Stylebook Snapshot: Pittsburgh-based designer Sandra Reiman's handbags gain attention


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What do Vogue magazine, television personality Giuliana Rancic and Catherine Giudici of ABC's "The Bachelor" have in common?

They've all showed off designs by Pittsburgh-based handbag and jewelry brand Sandra Cadavid.

And they're not the only ones. Pieces by Sandra Reiman, the designer behind the luxury brand, also have popped up on NBC's "Today" show and on the arm of singer Celine Dion, as well as in the pages of Glamour and Good Housekeeping magazines.

The latest good fortune for Ms. Reiman of Edgewood is the opportunity to show her collection of handmade handbags later this month at Henri Bendel in New York City -- revered as the holy grail of trunk shows.

Twice each year designers from across the globe vie for a chance to showcase their collections at the upscale fashion retailer's flagship location in midtown Manhattan. On these biannual designer days, in just a few hours the store easily sees about 1,000 designers, from which only about 20 are selected for a trunk show. If all goes well, brands could be invited back or even have their designs carried in some Henri Bendel stores across the country.

"I'm literally just in complete shock," Ms. Reiman says. "I watched them just turn designers away left and right within seconds, telling them 'your stuff looks great, but it probably won't do well here.' "

Store representatives were impressed not only by the quality and look of Sandra Cadavid handbags but also by the story behind them. More than a dozen male artisans create the collection in Colombia, Ms. Reiman's home country. They are among the best at their craft in the world, Ms. Reiman says, and also work for noted handbag designer Nancy Gonzalez. Sandra Cadavid also employs and trains women who lost their husbands to violence.

"They're really not too many jobs for women" in Colombia, she says. "This is an opportunity for us to give them a skill set they can use."

Ms. Reiman's adoration for fashion -- particularly for designing concepts for handbags, bathing suits and wedding gowns -- started when she was a child in Colombia.

"My grandmother was a seamstress," she says. "I'd tell her exactly how to alter [my clothes] and what to do."

She moved to Pittsburgh for the first time in 2003 so her husband could attend graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University. They left the area after his graduation before moving back to Pittsburgh about seven years ago. Along the way, she set aside her passion for design to pursue a career in finance, including positions at PNC Bank in Pittsburgh, and went back to school to earn a master's degree from Katz Business School at the University of Pittsburgh.

A conversation with her husband motivated her to explore a different career path.

"What would you do if you had no limitations?" she recalls him asking her. "Obviously I would be a designer."

Her business background and professors helped guide her in the early stages of establishing Sandra Cadavid, and she traveled to Colombia on weekends during graduate school to work out the details with the artisans. She also tapped Yu-Ling Cheng to serve as the brand's CEO.

In 2011 the Sandra Cadavid handbag line was born. From the start, she had a celebrity fan in Ms. Rancic, who approached Ms. Reiman at an awards show gushing about her handbag, a prototype of one of her designs.

"She came over to me and said, 'Oh my gosh, where did you get that bag? It's beautiful,' " Ms. Reiman remembers. She emptied the prototype and gave it to Ms. Rancic, and then she sent her another when it was complete.

Ms. Reiman shared on social media a photo of Ms. Rancic with the bag, now called "the Giuliana." "I ended up getting 200 orders within a three-week period," Ms. Reiman says, and had to launch the company earlier than planned to accommodate the requests.

The accessories line of cuffs, necklaces and earrings followed and also has been successful. The handbags go for about $200 to $550, while the jewelry is $60 to $295. In Pittsburgh, the pieces can be found at Victoria in Fox Chapel. The collections also can be shopped online at www.sandracadavid.com and at select boutiques across the country.

"The hope is that we get a pretty huge partnership with a well-known company and are able to scale our operation," Ms. Reiman says, "and be able to make beautiful things and grow."


For more from PG style editor Sara Bauknecht, check out the PG's Stylebook blog at www.post-gazette.com/stylebook. Follow her on Twitter @SaraB_PG.

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