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DIFFA 26: Giving Back And Paying Forward

Twenty-six years ago, in response to the AIDS epidemic that was decimating the fashion industry, fashion designers in Dallas banded together to fight for their lives, the lives of their coworkers, as well as the thousands of families affected by this incurable devastating disease. Doing what they do best, even in the midst of horror and tragedy, these designers brought forth beauty and Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA) was born. By the second event, DIFFADallas (DIFFADallas.org) had asked local designers to (re)design a jeans jacket to be auctioned off to raise money. And those were the humble beginnings of this annual fashion extravaganza.

Twenty-five years later, the annual House of DIFFA event has become among the few true must-attend events in Dallas. This year’s theme is Circo Rouge. And in 25 years, Keith Carlisle, the erudite and charming Men's Divisional Merchandise Manager at Stanley Korshak (StanleyKorshak.com) has designed and donated 25 jackets. To Carlisle, it’s about giving back, and paying it forward. He started with DIFFA very early, along with his partner, John Moran. Both volunteered, and Carlisle designed a jacket for the second year’s event. When Moran died in 1998 from complications of AIDS, making jackets for DIFFA became a deeply different matter for Carlisle. As he told the dazzling media personality, Amy Vanderoef, “I had a very personal reason to keep making the jackets… I didn’t ever want to see DIFFA end.” His personal affiliation is what makes DIFFA what it is. “I think of John when I’m doing this.”

Conversely, designer Lilit Matevosyan (LilitsCustomDesigns.com) is a first time donor. She had wanted very much to donate, but didn’t know how until she metCarol Quist. As curator of the jacket collections, Quist’s heart and soul goes into the task. She makes the collections happen. With a sophisticated, discerning eye, she oversees the donations, and is as gracious to a new, untried designer as she is to Korshak, Traffic LA (ShopTrafficLA.com), and the other heavy hitters. In dedicating her exquisitely made military-inspired crimson chenille and metallic brocade jacket to Freddie Mercury, Matevosyan notes that this early AIDS death occurred at a time “when the world was in total

darkness” with no awareness, education, and information about AIDS. And filling that void, in a nutshell, is what DIFFA is all about.

Ruby Bhandari at SilkThreads (SilkThreads.com) has been a proponent of donating for various causes. DIFFA is special to her because, as she says, “It’s not just about women and children, we are all affected by it.” Her creation , a sleek James Bond-ish silk brocade dinner jacket in black and red adheres to the red theme and is sure to draw an impressive top bid. Says Bhandari, “You can walk out of there feeling like, ‘I did a great thing for society.’” Finley Moll of Finley Shirts (TheFinleyShirt.com) used sheer organza with a satin-stripe windowpane plaid to design two of her signature crisply-tailored pieces - a white blouse and a black dress. The pattern of the fabric relates directly to the circus theme, referencing cages and caged animals; an oversized ruff on the white blouse recalls a clown - very unclownishly. A perfect interpretation of the theme that makes the garments entirely her own. Inspired by Versailles, Patti Flowers, designer at Patti Flowers Design Studio, created a grand and sumptuous metallic silk mikado opera cape lined in charmeuse with hand-beading and vintage buttons, sure to be a showstopper.

The two jackets donated by Traffic LA’s General Manager Patrick Ware , include a divinely fabulous tough and edgy Philipp Plein number in black leather with embossed oversized pyramid studs that create a crocodilian, punk-ish feel. Those should fetch a pretty penny. Along the same lines, Ken Weber and Greg Kelly of Vintage Martini (VintageMartini.com) have donated a Comme des Garçons’ men's black wool and silver Mylar jacket. Weber designed last year’s jacket himself, but this year had to find something special off their rack.

These myriad stories that are so part and parcel of what makes House of DIFFA unique underscore the broad swath that AIDS has cut across the world. House of DIFFA 26: Circo Rouge is May 21 at the Omni - and is completely sold out. Get your tickets earlier next time. www.diffadallas.org

Interview by Amy Vanderoef www.amyvanderoef.com

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  • Lilit Matevosyan

    Thank you, Stephen, for the great article and for including my story!