I adore the 2010 documentary about the New York Times' octogenarian street-style photographer, Bill Cunningham New York, but I wish someone would make a documentary about the recently retired Times critic whose writing lent substance to the ethereal stuff of fashion for me: Cathy Horyn. In her video columns, Horyn pronounces each word slowly in a dry, measured voice, as if holding a miniature representation of the object in her mouth. When she says "cloth," you can hear the scratchy softness of the fabric itself; when she says "cut," you can feel the weight of the scissors.
I got through my first Austin Fashion Week by pretending to be Ms. Horyn, willing myself into what I imagine as her attentive but inexpressive torpor. I utterly failed. This must be why Anna Wintour wears sunglasses to fashion shows. There were times when my smile was so big it actually caught the model's eye. This was not only extremely dangerous, because many of them were already having trouble staying upright on foot-tall platform heels, but also rather uncomfortable, given that if they could see me smile, presumably they could see my other expressions as well.
I'm no Horyn, Wintour, or even Moser, my fabulous predecessor, but I know a straight seam when I see one. The gorgeously lit, elevated runway in Austin Music Hall showed off clothes and death-defying shoes to perfection, but unfortunately also showed every crooked hem, loose thread, and popped-out zipper. Sitting in the front row, I came away with a renewed respect for both the craft of sewing and the art of modeling, having acquired several new gray hairs when a model's heel caught on the vast white soufflé of her tulle skirt in the Mysterious by NPN show.
The dress itself was lovely, if stagy. Young designer Nicholas Phat Nguyen's hand-painted ball gowns showed promise and verve, but for the most part, their raw edges and asymmetries looked accidental. Nguyen did better with transparent blouson bodices made barely decent by strategically placed sequined decals; the result was balletic bridal-wear for the romantic exhibitionist.
In general, I don't love wedding duds, but designer Adrienne Yunger, who took home an Austin's Most Talented Designer award, hit home with her final look, a grownup take on boho bridal that helped her Mash Up Team win the Critic's Choice Award. With its off-the-shoulder neckline and trippy, dripping layers of butterfly-print chiffon, the gown looked like a Thirties garden dress left out to melt under a hot Aquarian sun.
Maxi dresses, more a staple of Austin dressing than ever, were many and various. L.A. brand Kucoon sent out perfectly executed jersey maxis that could double as nightgowns for comfort. Raven + Lily, celebrating their new Manor storefront, augmented a collection of otherwise bland bohemianism with a drop-waisted flapper dress, paneled and panniered in billowy, gossamer-gold silk. It was the one true evening look from the line, and it said, "Just because I wear ethically sourced imports doesn't mean I have to dress like a damn hippie every day of the week."
Speaking of ethics and utter, utter boredom: Let's all take a vote to retire the cowboy-and-Indian theme in fashion, shall we? Southward Apparel is a sleek L.A. brand whose designers celebrate their Texan roots with cowboy-themed T-shirts and saucy sweatpants. Would that they had left the giant Native American war bonnet in L.A., where I presume it does not offend. As a native Texan, there are lots of things I'm proud of, but our role in a genocide isn't one of them. Moreover, this nauseating trend has been thoroughly explored by everyone from the clueless Christina Fallin to Karl Lagerfeld in the 2013 Chanel Métiers D'Art show, suggesting that in Austin, even our cultural appropriation is behind the curve.
Another Most Talented Designer winner, Lindsey Creel of M.E. Shirley, put out a collection of floaty rayon microflorals and knit hot pants, chilled-out hipster clothes that evoked the Nineties in a way those of us old enough to remember them the first time around might feel comfortable wearing. Creel tipped her hand by sending her first model out in a perfectly cut jersey tank dress and combat boots. It was the first time all night a model looked like she knew she was definitely going to make it to the end of the runway and back again in one piece.
On the subject of grown-ass lady clothes, Austin designer Stephanie Montes' fledgling brand s.t.e.f. presented tailored and draped looks almost rhetorical in their simplicity, including crisp, cotton shirts, unfussy lace, the only faux-leather pencil skirt worth mentioning, and a plunge-neck dress in black pleated jersey that seemed to be wagging its finger at every other pleated garment in the place.
My favorite pleat of the week, though, was a single V-shaped inverted pleat on the bodice of a white linen culotte dress in the G.I.A.N. collection. Honduras-born designer Gian Padilla Suarez's new line is called Aires de Oriente, and if the name is a little on-the-nose, the clothing itself strikes a magical balance between clean, bold minimalism and playful lightness. The impeccably cut clothes showcased textured fabrics with a certain stiffness to them, lightly slubbed natural fibers that stood away from the body. In a week that saw more than one attempt at voluminous trousers fail miserably on the runway, a culotte dress in apple-green shantung was more than usually refreshing. Now there is someone who hears the word "cloth" the way Cathy Horyn says it.
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