Stephanie Villalobos-Fellabaum is a vintage pro, and her closet shows that anything she would sell, she would also wear. Her career in the industry began 15 years ago in Houston and has seen her hold just about every type of position possible within it, from "picker" and eBay seller to boutique owner.
Currently the founder and owner of high-end vintage shop Laced With Romance, she once schlepped pounds and pounds of clothing around Buffalo Exchange. A friend noticed her good instincts, approached her and took her under his wing as he scavenged through "dead stock" in closed down department stores.
"It's very underground," Stephanie says of making a foray into vintage retail. "It's luck of the draw if you get in."
Luckily for Stephanie, her prudent upbringing readied her for the business. "We grew up poor and didn't have a lot of money," she says. "It was the era of 90210, so my grandma started teaching me how to make what I saw and how to sew."
To walk into Stephanie's closet is to be enveloped by a swath of dark, moody, lacy, gothic romance. The racks are not crowded; every piece has its purpose.
"This is really all the clothing I have," she says. "They've got to be pieces that move something in me. I have to feel connected to it. "
Almost every garment is marked by a slate grey or black hue, aside from a few draped, dyed and beaded Dust and Drag pieces — the clothing line she's developing with her partner Bekah Dubose.
In true "picker" fashion (i.e., the people who dig through overwhelming amounts of clothing in warehouses, searching for the best vintage gems to then sell to boutiques), Stephanie's wedding dress was a cover-up-and-slip combo found on Craigslist and an estate sale, respectively.
Stephanie and her husband, Aaron, were married in Marathon, Texas — the town way out West where 1984's Paris, Texas was filmed. "It's the town I go to when I want to get away from it all."
The stark landscape and stucco backdrop of the Marathon Motel lent themselves perfectly to the relaxed, throw-back vibe of the small, intimate wedding that 40 friends and family members attended.
Stephanie excitedly pulls out her coveted pair of North Beach Leather pants from the 70s, an extremely rare and coveted item in the vintage world for the high quality in material and cut.
A company that's been around since the 60s, only one North Beach Leather store remains in San Francisco. "My goal is to crisply reproduce these one day," she says.
On her right hand, she wears a Native American made of petrified wood found at a flea market. "The owner of the ring explained to me how the Native Americans started using petrified wood during WWII due to the high cost and rarity of Turquoise."
Long ago, Stephanie found a children's jacket from the Chimayo region of New Mexico.
Traditionally, Chimayo garb would have a much larger fit, but the children's size makes for a perfect cropped look.
The elbows on sleeves are tattered and torn, but "[the jacket is] one of those things that I will never ever give up, and it cost me a dollar."
No patching necessary.
Hanging from a deer skull is an array of dark and moody necklaces, including the bold quarts piece by Rima Hyena.
"I am pulled toward jewelry that is inspired by the elements of nature, science, alchemy, good mojo and most always with strong masculine undertone," she explains.
For Stephanie, style isn't about a perfectly pressed, off-the-rack look. A piece needs to have a rich history.
"There are things I have small romances with. I have one night stands with some my clothes."
Though not the most unique item in her closet, this t-shirt literally wears on its sleeve the amount of years it's traveled with her.
She's hesitant to label herself when asked to describe her look. "I'm not really a fashion person but I like style," she says. "I've always been drawn to Patti Smith. When she walked it felt like those clothes were part of her. It becomes part of her character."
A fox stole hangs proudly in the center of Stephanie's closet, a clear departure from the bohemian-gothic theme that runs deep in her wardrobe's veins. She keeps it in her collection because it appeals to her "luxurious side."
"[That's] not a side that I get the chance to visit often, because most of my work is done in my studio away from the public, so more often then not, you will find me in my uniform of well worn jeans and t-shirts full of holes and close to death," she says.
As for what to expect to see Stephanie draping (and she does love draping) herself with next, think more color and a throw-back to a different era: the 90s club kid scene.
"I'm ready for some brighter citron greens, electric blues," she says excitedly. "I will always have bohemian elements in everything, I'm a product of the 70s. But I'm really looking forward to expanding that In Sci-Fi and club kid style in a really refined way."
And if you're just finding your footing in the fashion world, don't be discouraged when and if you falter.
"I think it takes years to create a style and to have style. You're probably going to fall and get it wrong so many times, but you have to experience it."
Style can never be bought, it can only be learned.