Carnegie Museum of Art’s Alyssa Velazquez brings design into her wardrobe | Features | Pittsburgh

click to enlarge Alyssa Velazquez - CP PHOTO: TERENEH IDIA

CP Photo: Tereneh Idia

Alyssa Velazquez

Name: Alyssa Velazquez
Work: Curatorial Assistant of Decorative Arts and Design at Carnegie Museum of Art (4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland.

How would you describe your style in a few words?
Playful. Experimental. Quirky. Vintage.

I think of my style as a mix of Iona and Andie Walsh in Pretty in Pink. A Bomber jacket paired with funky earrings and a pink-and-white, polka dot, tulle prom dress with pearls kind of style. There’s probably even some Duckie in there, too. Because why not?

Tell me what you’re wearing?
I am wearing a 1960s Irvington Place Sportswear by Lili go-go dress that I purchased from Avalon Exchange in Squirrel Hill. As soon as I saw its buttery soft brown leather looking out at me from the rack, I didn’t give a second thought to size or price; I had to have it. My deep-abiding love and devotion to Avalon Exchange as my go-to thrift store in Pittsburgh was sealed with this quintessential mod dress, complete with intact satin lining and original metal zipper. To me, it’s not just a garment, it’s an attitude. And I love it.

Just about as much as I love my collection of vintage purses. The one that I’m wearing was a gift from my mom and — believe it or not — came to me many years before the dress. It’s by Stylecraft Miami, an innovative bag maker that produced lines in a wide variety of styles and materials beginning in the late 1930s. One of their taglines was, “as relaxed and off-the-beaten-path as the life in Miami.” Most were designed with shoe coordination in mind but were also smart novelties suitable for regular handbag department stores. My jewelry is a combination of old and new with a brown-stone bracelet that I bought at a New York flea market and my much beloved double-sided Sun and Moon pendant by Jenna Vanden Brink Ceramics.

Is there something you wear every day or often that is a special gift to yourself?
I’m a big fan of ringed hands. On any given day, I’m wearing five to seven rings on different fingers. In that ringed-realm of possibility, there are some that I wear regardless of the outfit. One is a moon and cluster of stars mood ring (yes, mood ring) that I bought at Sid & Nancy, a buy-sell-trade store in Columbia, South Carolina. The other is my first “big girl purchase,” a small alexandrite stone set in a simple gold band that I bought with high school graduation money. Considered the stone of good fortune, alexandrite was first discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia and quickly became one of its national symbols because it possesses both of Russia’s national colors — red and green. In daylight, the gemstone exhibits a green color, but by candle or firelight, it changes into a deep red/purple.

The fact that there is a stone that is “emerald by day, ruby by night” astounds me even now, and I’ve very much adopted its unique talismanic history, wearing it to aid creativity, boost internal harmony, and for its associations with balancing the dualities of life.

Is there something you wear every day or often that is a special gift from someone else?
I’d have to say it’s not so much a single item that I wear consistently, but rather a consistent wardrobe of special gifts. As my outfit description indicates, I have a very hard time separating clothes from the people, stores, stories, special occasions, or circumstances surrounding them. I still have garments from middle school that I can recall wearing at a school dance or a top that I sported at a social function that time I had the gumption to ask a boy out. Those wearable or fashionable memories, as I like to think of them, extend to every dress, purse, or pair of shoes I own. In fact, one of the first pieces I published following my undergraduate studies was Men and Manolos: Love and Relationships in The Heels of a Hopeless Romantic, a personal collection of essays on love and relationships in rain boots, sneakers, flats, and even a pair of Manolos.

How would you describe your style at work vs. out & about?
I’d describe it as one in the same. While my garments may or may not have tags, depending on the age of the garment, I don’t label my wardrobe as daytime, evening, or business casual. There’s very little of my style that I wouldn’t wear out and about and also at work. If I want to wear bedazzled Doc Martens to work or go to a job interview in a pink leather jacket and tutu, I will.

Where are you from and what brought you here?
I come to Pittsburgh by way of Columbia, South Carolina, but am originally from New Jersey. In between those periods of time, I also lived in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and New York. Curatorial positions can be hard to come by and junior positions are often contractual. After I completed my last curatorial research position at the Columbia Museum of Art, coordinating the exhibition Van Gogh and His Inspirations, I sent out over 40 applications across the United States in the fields of museum education, curatorial fellowships, and public art programming. At the time, I promised myself that if the 50th application came back with no offer, the universe was sending me a sign. CMOA was number 48.

click to enlarge Alyssa Velazquez - CP PHOTO: TERENEH IDIA

CP Photo: Tereneh Idia

Alyssa Velazquez

Has your style of dress changed as a result of the move?
My style of dress hasn’t changed, but the sheer volume of truly great consignment, vintage, and handmade stores in Pittsburgh has resulted in a dip in my checking account.

As a curator in decorative arts and design, how has your work influenced the way you dress and vice versa?
Growing up, my mom took me school shopping to Goodwills; it’s still one of our favorite pastimes. And while she didn’t use the terms “sustainable fashion” or “ecological consumerism,” she practiced it. When I decided to major in decorative arts and design history, the field merely heightened and informed my vocabulary to that existing relationship. Now I was not only contributing to a circular clothing swap but envisioning said treasures’ pasts. Who owned it, where did they wear it, if it’s a brand, what’s its history? Those questions and the often unknown answers are inseparable from the fabric, and influence the way I approach any design project.

Is there any work of art in CMOA’s collection that is particularly inspiring to you in terms of how you dress?
In November of last year, CMOA opened Locally Sourced, a celebration of 19 Western Pennsylvania-based artists, makers, designers, and creatives. [Editor’s note: Tereneh Idia is one of the featured Locally Sourced makers.] As the curator of Locally Sourced, I had both the deep honor and pleasure to visit many studios throughout the Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania area in developing the size and scope of the project. Meeting makers in their creative spaces inspired me to take my appreciation for fashion to the next level; I didn’t just want to be able to say “I like that,” I wanted to say “I made this.” So, with the patience and guidance of Catherine Batcho at Cut and Sew Studio near Stanton Heights, I slowly but surely worked my way through my first pattern design. Eight classes and many frustrating missteps later, I now have a cosplay outfit to wear at the next Comic-Con convention. And while that had always been a nerdy daydream of mine, I don’t think I would have had the same level of inspiration to make it a reality if it wasn’t for the handcrafted works featured in Locally Sourced.

What are you looking forward to this spring and summer? What is your next project for CMOA?
I think, like most people, I’m looking forward to embracing spring and summer with family, friends, and loved ones.

As a relatively recent transplant, I have a roster of individuals that have been meaning to come to the ’Burgh, and I’m ready to be both a tour guide and tourist of arts and culture in and around our three rivers. As for CMOA, you’ll have to stay tuned!

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