Lingerie boutique Calligramme gets physical on Butler Street | Lifespace
Calligramme Pittsburgh, US-made and vintage lingerie

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 would not 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 midcentury modern 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 of the all-too-common request. “[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 developed organically, she explains, though perhaps with a nudge from her time as a teacher at Regent Square’s Environmental Charter School. “I started to buy things that were only made in the United States, and 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.”

At present, she also advocates for local small 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. “I like to keep it Pittsburgh as much as possible, and everything else is U.S.-made.” 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.'”

By marketing “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 notes.

I’m relieved at — and appreciative of — Vogel’s boldness in discussing lingerie, not only because she feels secure in doing so, but because she gets lingerie. And frankly, if every retail establishment sold girl power disguised as a lace-embellished, totally sheer nightgown made before WWII, I’d own significantly more nightgowns.

Ask her for a recommendation if the mood strikes — or if you happen to feel inspired by the shop’s strategically displayed copy of Playboy‘s 1964 “Summer Fun Issue.” During my visit to Calligramme, Vogel wastes no time in pulling a navy, full-length bodysuit from a nearby hanger. It’s buttless. “For you, I’d say this one,” she says matter-of-factly. “You could wear this on a Tuesday. You could wear this under the sweater and jeans 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. Uncovered, perhaps. You do you, people.

Update: Under new management, Mind Cure Records rebranded as Cruel Noise Records in August 2016.

Photography: Tara Bennett