A Little Magic at Ceremonial, Pittsburgh
by Natalie Bencivenga
December 22, 2020
You've always been such a fashionable person. When did you start being interested in fashion?
I come from a line of stylish women. My mother has impeccable style and my grandmother on my father's side looked like Jackie Onassis. But if I had to go back, I think my love of fashion began with Barbie Doll. I was obsessed with styling outfits. At the age of 10, my grandmother "introduced" me to CNN Style with Elsa Klensch. She wanted me to see where style and design were born. Elsa would cover the designers, the models, the fashion shows. I was hooked. It was true, magical glamour and I felt a deep connection. My Gran saw that I was loving it and plopped W magazine in front of me to keep me occupied while she put her makeup on and made me toast. Then, the estate sales started. My mother's mother was a deal hunter and bought two of everything if it was the "right" price. I learned early on to seek out quality at a fair price. I started haunting thrift shops because the fashions I was seeing on the runway were inspired by the vintage found at a second-hand store. I was in! I loved the hunt of a killer find.
Who are your fashion icons?
Zandra Rhodes, David Bowie, Vali Myers, Kate Moss, Erin Wasson, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, Thea Porter, The Missoni's, Ruth Gordon, Jade Jagger — I love the allure of rock and roll glamour and bohemian wherewithal.
Has your spirituality influenced your style?
I have always had a witchy aesthetic. My first time dressing up for Halloween I went as a witch. I went through a Romantic Gothic phase when I was a teenager, becoming obsessed with vampiric glamour via the writings of Anne Rice. I wore a lot of lace and velvet but from a more Victorian / Renaissance point of view. My style then emerged into an eclectic witch with a focus on layering with rich textiles and patterns. I was never afraid of fashion. I have never been afraid of standing out or being noticed. It's my Leo Rising.
Leslie McAllister, owner of Ceremonial and a practicing witch, is not only a true fashionista, but she is eco-chic, favoring vintage looks and thrift store finds that she shares and sells with her followers on Instagram and in her shop in Point Breeze. I chatted with her, fittingly, around Winter Solstice to learn more about her store, her style and why everyone needs a little magic in their lives.
Why invest in vintage or gently used clothing / accessories?
It's where you find the best stuff. The old garments were made so beautifully with the best fabrics and the strongest seams and fasteners. You can't find that anymore unless you are investing in Givenchy or the like. It's known that when the idea well runs dry for designers they turn to the past. So vintage is inspiring the likes of modern-day artists and designers. I like my pieces to be special and memorable. Early on, I learned I liked being my own person. I got picked on for it in the beginning but I always stood firm in my style. Then as I grew into an adult and attended fashion school, I started thinking: “Where is the balance in all this production of clothing, AKA, fast-fashion?” I took some environmental science classes and vowed that the fashion industry I would partake in would be one of sustainability. I knew vintage was going to be a part of my future.
How does sustainable fashion fit in with your lifestyle and spirituality?
Mother Earth is a goddess I hold in my heart. I do my best to care for our Earth, in sustainable ways, in all facets of my life. As a witch, it is my honor to do so. I was a victim of the fast-fashion allure for a long time as it intermingled with my vintage-filled closet. But now, more than ever, I can honestly say, I am 90 percent second hand. If I buy clothing, it is underwear/panties. I buy bras second hand. Even the majority of my shoes are pre-loved. If I am seeking something new, I begin with my vintage slinging friends, then Ebay, Etsy, Poshmark and estate, thrift and antique shops. I just loved giving a garment a second chance.
Share with us a little bit about Ceremonial Pittsburgh... How long you've been open, why the name change, and how the store has evolved from mostly vintage clothing to now a space for the esoteric.
Ceremonial is an intentional living store for folks who want to celebrate each day in ritual. I offer items and resources to assist in this by way of self-awareness, self-healing, self-love and manifestation through the use of magic. I am a tarot reader and offer a wide range of traditional and indie tarot and oracle decks for self-introspection. I sell ritual candles to work with the energy of fire to manifest a desired reality or outcome.
