After a Fashion: Diary Of A Collection

What goes in before the clothes go on

Makeup artist Jay Woods beginning to apply the cosmetics for Jacki Oh's look
Makeup artist Jay Woods beginning to apply the cosmetics for Jacki Oh's look (Photo courtesy of Ed Lehman)

I stare at the shelves of fabrics, waiting for them to whisper to me what they want to be. Sometimes I ignore them; sometimes they are right on the money. The plan was (and is) to put together a big show at the Driskill Hotel in November – a high-glam, high-dollar event for charity. For weeks, my assistants Donna Alvarez and Al Zhou worked on patterns and samples, while I tried to lubricate my brain back into shiny, running condition. Nothing brings it all back like doing it. While my working quarters were in transition, I learned that I was scheduled to put together a preview of my fall collection to be shown as a satellite show during Austin Fashion Week – in two weeks. There was no way I wanted to do that. But then I saw the notice on Facebook that read: Bad JohnPaul presents Cattivo: A Fashion Event Starring Stephen Moser. Mortified and speechless, I walked back into my studio in a daze, afraid of failing ... and succeeding. With the kind of buildup I was getting, it had to be a fabulous collection. The party was to take place at Haven (and you know how I loathe fashion shows in nightclubs), and I knew that the clothes imagined for the Driskill would not necessarily work at a club. But the fabric I had was the only fabric I had. I had to make it work. Silhouettes were redefined, shapes were altered, pieces never before considered were dreamt up. I stayed up one night and gave myself a good talking to. "Look," I said to myself, "there isn't a single designer on earth who isn't petrified at some point about how their collection will be received. Pull yourself together and design these damn clothes!"

Things slowly but surely began to click. I knew the shirt I'd planned to make out of the sequined mesh would make the model look like a figure skater, so that fabric had to be applied to something else. I knew I wanted snug, higher-waisted jeans in brocades for the men, coordinated with shimmery shirts and fur vests. With a plan of doing five looks for men and five for women, I had just enough gorgeous fabric for the jeans – sparkling denims, rich brocades, and metallic wools. From there, I built each man's look, adding the shirt fabrics, furs, and vest fabrics until each look had its own identity within a total concept. The men's clothes were easy – they were what I wanted to wear. And though I shudder to imagine what I would have looked like in the women's clothes, they, too, were what I wanted to wear. Or better yet, what I wanted to see women wearing. Evening gown fabrics became fur-trimmed trench coats in lace, sequins, and charmeuse. The dresses ranged from thigh-high to calf-length. The trims and sparkles tied them all together, mirroring the men's looks while remaining steadfastly feminine. The models were booked, the scissors sheared through layers of fabric, and Donna and Al were put through techniques that they'd never learned before. The clothes began flying off the machines.

Faced with only one week to finish, more help was assigned, and I was able to spend my time like a real designer does, handing off cut pieces to be sewn by others, which were returned to me in a state of completion that took my breath away. "I designed that?" I thought to myself delightedly. The self-doubt was gone and, within two days of the show, the preview collection had taken shape and told a story of luxury and glam in the modern world. By 3pm the day of the show, every single thing was finished, thanks to an amazing crew who put their own work aside to help me. I assembled my own ensemble for the evening, went home, showered, dressed, and met at Haven for a quick run-through. Unfortunately, I was so obsessed with my own collection that I saw none of the 16 previous designers of the evening. All I knew was that my collection had to blow them all away to prove that I was worthy of the finale status. A standing ovation made me feel good – so good that all I could do was weep with ecstasy and exhaustion. It was good to see my clothes back on the runway – a tribute to those who believed in me so wholeheartedly. You know who you are. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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Austin style, Made in Heaven, fall collection, designing, sewing, Bad JohnPaul, Haven, Driskill, Austin Fashion Week

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