After a Fashion

Why so much black clothing at SXSW? It was the only color that went with those garish lanyards.

WHAT TO WEAR? I was exasperated. I had tried on several outfits, trying to find something that would complement the SXSW badge, but nothing worked. The badges themselves were pretty, in varying combinations of vibrant color, but they dictated a contrary color scheme that opposed that of the lanyard -- neither of them worked together, let alone with any of my outfits. So, already, there was trouble brewing. The lanyard itself presented the most difficulty, being half-inch-wide white twill tape emblazoned with vivid, primary blue BMI logos. Short of wearing a little sailor suit, nothing was to work with that. I considered just keeping the whole thing in my pocket, but, frankly, unless you were wearing those particular accessories around your neck, you just didn't count. And the more badges you wore, the chic-er you were. Obviously, the only acceptable choice was to wear all black, which I submitted to, as did a host of other conference-goers. I also discovered that savvy SXSW attendees brilliantly traded the garish blue and white lanyard for a simple black one from a previous conference, and I vowed then and there that never again would I be subjected to wearing a primary blue and white lanyard.

As a journalist, of sorts (I like to think of myself as Bettina, the Big-Boned Reporter), my "beat" for the Chronicle is fashion and all matters relating to style, as you know. And when it comes to fashion, awards shows provide an excellent resource for viewing for the good, the bad, and the ugly. So, I arrived at the SXSW Film Awards last Tuesday night with an assignment to give the ceremonies a little social coverage (yes, the dreaded blue-and-white lanyard intact). It became apparent that, just like the Sneetches from Dr. Seuss, those without the stars on their bellies (aka those people with badges like mine) were relegated to a long and ever-increasing line outside the State Theater on Congress. All of us outsiders were to be let in at 8:45pm after all the winners, nominees, and sponsors. As I stood in line, looking through the window at all the schmoozing going on, I felt like Barbara Stanwyck at the end of Stella Dallas -- except it wasn't my estranged daughter's wedding and we weren't at Tavern-on-the-Green. But I was supposed to be inside covering the very festivities that the Sneetches with stars on their bellies seemed to be enjoying tremendously. 8:45pm came and went, as did 9pm and 9:15, and despair set in, creeping like frostbite. Then, magically, like an apparition, across from me stood esteemed Chronicle editor and SXSW co-director Louis Black, beckoning to me to come with him. He put his arm around me and said, "You don't have to be out here, you work for me," and we sailed right through the door. I felt very glamorous right away, but missed the party entirely, as seating for the awards had begun. The event provided few fashion moments. For the most part, it involved those whose milieu is behind the camera, so they must be excused if they are unsure as to how to dress in front of the camera. Also, because these are people who speak in the language of images, and because they were not actors, they were not accomplished public speakers. Happily though, this made for very short, but heartfelt acceptances.

On the other hand, the 14th annual Austin Music Awards was everything an awards show should be, embodying both the importance of the industry and the inimitable flavor of the local scene. Fashion ran amok, and we were treated to an array of looks from the stage as well as the audience. Best Makeover has to go to Chronicle Features editor Kate Messer. Within her beats the heart of a stylish and attractive woman, but one that has succumbed to the Plague of Austin -- T-shirts and shorts. But turned out in Blackmail Couture by Gail Chovan, with masterful work on her hair by Kenneth's stylist Elliot Franklin, and make-up by Mary Fitzgerald, she was a knockout. As long as she stood still, that is. Toppling off of her minimally high high-heels, she broke her foot and spent the rest of the conference on crutches. Obviously, she cannot be trusted in heels, but her heart was definitely in the right place.

My personal favorite fashion moment was watching the beauteous Christabelle, singer for "Best Lounge/Swing Act" 81é2 Souvenirs, as she made her torturously slow solo procession outside the backstage tent. It was an experience, an exercise in anatomy and physics. She was calculated and contrived, and it was if she were in a trance. It was also so sensuously self-conscious as to take the breath away, and all eyes were upon her. Totally glamorous and looking every inch a star, she walked through gravel in high heels like a goddess in her Galliano-esque dress. Surely she owes a debt of gratitude to her stylists, who did exquisite work in turning her out, and from head to toe, she radiated the confidence that there was no other woman before her. Good work, girlfriend.

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