Dressing up amid COVID-19 isn’t a necessity, but it can be a great joy
Sheila Youngblood on how and where she gathers her most prized sartorial possessions
By Suzanne Kilpatrick
Being in Sheila Youngblood’s presence is everything and more one would imagine an Austin style icon to be. Highly charismatic but deeply down to earth, decided but not fussy and void of designer labels but dripping in sartorial flair; Youngblood is a thoroughly authentic idol. She lives to be creative not seen. Her wardrobe is a study in collecting things out of a sheer love of beauty and the joy of dressing up. Though fashion might seem irrelevant at this moment in time, a game of dress up might be just the tonic we’re looking for. We asked Youngblood a few questions to stir your imagination.
What is the origin of the accessories you are wearing on the cover?
I’ve collected turquoise since my late teens and early twenties. Cuffs and ketohs, rings, pins and pendants. I found this sterling silver cuff at an estate sale in Santa Fe. It’s Navajo from the 80’s. It’s part of a pair, one belonging to the husband and one to the wife. I usually wear one on each arm at the same time, and while it’s a big visual statement, it’s a sentimental one, too — a love story. Part of the beauty of collecting old things is the story we get to tell ourselves about the life of a piece.
I’ve kind of gone down a rabbit hole with these big turquoise rings — and I’ve started taking vintage belt buckles and making them into rings, and that’s become a whole new adventure. I’m honestly having a hard time going back to regular sized rings, hats and eyewear. Now that I’ve gone big, I just want to go bigger. I guess that’s the Texan in me.
The large turquoise slab ring is hand-polished Kingman and old, a treasure I purchased from Nancy Rose. I flipped out over it one year when she was showing at Marburger Farm in Round Top. The other ring is 1950’s Zuni sourced from Chrissy Mayrina. She’s deeply knowledgeable on all things Native American, and a helluva picker.
This very special cuff of woven deerskin and quartz was born from an idea I shared with an artist from New York, Jun Funahashi of Feathe. I bought a gorgeous art piece of hers that I found at the former Beautiful Dreamers in Brooklyn years ago, and asked her if she ever made jewelry because I loved the wall hanging so much I wanted to wear it on my body. The wall hanging is woven macrame of leather and deerskin, huge chunks of quartz and driftwood, with shells, coral and shark teeth that she collected from beaches in Japan. It is truly exquisite, and I feel the power of it even in this cuff.
The scalloped brass necklace I picked up at Good Company as a gift for someone, but ended up loving it so much that I kept it. Inspired by the artist’s nomadic life and love for vintage, it’s made by We Dream In Colour, and it’s pretty perfect with this kimono.
I’ve loved hats, scarves and headdresses since I was a child. This divine headpiece is vintage Chinese that I found at the Pickwick Vintage Show in Burbank, CA in February. When I’m not wearing it, it hangs in my house like a piece of art.
Tell us about the kimono, we love the color and pattern.
And this kimono: the girls at Sunroom introduced me to La Vie Style House, this amazing kimono and caftan designing duo in Dallas, and I became obsessed. The designers were planning to join me in Round Top to bring their magic in the field at Rancho Pillow this spring, but we’re rescheduling that visit. I can’t wait to host them and see people fall in love with them as I have. I own six or eight of them now, and during the quarantine, I’m walking my dog in them to bring me joy. I can’t wait to wear them in real life, whatever that ends up being.
Where you shop for jewelry in Austin, elsewhere in Texas and beyond?
I rarely go shopping for jewelry. I feel like it finds me. A collector or designer will DM me, or text me a photo. And two or three times a year, I shop A Current Affair in NY and LA with my teenage daughter, a vintage paradise with over 70 dealers — most of my favorites from around the country in one big showroom. It’s super fun.
What is your greatest treasure amongst your collection of jewelry?
I have one necklace that I wear almost always. It’s a piece of leather, and right at my heart’s center hang 20-30 talismans, relics, charms that hold a memory from important moments in my life, loving, traveling, living. Shells from my favorite beaches around the world, black pearls that I gathered with my family on a pearl farm in French Polynesia, Olde English letters of the first initial of both of my children, a piece given to me by a shaman in Mexico when I was 19, beaded hearts from the Huichol tribe, a brass anatomical heart, energy pendants from my spiritual teacher, gifts from people who have formed me.
What is the story behind your signature glasses?
These frames are my signature from New Zealand designer Karen Walker. This was a limited design, and I had a dream one night that I lost them, so the next day I googled the name and serial number for another back-up pair without luck. I ended up emailing her PR team in New York, and Karen personally sent me what is likely the last pair of this style in their archive. I don’t have a prescription, but I love to add a gradient or tint and replace the lenses every few years to make them feel new again.
Where do you shop for your signature eyewear? How has this evolved over the years?
I have upwards of 100 frames these days — lots of vintage: Cazal, Gucci, Cutler and Gross, Celine, Chloe, Ted Lapidus, but probably 30-40 of those are modern designs from Karen Walker. In recent years, I’ve found real joy in sharing them. When people I meet on travels fall in love with a pair I am wearing, I’ll often give them away or trade them for something. A few years ago at a dinner party in Maine, a fashion designer there loved a pair of my Karen Walkers and wore them home after we traded for a caftan. And at Mardi Gras this year, a chef from Birmingham put on a pair of red acetate vintage Cazals, and immediately FaceTimed his brother to show him their awesomeness. I was so touched by that, and knew those frames would have a better life on his face than mine. I completely understand that love for something special. Many people along my path in this life have given me things because they know I will appreciate the design or the story or the spirit of the piece, and I like to pay that forward. It makes life even more beautiful to share.