When I opened the shop, as Juju (named after my 16-year-old cat) in 2016, I started as a mix of ritual tools, vintage clothing and goods. Since then, I have worked intuitively to elevate the store to where it is now. I began to notice the spiritual awakenings of the community and I saw the shop as a vessel of light and support in dark times. I was guided instinctively (with the help of my spiritual team) to focus on offering more tools to grow, heal and awaken.
About a year after opening the shop I started to feel discomfort around the name Juju. Being a West African word, it started to become clear to me that this was not mine. I reached out to friends and colleagues about changing the name. I began to do work around racism, white supremacy, listening to Black people and feeling my way through my own ancestral shame and guilt. I made a decision. I would change the name. I decided to try it out on my vintage selling platform and adopted the name Ceremonial Vintage. I remember then how strong and right it felt and thought I will feel this out for a year and launch at my five year anniversary. After June 2020 and the Black Lives Matter movement, I knew that time was no longer relevant. It was NOW that the name was to be changed and I wanted to involve my community in the process. It is of the utmost importance for me to be transparent and honest with my community, so including them felt very natural. I think that by starting small (with small businesses) making right and just changes we can inspire big corporations to follow suit. That is my hope, at least.
Share some great stocking stuffers from your store:
Bayberry candles: They are a long time ceremony and tradition in my home. Burning a bayberry candle on Christmas Eve/Day or New Year’s Day ensures a year of prosperity. It has been a long time practice of my mother’s and mine. The riddle goes: " A bayberry candle burned to the socket brings food to the larder and gold to the pocket." $10 for two tapers.
Wild Medicine: A crystal soap used to cleanse the body and soul — Clary Sage and Quartz — a quartz sphere is in the center of the soap so once used up you have a lovely crystal to meditate with. $20 each.
Cleansing bundles: A plant bundled used to cleanse your home and sacred space — selections include: cedar, desert sage, sweetgrass, rosemary ranges. Ranges in price from $4-$20.
Magic Hour Ritual Candles: A candle infused with intention and enchanted wax, herbs and a crystal. Used to manifest the desired outcome. Choose from: Gratitude, Love, Abundance, Crossroads, Protection, Ancestors, Clearing, Spirit and New/Full Moon. $28 each.
Share with us a fun fact about the winter solstice, Monday, Dec. 21.
It marks the longest night of the year. It is the halfway point between winter and summer. Also known as Yule, it is a night to honor the light as we are in the darkest point of our calendar. Our nights are longer and our days are shorter. The Solstice is for merriment, joy, mirth, compassion, and family. It is a time to celebrate the long year and welcome a time of rest as we head into the icy, cold winter months.
I always see your awesome bath rituals on Instagram. Can you share one with us to do at home?
I light as many candles as I can and burn my Yule log. I had my partner cut a piece of the tree trunk from last year's tree. I have kept it all year and will decorate it and adorn it with candles. If I had a working fireplace I would carve my intentions in it and burn it, thanking it for its’ life, its’ roots and its’ stability.
If you prefer a ritual bath, I would prepare two cups of sea salt, a cup of coconut milk, pine or cedar, orange slices, Frankincense oil and white lilies. Line your tub in tea light candles and as you soak, honor the light as a guide in these dark times. Give thanks for the lessons of the year past. Look optimistically to the future. This year we have an especially auspicious time, this Solstice on Dec. 21 marks the New Age of Aquarius. You know the song: "This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius..." What does this mean? It is the Great Conjunction where Jupiter and Saturn will align. This is the age of revolution, technology, communication, with its focus on collective well-being. And we have seen the importance of coming together and standing up for one another now more than ever. We are heading into a new time. The best way to prepare is to be open to change.
Learn more about Ceremonial HERE.
by Natalie Bencivenga
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