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STREETSEEN  |  Sona Amroyan-Peric

Photo by Steve Roberts

Sona Amroyan-Peric: A Fitting Profession

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

When she moved to the United States almost 16 years ago, Sona Amroyan-Peric, 36, had no idea that her talents would put her center stage in the Memphis cultural scene. As a native of Yerevan, Armenia, she moved to Memphis with her family when her father accepted a position as an aircraft mechanic with Northwest Airlines. At the time, Sona was ready to embark on building her career, but spoke almost no English.

“I could say, ‘Hello’ and ‘Bye,’ but that was about it,” recalled Sona. “Knowing that my family was moving to Memphis, I quickly completed my education in order to move with them.”

In Armenia, Sona had been taking classes simultaneously to complete both high school and “university.” As she was finishing high school at the age of 16, she said she had already recognized her passion—sewing.

“Everyone has some sort of natural creative talent,” said Sona. “I always knew that I wanted to be a fashion designer. My mother and grandmother sewed; therefore, I learned early how to sew and made costumes for dolls of children throughout my entire neighborhood. I remember that I would barter to keep half of the fabric I used for others as their payment for my sewing.”

Sona graduated from a fashion design school in Armenia just before her family moved to the United States. When she arrived in Memphis, she found work as a seamstress at David’s Bridal Salon.

“Sewing was the only thing I could do job wise,” said Sona.

After working at David’s, Sona walked into Ballet Memphis and asked if they had a job for her because she could sew. They hired her as a costume assistant and for nine years she worked for Ballet Memphis while also working in the movie industry, making costumes for movies such as “Walk the Line” and “The Help.”

Upon a referral to Opera Memphis, she accepted her current position, Costume Shop Manager.

“By that point, I had realized that I enjoyed the theatrical side most, preferring it to sewing for fashion or movies,” said Sona. “However, I never went to design school for costumes, so each show is part of my learning process. I think one of the benefits is that I’m a little freer with my designs. Basically I’m really shy, but, I’m coming out of my shell in this job now that I’m in charge with full responsibility for my department.”

Opera Memphis presents three productions a year and Sona designs the costumes for at least two of them. A costume can cost up $500, if being built from the ground up, and the typical budget per show can cost as much as $30,000 if they have to build a brand new production.

“To start my design process, I have to look at the set to determine the period setting,” explained Sona. “Most operas are based in the 1700s, and sometimes a director wants to put their own spin on a classic opera, so the setting could be, for example, the 1920s. My job is to make sure that the costumes fit the director’s vision.”

Sketches turn into patterns, which Sona makes all of her own.

“My method is a bit unconventional,” explained Sona, “I start to design when I buy the fabric. Then I drape the fabric on a mannequin and let the fabric ‘talk to me.’ That’s how I find the shape of the costume and envision details like buttons and lace. I start with a very simple base and keep things on the minimal side. I don’t try to match the sketch exactly. I prefer to make allowances to better perfect the costumes for each singer.”

With an opera averaging 40 people per production, and the principal singers having at least two looks, that makes for a large amount of sewing in a short period of time.

“Sometimes we can use the same pants and undershirts for singers who play different roles in different acts,” said Sona. “Fittings usually take place three to four weeks before the opening, and I usually have two weeks to get everything ready for the first dress rehearsal.”

Sona’s most recent work was seen in “Pirates of Penzance.”

“We built every single costume and because Pirates was a co-production with Opera Palm Beach, I had to make designs for two separate casts,” said Sona. “I made adjustments to most pieces before they were shipped, but in some cases I had to make an additional set of costumes for the principal singers in Palm Beach. Corsets and other dressmaker details I learned in the fashion industry made it easier for me to alter sizes to fit each person.”

Now Sona says that Opera Memphis is looking at sets for their next season. But her fingers will not be idle. In addition to making costumes, she also does about 30 alterations per month for private individuals. She has been doing alterations for formalwear for the last 15 years, but now concentrates on wedding gowns.

