The Good Eye: Of Pomp and Pompadours

Beautiful people at the launch of slow-fashion brand Essential Oliver

Street style maven Shelley Neuman sparkles in blue and black. Erin Freeman styles a floaty printed minidress with Doc Martens.
Street style maven Shelley Neuman sparkles in blue and black. Erin Freeman styles a floaty printed minidress with Doc Martens. (Photo by Amy Gentry)

A girl's first fashion show is an important affair, especially when said "girl" is a style columnist in her early-mid-cough-cough 30s. Saturday's launch of Austin-based slow-fashion brand Essential Oliver had all the ingredients for a season three Gossip Girl B-plot: a warehouse location filled with dangerous equipment, a live DJ, and beautiful people wearing defiant jewelry.

"I worry that this town is becoming a bunch of single file line events," said the guy with a skateboard who stood behind me as we waited, single file, to get into the Delta Millworks lumber factory. "You know what I mean?"

"Actually, no," I said. "What do you mean?"

But before I could hear the explanation, we were rescued from our single file fate by a line attendant checking for RSVPs. Sir Skateboard and I parted ways as I discovered my VIP status and donned my badge, a leather tab riveted to a scrap of dyed organic cotton. Channeling Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success, I squared my jaw, glowered, and spat, "From now on, the best of everything is good enough for me!" Then I went to stand in another single file line at the Republic Tequila table. I'm not sure if it was the VIP line or the IP line or just the P line, but an open bar is an open bar.

I was about to discover one of the fundamentals of shooting a fashion show. It turns out the key word is "shooting" – shots, not mixed drinks. My first attempt to take a picture while sipping from a plastic cup resulted in an artful wet splotch down the front of my blouse. Guess I should have been on "aperture priority" mode! That's a little DSLR humor for you, folks.

So from that point on, I took my liquid refreshment from a disposable pill cup. Hands now free and courage sufficiently tequilaed, I approached a towering redhead wearing sequined shorts and a glittering kimono jacket over a mesh-paneled bodysuit, who turned out to be fashion photographer Shelley Neuman of the website ATX Street Style. Nearby were Erin Freeman, a betty-banged brunette in a printed mini-muu; and Jillian Newman, who wore an Eighties peplum jacket in an African wax print over a studded bustier.

When I asked Newman that most thirtysomething of questions, "What do you do?" she replied that she was part of "Austin's young going-out scene." "That's A-Y-G-O-S," she spelled out. Now, I'm pretty sure she was kidding. Even I know that Aygos are tiny little Toyota automobiles available only in Europe. But just to be safe, I'm including it, because "PYT" is so Year of the Snake.

Other stylish standouts included Adrienne Aybar, who paired a houndstooth-faced blazer in blueberry with a statement belt and amulet, and graphic designer Nicole Labry, who nabbed her gleaming breastplate at Spring Frost.

After an hour or so of schmooze, the lights dimmed, the music pumped louder, and all the AYGOS and I got to see what Essential Oliver is all about. The brand's website calls it "artisan apparel for the everyday craftsperson" and "vintage work wear with a surf vibe." Designer Tasha Petty has said that her brand was inspired by a road trip that had her pondering the history of work in America.

In practice, this meant pompadoured women strolling down the runway in mechanics' jumpsuits, some chopped at the knee, while men sported cabana-boy button-downs faced in tropical fabrics. The T-shirts, which form the spine of the collection, looked both soft and sufficiently complex, some marled with sherbet-y colors like an overexposed photograph. Accessories, shoes, and jeans were provided by high-concept local artisanal brands like Paleo Denim and Satchel & Page. Such is the design aesthetic of the lumber mill, though there was something a bit odd about the contrast between the hard-tippling, high-heeled partygoers and the blue-collar designs on the runway. Essential Oliver may not be essential in the strictest sense of the word, but it will serve Austin's eco-conscious, locavore styletariat well, with clothes that might even improve with a grease stain or two.

And that VIP badge, incidentally, makes a spiffing key fob.

For images from the Essential Oliver show, see

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Austin fashion, Essential Oliver, Tasha Petty, Republic Tequila, Shelley Neuman, ATX Street Style, Erin Freeman, Jillian Newman, AYGOS, Adrienne Aybar, Nicole Labry, Spring Frost

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