Dress creator Lisa Perello shows off her workspace.
The daughter of renowned flamenco guitarist Jose Perello and flamenco dancer Sylviana, Austin's first Lady of flamenco, Lisa Perello grew up dancing.
Under The tutelage of instructor Carmen Linares, she performed in flamenco groups around the city. But for Perello, it was always the elaborate costumes worn by dancers that intrigued her the most, and in 1995 she began sewing for her mother's dance company.
Since then, she’s blossomed as a creator and entrepreneur. Perello now creates costumes for virtually every professional flamenco dancer and flamenco school in San Antonio.
On Nov. 11, after weathering the COVID-19 crisis for nearly two years, Perello returned to the public eye with an all-new fashion show "La Moda Sigue, 2.1," part of the 12th annual WeFlamenco Fest. In the show, dancers Monica Moncivais and Jessica Ahr performed solos while students from the Raices de Arte Español dance studio walked the runway.
As with other flamenco recitals and events featuring her dresses, Perello said the show was a victory in that it helped kindle local interest and respect for the art form.
"I just want people to come out and be wowed by these young ladies and their hard work,” she said. “I'm determined to continue and educate the local community and to promote and support flamenco in San Antonio."
Perello's show was the result of San Antonio’s flamenco community coming together, but it also marked a new beginning for her as an entrepreneur. While she’s been creating costumes for the past three decades, it wasn't until she reached her mid 40s that she decided to open her own shop. Previously, she worked odd jobs and created dresses out of her home studio.
"Every time it didn't work out with the 9-to-5 jobs or the other things I did, this is what makes me want to wake up in the morning," she told the Current in 2015.
Surviving a shutdown
Facebook / David Ramirez
Perello's fashion show La Moda Sigue 2.1 unfolds at Fabictopia Warehouse.
Today, Perello operates her business from a studio and retail space located at the Fabrictopia Warehouse where she creates custom made dresses and costumes. She opened the shop in November 2019, four months before the COVID-19 reached U.S. shores. Business looked promising at first, but by March of 2020, San Antonio was essentially shut down.
Along with the financial setback, the pandemic brought on personal issues for Perello.
"COVID broke my heart," she said. "I was dealing with two bad things: I was going through a divorce, then COVID came. Everything shut down or was cancelled — Fiesta was cancelled, prom was cancelled, recitals were cancelled, graduations were cancelled. Everything that I make dresses for or do alterations for was all cancelled. I had to return deposits. Everything shut down for a while, and I was all alone here. I was crying all the time and I had no business."
To make ends meet, Perello resorted to making masks and household items such as pillows and cushions — just about anything that required sewing. For nearly two years, she carried on crafting whatever she could to stay in business.
As a designer, Perello's clothes range from the traditional to the bold and experimental. Unique to her designs are form-fitting dresses, tight around the hips before opening up into various layers below. While polka dots and ruffles are usually associated with flamenco, Perello said there’s no reason to be bound by tradition.
"It can really be anything,” she said. “You could be wearing a trash bag."
In 2012, Perello presented the city’s first all-flamenco fashion show, “Perello 09.13.12.," at the Jump-Start Theatre. Her work has also been featured in the exhibitions "Fuego de España: A Celebration of San Antonio Flamenco Art" at the Art Institute of San Antonio and as part of “Fiesta, Fête, Festival: Selections from the Tobin Collection" at the McNay Art Museum.
In early 2020, Perello collaborated on a dress with performance artist Tamara Adira that was inspired by the mylar blankets supplied to detained migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. Both majestic and metallic, Perello's dress figured prominently in Adira's performance piece "Mantas de Luz," which she performed around the city in what became a protest of the Trump administration's treatment of asylum seekers.
Performance artist Tamara Adira wears Perello's metallic dress inspired by the mylar blankets supplied to detained migrants.
The project was among the last for the two women before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Perello considers her most recent fashion show a success because it brought people together. La Moda Sigue was a celebration of community following a world-wide pandemic.
“Everyone was so excited, I felt it was their show too," she said.
But the show had significance beyond that. Not only did it usher in the next generation of Alamo City flamenco dancers but also a second act for Perello in which her passion for dressmaking finally takes centerstage.
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