-cha" bags and Isabella Fiore-esque beaded flamingo totes.

These lower-priced knockoffs range in price from $20 to $60, and jewelry goes from under $10 for a beaded stretch bracelet to $65 for a semiprecious stone necklace.

"You're getting the looks for less," said DeLoia.

There was also a collection of whimsical, polka dot-lined bags by Sydney Love of Pittsburgh, including clutches, totes and an innovative number that converted from a backpack to a hobo.

The shows also feature accessories by Lola's Collectibles and Peeps-in-Training.

Lola's Collectibles are handbags accessorized by their mother, Benilda P. Evangelista of Clear Lakes, Texas. A retired surgeon, Evangelista uses a curved surgical needle to attach flowers and other embellishments to straw, linen and microfiber handbags without damaging the lining.

"Lola is a Filipino loving name that you call a grandmother," said Evangelista. "About a year ago I retired from practicing medicine after more than 40 years. I said, 'No more medicine for me.' I was tired of reading medical journals. And I always liked doing flowers. One day I was at Neiman-Marcus shopping around and I saw this bag. I said, 'Gee, it is so easy to make those. So I'll try this."

She made one bag, her daughters loved it and asked for more, so she began designing them one at a time in her leisure hours.

Peeps-in-Training is a line of cute little hats with matching bags for budding Spoiled Chics, roughly ages 4 to 7.

"You're never too young to look good," said DeLoia.

Women book Spoiled Chics parties when they attend one or online at www.spoiledchics.com. Hostesses get a 15 percent merchandise credit.

After two parties each week in May, DeLoia and Perrone will take off June through August to go to buyers markets and to do charity events.

Since starting Spoiled Chics, the sisters have noticed that the most popular styles are different from Pittsburgh to Houston. While floral handbags sell like hotcakes in Pittsburgh, Texans tend to favor more over-the-top looks, such as bags with broken coconut shells and large ostrich feathers.

"It's really a whole lot of fun just doing things with my sisters," said Bamford, a part-time intensive care unit nurse. "It's been really fun just to see it take off as a business. It's a good excuse to get on the phone again and talk about the things that we shop for."

LaMont Jones can be reached at ljones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1469.

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