It was a cloudy and grey post-Christmas-festivities day as I drove along South Presa Street searching for local DJ, fashion designer, and vintage expert Agosto Cuellar’s new spot in Southtown, Espacio/Space. A pair of colorful metal giraffes gracing the entrance to the location immediately gave me the cue: I had arrived.
Housed in Studio OneZero3 Cuellar’s new location has an incredibly unique feeling to it. Not necessarily a store but more of a studio experiment Cuellar has taken the elements of his past efforts and put them into this humble one-room living-vintage boutique.
As I sat down with him to talk about life, politics, art, San Antonio and New York I felt completely singular; the attention of the shop and of it’s owner fully on me. And it was obvious, as the conversation unwove itself, that this was exactly his intention; a couture feeling to vintage where “we can all teach each other, courageously, how to dress,” Cuellar said.
Across the hall, Studio OneZero3, run by Patricia Lujan, is a place where models and shoppers can get their hair and makeup done and now Cuellar’s vintage boutique adds funky and stylish clothes to the equation. The contemporary fashionista’s perfect trifecta.
Myself a non-native, Cuellar explained to me that Southtown is actually two neighborhoods separated by South St. Mary’s Street: King William and Lavaca.
His old vintage store/art gallery Jive Refried was located in the famous King William Historic District and it unfortunately closed its doors in July 2011.
The store on South Alamo Street shut down because he was priced out due to soaring costs as well as neighborhood tensions, he said. He nodded to the article written in The Current about the troubles of local business owners in King William and spoke of how expensive restaurants now line street.
Cuellar has been in Southtown since the 1990s, so it was eye-opening for me to talk to someone who has grown with the neighborhood and who has had a first-hand account of changes. As I shared with Cuellar my reasons for leaving New York, I wondered whether all developing cities are bound to follow the pattern of already-developed metropolises like my hometown.
“We want our city to be progressive!” he said. But I believe he and I both share the query: Does progressive mean expensive?
“We’re like the ugly duckling to South Alamo,” Cuellar said of S. Presa St. in Lavaca. But with a vegan Mexican restaurant soon to open just down the street and rumors of a bookshop/café addition, this neighborhood is definitely up-and-coming.
Cuellar spoke of doing something completely different from First Fridays and Second Saturdays by having a sort of catwalk-on-the-concrete fashion night out. Every new space that Cuellar inhabits and creates art in is a testimony to his way of life.
“It’s almost like they’re saying, ‘We’re giving you another chance! Don’t be New York,’” he said.
Lavaca, the oldest existing neighborhood in San Antonio, seems like the perfect location for this kind of hope and experimentation.
“San Antonio is on a track to be an art boom, music boom – or both. And throwing fashion into the middle of it would be amazing,” Cuellar said. Yet in the shadow of this impending boom Cuellar stays humble and grounded. “I don’t see myself as some revolutionary trend-setter – I just do what I love.”
Cuellar didn’t expect Espacio/Space to happen so quickly and he definitely had his hands full with pop-ups like the one at the Melrose Building, a collection debut at Una Noche en La Gloria arts fest, and a position as a 2013 official blogger for Goodwill, but now that his boutique is open for business he was more than willing to talk about his love for all things vintage and why it matters.
“We as artists are drawing back and people in the whole country are realizing that we need to utilize the things around us,” Cuellar said. And his store definitely offers that sort of sustainability that we long for as every single one of his items are found in San Antonio.
It was enchanting the way Cuellar spoke of his vintage items as animate objects with personalities that were lost somewhere in San Antonio only to be recovered by his artistic eye. “But it’s not for me,” he said. "I’m the in-between-guy. I’m like a magnet for crazy stuff that people overlook (but) I can find a home for it ... People like the thrill of the hunt – and (vintage shops) allow for that – it allows for individuality.”
I have never been one for off-the-rack strip mall fashion and neither has Cuellar.
“At the mall they already cooked it, packaged it, and all you have to do is buy a drink,” he said.
At Espacio/Space, though, prepare to have the feeling of going into someone’s home as it gives you the couture sensation of being dressed by the designer. Sit down and chat with Cuellar as he selects what he thinks matches your style or peruse the homey boutique freely.
I am truly excited to drop by Espacio/Space to shop for that unique item that has been lost in San Antonio, found by the artistic talent of Cuellar and is waiting for me to come and reclaim it. Stop by 721 S. Presa St. from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday to do the same and discover the neighborhood of Lavaca.
Kevin Tobar Pesantez is a writer based in San Antonio. He serves as an editor and contributing writer for 2Leaf Press. Follow him on Twitter @ecuamarica and find his writings on his tumblr page. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Kevin has worked as a Workshop Facilitator of the Boy’s Town Detention Center, developing spoken word, hip hop and theater workshops in Brooklyn, and as a playwright and actor in cultural programs in Quito, Ecuador. Kevin was a member of The Forum Project, New York’s first ever Theatre of the Oppressed performance troupe and worked as a housing advocate at University Settlement, a social services organization in the Lower East Side.