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Fashion spirit lives on for trendsetting Hall of Fame icon
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Fashion spirit lives on for trendsetting Hall of Fame icon

Roberta Weissburg (Photo provided by Roberta Weissburg)
Roberta Weissburg (Photo provided by Roberta Weissburg)

Last Sunday’s Pittsburgh Fashion Hall of Fame luncheon highlighted the accomplishments of five local inductees who have snipped, sewn and styled their way to the top.

Joining Catherine Ferris, Patricia Sprague Goettel, Lana Neumeyer and Charles Spiegel in the honor was Roberta Weissburg, a Jewish fashion icon who owns Roberta Weissburg Leathers.

“It was really nice,” Weissburg said of the Sunday brunch. “I had a number of people with me, so I felt very supported.”

Weissburg had previously been nominated a couple of years ago, but other nominees were inducted.

“[I’m] so glad I received it,” Weissburg said.

To get to the Hall of Fame, she said, meant a 180-degree turn in her career path.

Her background is in English literature, and about 35 years ago, as she prepared to complete her doctorate, her fledgling fashion business took off.

One of Weissburg’s big breaks was through film: Her designs graced lead villain Buffalo Bill’s basement studio mannequins in the locally shot “Silence of the Lambs.” She would later go on to design costumes for 13 films, including the now-filming production starring Elijah Wood, “The Last Witch Hunter.”

Fashion, she said, is not too far from English literature, and if she were giving advice to someone new to the fashion industry, it would be that communication is key.

“[You have to] have the ability to communicate, to ask questions, to know how to read your audience,” Weissburg said. “As a business person, you must know what they want.”

For her, that means being unique.

“Have your own sustainability,” she said. “Have the ability to read trends, but set your own course.”

To do so, she suggests creating a brand, and with it, a vision and a method.

In Pittsburgh, sports attire may be the trend, she explained, but adding one’s own flair keeps it fresh year after year.

“People are at least putting sparkles on their Steelers jerseys,” she said, noting the Market Square diners around her on Sunday night. “People look beautiful — wearing heels and sparkly belts with their jerseys.”

She remembers being a little girl and getting dressed to the nines to go downtown, something that still feels relevant.

“Pittsburgh has always had style,” Weissburg said, adding, “Jeans [in the city] became ubiquitous, and if you have a great pair of jeans, you can still have a great sense of style. Use your clothing to tell people who you are.”

In fact, having a long-standing item is at the crux of her fashion philosophy.

“I was never considered a fashionista,” she said.

So she offers pieces to her customers in her Shadyside and SouthSide Works stores that are timeless, sometimes to a detriment.

“If I sell you a coat that lasts 10 years because it is timeless and good quality,” then you won’t be back to buy another coat year after year, she admitted. She will, however, sell someone a hat, scarves and boots to stay with the style.

Longevity is just a piece of why Weissburg believes she received the award.

“Offering so many different things — various brands, leather, boots, custom-design service, film work” — has kept her fashion spirit alive in the city, she said. That’s how “I survived and thrived here in Pittsburgh for 35 years.”

She also credits her accomplishments to being Jewish.

“Jewish people tend to be trendsetters,” the Temple Sinai member said. “[It] encourages me to open my eyes to the world.”

Bee Schindler can be reached at beeschindler@gmail.com.

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