After a Fashion

In the beginning, Stephen created the Austin and the fashion. And the fashion was without form and was void, and darkness was upon the face of South Congress ...

(l) Pink Salon's Deborah Carter at the opening of Gail Chovan's second store, Vivid; (r) Bob Sherman, a true SoCo character, at a SoCo fashion event
(l) Pink Salon's Deborah Carter at the opening of Gail Chovan's second store, Vivid; (r) Bob Sherman, a true SoCo character, at a SoCo fashion event (Photos by Todd V. Wolfson)

THE SCENE, PART I With your beloved Style Avatar celebrating 10 years with The Austin Chronicle at the end of August, I thought I'd take us on a little stroll down memory lane over the next couple of weeks. Though I first appeared in the Chronicle in 1995 and had written occasionally after that, it wasn't until the issue at the end of August 1999 that "After a Fashion" made its first appearance. Hard to believe that it's been nearly a decade of diatribes and screeds combined with a gushing admiration for the interesting people I've met along the way and a generous coverage of so many nonprofits. Hard to believe the Chronicle's put up with me that long. 1999. It was a different millennium, even. I'd done my time in New York and thoroughly subscribed to Halston's belief that "Fashion is made by fashionable people." He went on to say: "If Mrs. William Paley wears my hat, it becomes fashion. If it just hangs in my stockroom, it's nothing." The fashion scene in Austin as we know it didn't exist then, though both the Club de Ville Fashion Show and the University of Texas Fashion Show were regular events. From the first moment my column began, I started receiving faxes from some crazed woman named Gail Chovan, who owned a store on South Lamar. The faxes were alternately encouraging and critical of the subjects I was writing about. But she was someone who took fashion as seriously as I did. I met her, and we became immediate allies, inseparable at times. We still adore each other so much that we both decided to turn 50 and get diagnosed with cancer. Yet another bond. Gail and I, along with Neil Diaz and Levi Palmer, essentially established the fashion scene that exists in Austin today. I know that sounds conceited, and yes, there had been fashion shoots, fashion shows, and fashionable salons for quite a while previously, but it was the four of us who had a collective consciousness to showcase some of the fascinating and interesting clothes being designed here. This was early spring 2000. We weren't interested in what the boutiques were buying because we only wanted to focus on locally produced work. We established the Designers' Guild of Austin with members as diverse as ourselves and including Jyl Kutsche (formerly of Therapy on SoCo), Judy Masliyah (married to Glover Gill – her corset dresses ruled SoCo that year), Brooke Carter (her Search and Destroy collection of remade clothes took her straight to New York), Tom Palmer (who worked with us in an administrative capacity), and a dozen others. We put the word out and threw a party attracting 300 people to Gail Chovan's husband Evan Voyles' former space, the Neon Jungle, on South Lamar by the Horseshoe Lounge. The constant that brought this group together was an interest in seeing some organization occur in a city that was creating wonderful, enchanting styles. We raised enough money to pay rent to Voyles and opened the most dizzyingly green consignment gallery for local designers. We called it Idol and thrived along with Amelia's RetroVogue, Ivory Aisles, and Blackmail ... and the Horseshoe (which is the only business left of those in that location now). Idol enjoyed reasonable success, and with success came a need for more staffing. Since we ourselves were volunteering all our time, the businesses and jobs we held that allowed us to devote so much to the Designers' Guild began to suffer. Idol died, and the Designers' Guild continued doing shows for a couple of years. Though our gallery failed, we ultimately succeeded in bringing together salons, photographers, models, designers, and retailers across the city and region. There was indeed a fashion scene now, and it was coalescing on South Congress. To be continued ...

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Austin style, Style Avatar, Austin, Gail Chovan, Blackmail, South Lamar, Designers' Guild, South Congress

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