Dress designer Chrysal Parrot opens Demi Monde in Vineyard Haven

Chrysal Parrot, self-taught fashion designer who just opened Demi Monde, in Vineyard Haven. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

This might very well be a breakout year for fashion designer/dressmaker Chrysal Parrot. Although she’s only just opened her own boutique on State Road in Vineyard Haven, she has been doing custom designs and alterations for a private clientele for years, and her designs have been the focus of much attention recently.

Last year, Ms. Parrot (pronounced like Ross Perot’s last name) and her styles were the cover feature in the first issue of the new magazine Avalon. This past spring Ms. Parrot’s designs, along with clothes from the store PIKNIK Art and Apparel, graced the catwalk for the preview event for next month’s Martha’s Vineyard Fashion Week. Earlier this month, her custom-made mother/daughter outfits were part of an item at the Possible Dreams Auction for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. Last week the designer did a fashion shoot for the 2012 issue of Martha’s Vineyard Wedding Magazine.

Ms. Parrot’s store, Demi Monde, located two doors up from Educomp in Vineyard Haven, features the designer’s styles for women and girls. There are feminine sundresses in single or combination vintage-inspired prints and detail-rich costume-like pieces in lush fabrics with a nod to earlier eras. A rack of vibrantly colored cocktail dresses in iridescent silk dupioni with cummerbund sections in complementary colors and glimpses of tulle peeking from under the hem attest to the designer’s eye for texture and color and her love of small surprising details. The most labor-intensive piece — an Edwardian wedding gown constructed from a variety of antique lace and muslin in ivories and pale sepia tints, hangs against one wall like the centerpiece work of art that it is. Prices start at $185.

Browsing through the lovely store is like sorting through a box of exquisite antique jewelry, where each piece instantly becomes your momentary favorite — until the charm of another grabs your attention. Nothing on display could be described as trendy. The pieces are all unique designs drawn from some of fashion history’s most feminine and flattering styles. Ms. Parrot, who also designed the store’s Art Nouveau style logo, says that she is inspired by everything, including costume dramas, which she is admittedly addicted to, but she has also recently designed some pieces using African print fabric that her father brought her back from Gambia. “Ideas just come to me in my sleep,” she says, “or I see a piece of fabric and it just pops into my head.”

Says Ms. Parrot, “I do a lot of stuff based on historical clothing. It’s just an aesthetic that I love. I love the look of the London of Oscar Wilde. That lush epicurean over-indulgence. Almost overwhelming the senses.” The period looks include corsets, fitted vests, and bustle skirts — not everyday pieces but contemporary and comfortable enough to be very wearable. The unique fabrics are gathered through tireless perusing of fabric stores in New York and elsewhere. Ms. Parrot uses imported silks and luxe velvets and has even been known to create fashions from upholstery fabric or anything else that catches her eye.

In the store’s front windows and on the small balcony, mannequins display clothes that could easily have come from a fashion museum or the costume collection for a period movie, but the designs have been simplified somewhat from their ancestral inspirations and benefit from sturdy fabrics and construction, and ease of movement. Ms. Parrot demonstrates the latter by donning a gorgeous Edwardian-style fitted velvet jacket and wind-milling her arms to show that the design offers the freedom not usually associated with such form-fitting pieces. “I’ve spent countless hours refining the fit of a sleeve,” she says. “I can’t stand being bound.”

Another inspiration for Ms. Parrot is the feminine fashions of the 50s and 60s, which are reflected in her sundresses and cocktail dresses. “Women’s clothing veered so far away from femininity with the hippy era and the power suit of the 80s,” she says. “We lost so much of what is beautiful about the female figure. We got the idea that you couldn’t be beautiful and feminine and comfortable at the same time.”

The store itself is opulent and inviting. The small space is reminiscent of a richly decorated Victorian parlor. Ms. Parrot’s husband, P.J. Woodford, is responsible for creating a sensuous, luxurious environment that features teal and gold lace print accent painting offset by striking mustardy gold walls, Oriental carpets, plush Victorian couches, and other ornate antique pieces.

Like Ms. Parrot’s designs, closer inspection reveals charming details. A marble Romeo and Juliet statue is tucked into a corner, intricately carved silver serving pieces are artfully placed, a few beautifully bound books grace an antique table, and two vintage sewing machines show off the beauty of design that typified earlier eras.

More about Chrysal

Ms. Parrot is self-taught. She has been designing and crafting her own clothes since she was a child. She majored in Italian and French at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. After moving to the Vineyard part time in 1993 to drive a tour bus, she started creating pieces for friends who coveted the designs she and her daughter Chloe were wearing. She eventually gained a clientele through showing at the Artisans Festivals and briefly had a studio above the former Che’s Lounge, which was owned and operated by Mr. Woodford.

The couple has two daughters, Chloe, 12, and 7-year-old Emmanuelle. The two lovely girls are invariably seen in their mother’s fashions, which range from simple sundresses to gorgeous Edwardian velvet tunics. Ms. Parrot creates custom designs for children and women and has designed both wedding gowns and bridesmaid’s dresses for a number of clients. Ms. Parrot and Mr. Woodford — who does furniture restoration and reinvention, among other things — will soon be opening an offshoot upholstery business called the Recovery Room, specializing in older pieces.

Demi Monde is currently open seven days a week. Ms. Parrot is planning a grand opening party for next weekend, the date still to be announced. The evening will include a grand opening party with music, refreshments, and activities for children. For more information, call 774-521-8058.