Chloe Doe tried hard, really really hard, to make the recent Emerging Designer’s event at her Lot 8 boutique about the 12 people she handpicked in an open call. But those newly-found designers kept pulling her back into the conversation, eager to thank her for the exposure.
Ultimately though, it was about the designer’s work, and Dao did her job as a hybrid cheerleader and mother hen, introducing the clothing, accessory and jewelry designers to potential shoppers.
In between the fashion chat, there were funny moments, like when Sydney Dao, Chloe's sister, PR Director and all-around plugged in and get-things-done girl, told a funny about Chloe on a recent trip to New York. Chloe decided to mix up her look and added Jessica Simpson clip-on bangs to her hair.
"They look really great," Sydney says. "Until they got messed up and were all crooked. I told her, 'Girl, you can't be walking around New York with crooked bangs.' "
In between all of Chloe's real family (her mom and one of her sisters greeted guests at the door) and the people who work with her, the evening was chummy and light. Exuberant designer Khrystyna Balushka Whitehead works for Chloe and threw her arms around the diminutive designer when she told me about her fabric for her collection.
"I didn't have a lot of money to buy fabric and Chloe said, "Here, take some of mine. I told her I'm going to pay her back. I promise!" In the spirit of the evening, Dao just smiled and shook her head. I seriously doubt she would accept a dime from her.
In the often catty world of fashion, it's refreshing to see someone spreading the love and know-how. Dao and her team chose 12 designers for various reasons and they get a bonus not often found when just starting out. Dao announces on Facebook and Twitter each time something is bought from one of the designers. It's Chloe-approved publicity, something priceless for any emerging designer.
Chase Christian - Jerri Moore’s collection is named in honor of her two sons; her designs honor Old Hollywood glamour in a modern way. Moore’s evening gowns draw inspiration from the 1940s, emphasizing the waist and adding drama with flowy skirts and sparkling details. Dao was impressed with the way Moore chose and mixed prints and made sure to include that she also does custom work.
The Chase Christian collection is made from gorgeous silk and silk chiffons and ranges from $398 to $1198.
Elan - Simran Rihal joked that it was a mid-life crisis that led her to start designing, although seemingly not even out of her twenties, she was clearly driven by something else. Her first foray into fashion was with evening wear, but she has evolved into handbags and clutches that are unique and eco-beautiful. Made from sustainable fibers and ethically-made, Rihal's bags have an Art Deco feel and balance shine and substance.
The items carried at Lot 8 range from $95 to $199 and Rihal’s entire collection ranges from $65 to $300.
Designs By Journey - After Hurricane Katrina, music wasn’t the only New Orleans import the city of Houston was lucky enough to inherit. Artists of all kinds crossed into the Lone Star State and Journey Allen was one of them. Allen makes statement earrings.
Big circles and ovals to be exact and no two pairs are the same. She handpaints each earring with delicate care and vibrant colors, so that the sun looks to actually be setting or a bird’s feathers seem real. The earrings range from $50 to $140 and she also does custom work.
20 Acres - Not to pigeonhole Jessica Miller, but her dresses are rodeo ready and a departure from your basic blue jean skirt. She draws on her West Texas upbringing and affinity for floral, vintage and interesting detail work. One of Dao’s assistants, Miller says her mentor had been “pushing me to do this” so she did.
Miller does all her own design work including cutting, designing and sewing and while she only has a small selection, more are in the works. Her dresses top out at around $200.
ModChic Couture - There were certainly new faces at the Emerging Designers event, but there were also showings by those who have clearly been creating and selling for a while. Vivienne Nwaz and Ebele Iloanya are two of the more experienced and it showed in their ModChic line of feminine dresses, tops and skirts. There is definitely a vintage vibe to the clothing, but as with designers who weave that aesthetic into their clothing, it’s fresh and not costumey.
Dao was especially impressed with the Duo because they already have a Chinese manufacturer and a clear vision for the line. “We want to keep it sophisticated and are excited to see where we can go,” Nwaz said.
The women also want to keep it democratic in both sizing and price. The clothes go from size zero to 18 and nothing is more than $300.
Gayla Bentley - Bentley was familiar name at the showcase and although the spunky designer wasn’t there, her famous Oprah-loved Obi Sash blouse was. Her designs range from outwear to evening wear and can be found online at Neiman Marcus.
Judy Young - Even before the official opening of the Emerging Designers event, Judy Young’s creations were flying off the rack. Her selection of cocktail dresses was made interesting with ruffles and carefully cultivated rips and draping. A student of the Houston Community College Design program, Young began designing four years ago. Her pieces are under $250 and are clearly already gaining a following.
Khrystyna Balushka Whitehead - Even if she didn’t have something interesting to say through her clothing, Balushka Whitehead would be a ball to spend time with. Fortunately though, the Ukranian-born designer with a Masters in mathematics, does in fact have talent and great enthusiasm for design.
During Fashion Houston she needed something to wear, so she sat down with fabric and zippers and two hours later, came up with an edgy pair of leggings. The response she got from people at the shows and the support of Dao, who mentors her, was enough to push her to design seriously. Her sportswear is made from organic bamboo and ranges from $98 to $128 and she also does custom work as well.
Sandra Martin Designs - Another candidate for rodeo (and beyond) is Sandra Martin. Her necklace and earring sets are bold and sophisticated without being over-the-top. The turquoise jewelry is a no-brainer for rodeo events, but all of her travel-inspired and handmade pieces are striking for any number of places. The jewelry sets range between $140 and $220.
Ma’ti Designs - One of the benefits of an open call, is you may come across something you may not have otherwise. Sisters Bee and Hashima Watts came to Lot 8 with their line of chandelier earrings after years of family and friends asking for some of their own.
Self-proclaimed “modestas” the Muslim sisters call themselves modest fashionistas and design earrings as well as wooden bangles with matching hijabs. Their pieces range from $50 to $175.
Trinity Jewelry Design -Trained architect Miriam Walker sees beauty in structure, and in semi-precious gemstones and metals too. Walker showed gorgeous pearl jewelry, ideal for an eclectic bride or a woman looking for that extra touch.
Brass, sterling silver, copper, gold and gold-filled are among her materials and Walker also makes custom pieces. Her jewelry ranges from $50 to $500.
Janet Leigh Jewelry - Banking isn’t known for being the most creative of careers, so Janet Leigh took matters into her own hands-literally. Bright natural gemstones and 14 karat gold make for jewelry that's definitely eye candy of the best kind.
With two years of creating under her belt, Leigh’s pieces can be found locally at Lot 8 and High Gloss, Georgia and Callalilai in New York and Newbury 211 in Boston and cost between $60 and $300.
SmartSew - Marisa Wilhelmi knew she had a slight fabric addiction when the office in her home was overtaken by cloth and other sewing necessities. So, goodbye computer, hello SmartSew,
Wilhelmi’s array of hair accessories, pins and necklaces. She works with fire and mixes fabrics for whimsical accessories that add pop. Barrettes and hair clips are back on trend and Wilhelmi’s selection are certainly fun and affordable at $24 to $30.
Purpose Fashion - What does being in the window treatment business have to do with fashion? Well, if you’re Jennifer Rowland, it means access to gorgeous fabric scraps that can be used to make purses. Rowland designs a variety of clutches, but it was her reversible clutches that caught Dao’s eye. The double-duty purses are a steal too, at just $45 to $75.