By Stephen MacMillan Moser
Fashion Week in Austin is unlike any other Fashion Week anywhere else. And not in a good way, either. Fashion Week in other cities is about drawing buyers and press to see the new collections. If you don't have the buyers and press there, then what is the point? There is very little press attending Austin Fashion Week, and even fewer buyers. You don't get invited to Austin Fashion Week, you buy tickets. And you don't have to be press, buyers or even related to fashion in any way to get in — you just have to put up the cash, and the faux-fashion world is at your feet.
Austin Fashion Week is about people who wish they were in fashion. Like the founder himself, Matt Swinney. Matt has stumbled across a formula that really works for him and those like him, who desperately want to be in fashion. I understand he's now been calling himself Matt Fashion. Please. For seven years, Austin Fashion Week (now being rebranded as Fashion X Austin, which is pronounced Fashion BY Austin, a play on Austin's famous SXSW festival's name) has limped along, going from truly embarrassing to distressingly commercial. But it is what Austin has, and those who wish they were in the fashion business are very happy with it. Those who really are in the fashion business, smirk.
One can easily understand how something like Fashion X Austin could be fostered in such a fashion-free place like Austin, but don't be complacent, Dallas — Matt Fashion has already had his first Fashion X Dallas event, and threatens more. Be afraid.
AFW 2015 TINSLEY RADIX
Designers for Tinsley Radix, Caitlyn Mullanix and Chelsea Brogdon, showed their first collection at AFW. The Dallas boutique owners do seem to understand what their customers want, but as with many new designers, the collection was not very cohesive. We went from long sleeves and fur trim, to dainty summer dresses; from heavy woolen coat dresses to sheer tops. The collection did appear to be the work of a stylist rather than a designer, and the styling was all over the map. And though it appears that Tinsley Radix only copies the best designers, there was little originality. That doesn't mean there weren't some showstoppers: the white architectural sheath with black lace was stunning, though deplorable pattermaking and abysmal fit ruined it. as were several other gowns. And the clothes were undeniably pretty — there's just no signature looks or details that could make you say, “Wow, that's a Tinsley Radix dress.” www.tinsleyradix.com
AFW 2015 SMITH II
A gorgeous collection in need of some fine tuning. But in the right hands, these could be truly spectacular gowns and Smith II designer, Charles Smith II, seems to know it. Undaunted by conventional rules of proportion, Smith knows just how far to push the boundaries of fashion, asking us to reconsider previously held beliefs, and see what the designer's vision truly is. Though daring, he does not stray into the outrè. High-waisted, very long pencil skirts shown with crop-tops; paneled, half-circle skirts are slit up the front and trimmed with zipper teeth; and lack sheer mesh trimmed in black patent leather — all identifiable as signatures of Smith II, a designer who truly loves his work. www.smiththesecond.com
AFW 2015 STEPHEN GOUDEAU
J'adore. Sexy, beautiful, well-designed gowns from start to finish. A perfect collection. Having only been at this business for three years, Monsieur Goudeau has a style and sophistication far beyond his experience. The dresses can only be described as tough yet feminine while remaining knife-sharp edgy. Black and white dominated the collection, rendered in fluid, soft fabrics as well as more structured fabrications, and it was a sublime combination that produced a sublime show. Monsieur Goudeau has stars in his future... www.stephengoudeau.com
AFW 2015 LOREN FRANCO
Dallas designer Loren Franco's presentation for Austin Fashion Week was perhaps the most disturbing fashion show I've witnessed in decades. If there had
been some irony, the show would have been surreal. But there was no irony, or any sense fun, satire or commentary. What we saw were children's clothes. Sounds innocuous enough, right? Wrong. There were indeed children present, but what they were wearing were not children's clothes. They were miniature versions of adult clothes — and not fun adult clothes. It looked like stuffy, old-school couture worn only by fat German duchesses and isolated royalty. The satins, brocades, metallic laces, bows, gathered skirts and puffy sleeves were the sorts of looks that Imelda Marcos favored, but on a prepubescent child, the look was nightmarish. With enormous teased bouffant hair and too much makeup, the children looked like tarts. But the show raised many questions. Such as, at what point does a 7 year-old need a red satin off-the-shoulder cocktail dress? Who would be the target audience for this bizarre collection? What stores would carry it? And mainly, what possessed the designer to create these clothes for a non-existent market? www.lorenfranco.com
AFW 2015 MYSTERIOUS BY NPN A TRUE DISCOVERY
This is the kind of collection you want to see from a new designer. Yes, Houston designer Nicholas Phat Nguyen could have used better advice for constructing the dresses, but the sense of style was unmistakable. It was a sober and elegant presentation underwritten with a nod to mystery and spirituality. Nguyen has absolutely got what it takes to create a dream for himself, and a dream that will propel him to the vaunted heights of design. There were one or two missteps, of course, but for only being in business a year, Nguyen presented an almost world-class collection of beauty and originality. With a strong color palette, the collection was at once ethereal and substantial. The luscious fabrics and fluid draping took on the look and feel of a designer who truly understands the evolution of fashion. I loved the headwear that stayed consistent throughout the show, but the detail was especially glorious during the bridal finale. www.mysteriousbynpn.com
AFW 2015 ABI FERRIN
Impeccably chic styling from Dallas designer Abi Ferrin. Though she's not exactly a newcomer, perhaps she's ready to launch herself in a different direction. With a show that began with a filmy bathing suit cover-up, Ferrin elaborated on the soft sheerness and worked wonders with the idea. The silhouette was voluminous on top and skinny chic from the torso down. The cobalt blue crepe d'Chine jumpsuit could have been imported from Halston, 1978, but Ferrin makes it as modern and fresh with no sense of retro about it. Beautiful prints and sumptuous solids contrasted each other nicely. www.abiferrin.com
AFW 2015 DANIEL ESQUIVEL
Daniel Esquivel is clearly the smartest designer in Austin. After viewing his newest collection — a romantic whirlwind of a drama with...yes, I'll say it...perfect fit. And why did Esquivel's collection fit so beautifully? Because he, like the big time designers, has sewing machines and seamstresses backstage to make sure the dress fits the model, rather than the model fitting the dress. Flawless fitting and excellent construction allows us to see the designer's vision without being distracted by an uneven hem or poor dart placement. Esquivel is clearly inspired by 1950s couture, and understands that his customer has multiple needs for chic, smart styling from morning until night. And that's exactly what he gives them. Opening with slim cropped pants and a matching top in a black and white print set the tone of the show, Esquivel deftly dealt out a thrilling collection that included jumpsuits, cocktail dresses, shorts, gowns, pencil skirts with men's styled shirts and jackets. Why he's not a much bigger star than fellow Austin designer Ross Bennett is beyond me.
To learn more about Austin Fashion Week, please visit