Calligramme - Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh

Lingerie boutique Calligramme gets physical on Butler Street

January 25, 2016
Editor’s note: Calligramme’s brick-and-mortar store closed in May of 2018, but the shop is still accessible online via calligramme.us and Etsy.

Two years ago, Upper Lawrenceville wouldn’t have been believable as a specialty lingerie destination. But the times are changing, and fast. A far cry from its industrial past, the neighborhood is now a magnet for entrepreneurs seeking a promising and — in comparison to other segments of Lawrenceville — affordable spot to hone their niche markets.

On par with the 10th Ward’s rapidly expanding retail landscape, Calligramme opened its doors in December 2014, unveiling a well-executed operation fueled by anti-consumerism and female empowerment. The boutique is the brainchild of Marissa Vogel: Lawrenceville resident, former special education teacher, and firm believer in the power of sensory reception. Her space, adorned with mid-century-style furniture and vintage vinyls, exudes equal parts romance and unbridled sensuality.

Not by accident, the garments Vogel carries are bold and confident — an attractive combination to customers bearing the same attributes. Everything from lace-lined bralettes to crotchless (albeit classy) panties fill these shelves. But if you’re looking for nipple covers, you’ve got the wrong girl. “That’s not really what I’m going for,” she says. “[Calligramme] is just a different kind of vibe.”

Opposed to stocking anything manufactured outside of the U.S. (which, to the dismay of some shoppers, includes most nipple covers), Vogel exemplifies supply chain consciousness. Her passion for domestic goods and ethical sourcing, she explains, developed from sheer curiosity.

“While I was teaching [at Regent Square’s Environmental Charter School], I started to buy things that were only made in the United States. That’s how I found all of these [lingerie] vendors. I’m trying to eventually move [Calligramme] into more of a push for advocacy for U.S. manufacturing and accessibility to it.”

Foremost, she advocates for small local businesses, offering a range of Pittsburgh-made products in-store: vintage lingerie from four different vendors, used books from Oakland’s Caliban, “mood-setting and hostessing records” from Mind Cure in Polish Hill. (Update: Under new management, Mind Cure Records rebranded as Cruel Noise Records in August 2016.)

I like to keep it Pittsburgh as much as possible, and everything else is U.S.-made,” says Vogel.

Better yet, she reveals that 13 of Calligramme’s specialty vendors are both owned and entirely operated by women, adding, “I’ve always been very ‘female power.'”

With an emphasis on “things that you could wear every day; that are comfortable and sexy,” the proprietor has succeeded in giving her store a “strong feminine” feel. “I want people to feel comfortable at home, and I’m happy with showing them how they can do that in the fullest way,” she says.

Frankly, it’s refreshing to discuss lingerie with someone who not only feels secure in doing so, but who actually wants to discuss lingerie. Long gone are your days of strained interactions with shopping-mall sales associates: At Calligramme, men and women alike are put at ease under Vogel’s guidance.

In fact, when curiosity — or a strategically displayed copy of Playboys 1964 “Summer Fun Issue” — compelled me to ask for a personalized recommendation, she wasted no time in pulling a navy bodysuit from a nearby hanger. It was buttless. “For you…I’d say this one. You could wear this on a Tuesday. You could wear this under the sweater you have on right now, and no one would ever need to know.”

If all you need is an unapologetic reminder that confidence doesn’t require an explanation, Vogel’s got you covered. Or…not covered. You do you, people.

PHOTOGRAPHY: TARA BENNETT