“It’s just amazing that the girls I did prom and cotillion dresses for back then, are now getting married and are coming to me to get their wedding dresses altered.” said Sona.

It seems that Sona has her future all sewn up with a job that is a custom-fit for her creative talents.

STREETSEEN  |  Chris Canale

Photo by Steve Roberts

Chris Canale: Offering a Sip of Pure Memphis

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

A piece of Memphis history will come back to life this month as Chris Canale, 38, opens Old Dominick Distillery at 305 S. Front. Not only will a set of restored historic industrial buildings be resurrected, but Chris will be writing new pages of his family’s history as the next generation of Canales to continue the family’s passion for “making fine spirits and sharing stories.”

“Old Dominick Distillery is a 54,000 square-foot set of historic industrial buildings restored as a spirits distillery,” explained Chris. “But it’s more than a production facility. We’ve designed it to be a destination for people to go and get together. Old Dominick Distillery invites guests to learn the lore, experience the craft, and share a sip of pure Memphis spirit.”

Named after Chris’ great-great-grandfather, Domenico Canale, Old Dominick Distillery is located just steps away from the place where Domenico Canale originated D. Canale & Co. and later Old Dominick Whiskey in Downtown Memphis in 1866. And Chris intends to pay homage to his family’s history in a myriad of ways.

As guests enter the new distillery, they will be greeted by an exhibit showcasing historical information and family photos that will give them a sense of what life was like on this stretch of S. Front in the mid-1800s. A glance out the front window will help cement their sense of place as they can see the building across the street where the spirited life of Chris’ family began.

Those gathered for a facilities tour will learn the history of the Old Dominick and D. Canale brands and how that story is related to the city of Memphis. The entire tour, with the exception of the bottling line, is laid out in the order of the production process. Old Dominick Distillery is a whole-process distillery and crafts a line of fine spirits.

“Most people don’t realize that whiskey is actually distilled beer,” said Chris. “Grains, brought by truck to the back of the facility, go into enormous fermentation tanks to begin their voyage in the whiskey-making process. The product of the fermentation process is called “distiller’s beer.” The beer goes through the beer still and results in 120 proof distillate, which then goes to the doubler for a second distillation. That distillate is proofed further and finally this ‘white whiskey’ goes into barrels to begin the aging process, approximately four years. The white whiskey turns its traditional brown color in the barrel. Our barrels will be kept onsite in our ‘aging loft’. And some of our white whiskey will undergo further processing and be refined to over 190 proof vodka.”

For those seeking a taste of Old Dominick’s products, the distillery offers a tasting room.

“On the full business day you can have a tasting, but not drink,” said Chris. “And we’re able to sell unopened full bottles in our gift shop, along with other souvenirs.”

And there’s another option, Old Dominick Distillery has been designed to serve as an event site. There’s a VIP Lounge with access to a rooftop patio, with a river view, that when combined can accommodate approximately 350 people. During special events, Old Dominick’s whiskeys and vodkas can be served by the drink. There are also plans underway to have a restaurant onsite.

Another nod to the Canale family history will come in the form of a heritage drink called a “Memphis Toddy.” Old Dominick had the label “1866 Flavored Whiskey” and called his drink the “Old Dominick Toddy.” It was a true pre-prohibition drink said to be very popular back in those days.

“We did not have the actual recipe,” said Chris, “But we did have an actual bottle of his flavored whiskey, with the wax seal in place, that survived through the years. We had the concoction analyzed and discovered it was whiskey with a mix of botanicals, like citrus peel and spices. We are going to bottle our Memphis Toddy and use a custom design featuring a rooster and a sunrise in our logo. The rooster is a Dominicker, a tribute to Dominick (Domenico) Canale.”

A few steps away and five generations later from where it all began, the Old Dominick Distillery seems like a family reunion to crow about.

For more information about Old Dominick Distillery, visit OldDominick.com and check its Facebook page for events.