The Good Eye: Trendhopping

If a "Rare Trend" is defined as quality fabrics, expert stitching, and an exacting eye, call us trendy

Rare Trends designer and co-owner Paola Moore
Rare Trends designer and co-owner Paola Moore (Photo by Amy Gentry)

It was the sundress that first caught my eye – not terribly appropriate for fall, I know, but it was July at the time, and an abstract tropical print of anemones made me think of fireworks. Besides, the shop window with its brightly dressed mannequin was perched at the intersection of Pleasant Valley and East 12th, far from the Second Street shopping district or even the boutiques on East 11th, on a corner where splashes of color are rare enough to get noticed.

The sundress was rare, in fact – Rare Trends, the Austin-based label designed by Argentina-born sisters Paola Moore and Marina Silver, who have been putting out two collections of their fiercely femme-y designs a year since 2011 and are now opening their first storefront in East Austin.

"It's not really a store-store, more like an atelier," says Moore, when we spoke on a raspberry velvet sofa in Rare Trends' front room about the upcoming Grand Opening Garden Party on September 30. "Where we create, and buyers come by, and there's pieces from past collections, and pieces from these collections. It's kind of like a fashion playroom."

Playfulness is the vibe. Moore and Silver call the imaginary client they design for the "rare woman," and she's no wallflower. As Moore shows me around the atelier, she pulls out photo-print blouses in vanilla silk with teardrop-shaped cutouts along a high neckline, a cocktail dress covered in rows of leather fringe like a cowboy flapper dress, and lots and lots of fur: a fluffy chartreuse vest, a silvery fox collar, and a bohemian patchwork that, I had to admit, would have gone pretty well with the bellbottoms I happened to be wearing that day.

I don't buy fur myself, but I confess, I couldn't stop touching it. After last week's foray into the heavy fabrics and northern European minimalism of Kick Pleat, there was something refreshingly unserious about the offerings at Rare Trends, with their exuberant colors and decadent fabrics suggestive of warmer climes and less-repressed cultures. Despite traces of rigor tucked among the furs – a simply structured dress in black lamb leather, a rack of buttery-soft woven tunics the color of a rainy day – the overall tone was decidedly eclectic.

Moore is the first to admit that their collections are a bit – well – all over the place. She chalks it up to dueling design aesthetics. "Marina and I are the yin and yang. She's the creative, out-there, everything-is-possible-if-you-love-it person. And I'm more about structure, practicality, the business side. She does all the animal prints, bellbottoms, all the bohemian pieces, the fringe dresses. I'm more about the cut-outs, fitted forms, solids. A really good knit, a lamb leather." (One thing the sisters agree about: plunging backs. "Jackie in the front, Marilyn in the back," Moore quips, flipping a dress around to show me a sheer panel.)

Certain pieces, like a mod-yet-romantic cocktail dress in floaty chiffon with beaded appliqués inspired by Lady Bird Johnson's wardrobe and shown in the recent LBJ Library fashion show, seem to hint that the sisters' sensibilities may yet merge into something more coherent. Amid all the form-fitting dresses, billowy blouses, tough-girl jackets, and razor-sharp embellishments, an ideal Rare Trends customer does begin to take shape: flamboyant, but never careless; fun, but exacting. Even the most relaxed pieces – among which I confess a strong partiality to the leather-fringed tank top – show a level of detail rarely seen in clothes at this high-but-not-sky-high price point. A bolero jacket with dozens of cut-outs is fully reversible due to invisible hand-stitching; zippers are expertly set; leather is cut with extraordinary precision, which may explain why motorcycle jackets and other leather goods are among the duo's bestsellers.

This attention to detail has everything to do with the Argentinian connection. "We work with a group of seamstresses in Argentina who learned from their mothers, who learned from their mothers. It's a tradition, like the cork in Portugal, where it's passed down from one generation to the next. These seamstresses used to seamstress for Evita. They still seamstress for the national ballet, they seamstress for the president. It's a whole culture that you belong to."

And how does the culture of Evita translate to laid-back Austin? It requires a bit of adaptation work. Before the two sisters started designing their own lines, they represented a stable of Argentinian designers in the States. They noticed right away that Argentinian designs had to be tweaked for the American market – mostly by lowering hemlines. "Latin women are more daring, showing more," Moore explains. "The American woman is a little more conservative." This knack for cultural adaptation helped inspire the sisters to strike out on their own with original designs.

For Moore, who has lived in Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Switzerland, and, for the past 15 years, the United States, clothing is a way of connecting with other people no matter where you may be. "I lived all over the world with my sister, so it was always that adaptation process: where you are, what people wear, how they communicate and express themselves through clothing. In Ecuador, the native costumes – their embroidery is fabulous, and they have these velvet skirts and a lot of beading. I was like, wow, wouldn't it be amazing if we could use some of that to make a dress! Same in Argentina, the gaucho. It's what we lounge in. So just adapting a little bit of all that."

As Moore talked, and with aspirations to save up for fall's austere cocoon coat still fresh in my mind from last week's column, I suddenly found myself getting a distinct yearning for embroidery and velvet, beading and – yes – gaucho pants. The sad fact is, I can shroud myself in murky, minimalist layers one day and crave a bedazzled silver jumpsuit the next. And there's nothing rare about that.

The Rare Trends Grand Opening Garden Party is Sept. 30, 6-9pm, at 2211 E. 12th.

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