Photos by Bryan Rindfuss
Story by Desiree Prieto
Nicknamed, “Wildcard Cuellar” by Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, Agosto Cuellar brings Barrio-chic style to ambitious amateurs in the community, an inspiration from his former vintage re-sale boutique on South Alamo for fifteen years, Jive Refried. The class, titled, “Barrio Couture,” meets on Wednesdays from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., from February 29 - May 23 at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center located at 723 S. Brazos Street.
I had the chance to learn more about the class as a student, and upon arrival I was immediately floored by the festive yellow walls of the studio, which also came equipped with supersized Dia de los Muertos puppets. Cuellar asserted that the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center is a community space, and also “used by other artists and other mediums like silk screening, printing and puppet making.” He also noted that every room at the center is different. “I think the room next door is a different color—that’s where they do the Folklorkico rehearsal.”
Like a teacher’s pet, I arrived to class earlier than my classmates, and exclusively perused Cuellar’s racks, boxes and bins on a treasure hunt to create my next pair of earrings and accessories. “But just what is Barrio Couture,” I asked, finally unearthing my silver Sony recorder. According to Cuellar, “Barrio Couture encompasses the neighborhood that we’re in, which is the barrio, but it also encompasses the fact that I was born on the Westside. I like to dabble in creating things that maybe pre-existed, and then re-conceptualize them into another piece, maybe not meant to be what [it was] originally meant to be.”
To demonstrate, Cuellar took a multicolored purse from his stacks of treasure, which he’d sewn and created himself, adding leather bracelets for handles. He began showing it off, placing it on his wrist and then whipping it around to reveal an accent—an outside pocket that appeared to be some sort of afterthought. “Whatever goes in there, that device has not been invented yet,” he declared, “but the purse can also be for a wine bottle.” I laughed at the purse’s long and skinny outside pocket that was not quite big enough for a cell phone. ‘What could go in there, a corkscrew?’ But that question would have to wait to be answered for now. Cuellar continued to explain his amazing Barrio Couture philosophy, perhaps even Buddha would be proud he’s implementing out West. “If it was a belt, it is renewing, reimagining, recycling, up-cycling. It’s about using things that already exist that are around us and taking pieces like old scarves and turning them into color combinations, a belt, a tie,” or a handbag that doubles as a wine bottle carrier with a pocket whose purpose is yet to be determined, I thought.
Soon, the other students arrived, the class began, and we were introduced to the basics of jewelry making, as well as how to create one-of-a-kind accessories. Students of all skill levels were in the class and we were taken from sketch, to finding the right beads and jewelry pieces, to threading, and finally producing our own jewelry and accessories. I found gorgeous pins reminiscent of Queen Victoria and repurposed them for necklaces, created fiesta-inspired earrings, while my partner made a pair of fish earrings and a fish charm necklace. Other classmates took to the layering look for necklaces and chokers, and even a headband.
Astonished at Cuellar’s resourcefulness, the class began to inquire about where he found his sparkling loot. “A lot of this is my own archival stuff, but I feel that in the process of sharing it with people, I am able to find more,” Cuellar remarked. “San Antonio is like a treasure trove. You just have to know where to look.”
“But where do you look?” I said, realizing that I may never have to pay for jewelry and accessories ever again. Cuellar answered, “Well, it just depends. Being that I’ve been in the business running a vintage store for so many years, I have wholesalers now and they call me and they’re like, ‘Agosto, we have a box of broken jewelry and nobody wants it, give me ten bucks.’”
Cuellar showed off his other archival items to the class, items that I’d already been privy to as an early arriver, and it was time to turn off my recorder. But not before I heard Cuellar assert one last time, while picking up the festive multicolored purse with leather bracelets for handles, “It’s a purse, or a holder for your wine bottle.” He showcased the purse in the air, and then on his wrist, and then finally began fooling around with the outside pocket—the afterthought. “Whatever goes in there, that device has not been invented yet.” I looked at the pocket again, grabbed my recorder and shouted, “Agosto! My recorder fits in there!”