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AUSTIN FASHION WEEK 2015: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

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.

www.facebook.com/DanielEsquivelFanClub

To learn more about Austin Fashion Week, please visit

www.fashionxaustin.com | @FASHIONXAUSTIN | #FashionXAustin

  • mattswinney

    This isn’t the first, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, bad review we’ve gotten from Mr. Moser. I take it with not even a full grain of salt. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and Mr. Moser has his. Fair enough.

    That said, I have issue when facts are incorrect. Mr. Moser, you said “I understand he’s now been calling himself Matt Fashion.” Would you like to reveal the source and the one that backed up the first source that told you that? That’s going to be difficult given that I’ve never used that term in my life. Plus, it’s stupid. I would be embarrassed to be called “Matt Fashion” — that sounds like a caveman made it up.

    Unless of course, you’re referring to my Instagram username which is “fashionxmatt” — note, the “x” in there — that would be my business name combined with my first name. It’s like Jeff Bezos having a handle of “amazonjeff” or Mark Zuckerburg having a handle of “facebookmark.” (Before you get your panties in a bunch Mr. Moser, I’m NOT comparing myself with those two individuals).

    If you’re going to make personal attacks, please do so with correct facts.

    Matt Swinney

  • Kim Schlinke

    Thank you, Stephen, for saying in a public forum what I’ve been saying for years. AFW seems of no benefit to anyone other that the promoters. As a sample maker for many years in our fair city, I have seen many young designers participate in AFW, spending thousands of dollars to create collections that go nowhere outside of Austin. Sadly, it’s an incestuous little party rather than a platform to expand the designer’s reach beyond Texas. Yes, fashion is a creative business that could thrive in a city known for it’s creative culture, but somehow that ship has sailed without us. The point of a fashion week is to bring together designers, press and buyers so that designers can actually make a living at what they do. AFW misses that point completely.

  • Benson Roberts III

    I am going to preface this by allowing that I really am hesitant to jump in here with a comment. The politics of Fashion in Austin, TX can be as bizarre and daunting as well as hilariously off putting. That being established I agree with much of Stephen’s astute observations and point of view and that of commentator Kim Schlinke. AFW Fashion X Austin does have some serious issues. It does seem to generate money only for its promoters and it most assuredly does not create a fashion economy. All TRUE.

    However, there is true value in what this brand has done in its 7 short years. It has created an awareness that their are Fashion Designers in Austin TX and it has turned the attention of people whose fashion sense involved spangled flip flops and Burnt Orange Tee Shirts toward something more fabulous and fancy. It is indisputable that during Austin Fashion Week we see a zeal and a drive to look and be FIERCE! The branding of the idea that FASHION could happen here in Austin has been without a doubt successful. Proposition 111, a Prop to create a valid fashion apparel culture in Austin, passed with ease both because of the hard work of think tank who composed the proposition as well as the fact that ALL of the City Counselors who unanimously passed it had some notion that Fashion COULD happen here because of AFW. Stephen knows well my opinion of actually doing AFW or Fashion X Wherever. We have discussed the issues with the event until we were both gasping for air and had run out of words.

    I recently also had the chance to sit down with Matt Swinney to address some of the issues with his events. I discovered that he has a plan an agenda and a goal and while he will make money, he does seem to understand that Designers are the key to starting the engine of an Apparel Culture. He has an ever changing event and they are learning from each previous year. I was beyond happy to note that this year there was a portal for buyers to sign in and attend AFW. THAT is progress!

    As to the rest of the article STEPHEN you have NO IDEA how much Austin has missed your velvet tongue and the silken touch of your brutal honesty! Designers you better get your shit together because MOSER is in rare form and The Bitch is BACK!