“The show must go on” — that phrase certainly rang true at Fashion X Houston – not even Hurricane Harvey could stop it. The three-night event found a new home in River Oaks District after launching last year in Silver Street Studios. But this was no sophomore slump.
Some guests started their evening at a cocktail reception in the courtyard in front of Dior, taste-testing cocktails and premium liquors (rapper Drake’s label – Virginia Black Whiskey – was among them) while others opted for the VIP lounge inside iPic Theaters’ “The Tuck Room” for mingling and hors d’oeuvres.
However, the prime spot was the runway between Tom Ford and Dolce & Gabbana, where designers such as Abi Ferrin and Project Runway alumni Sonjia Williams, Melissa Fleis and Gunnar Deatherage not only presented their work, but showed their resilience.
The audience quickly saw an example of that Friday night in the clothing brand, The Porcelain Teacup. Char Franey and her sister, Kayla, run the business, where they create Alice in Wonderland-inspired couture looks and accessories for young girls.
But the last six weeks have been anything but a fairy tale for the family. Char Franey’s home in Cypress had two feet of water after Harvey, which also damaged their studio. They lost fabric and as a result, chose to back out of Fashion X Houston.
They only changed their mind about showcasing their collection after speaking with Fashion X brand founder Matt Swinney.
“He wrote us and basically gave us a counseling session and said, ‘You can do it. Show them that this will make you stronger,’” Char recalls. “I used that for strength. I wanted the girls (the models) to be fierce. I wanted them to be strong and show that they could do it because we did it.”
And the audience felt that porcelain powerhouse. The Franeys sent out 10 looks, which they had designed and produced in two weeks, down the runway on young models who marched and served up attitude with each stride. The crowd ate it up, capping what Char says has been an emotional time as she and her family now live with her sister and begin to rebuild.
“It’s hard with two families in one house, four dogs, and a parrot,” Char says. “I left the house in a boat with a parrot in a little cage. I’m that girl.”
But of that moment came a message of hope. “If anybody is feeling like they’re defeated, be calm and regroup,” Char says. “Use that anger and power and turn it around to be something beautiful.”
That theme of bouncing back was woven into every fiber of this year’s event, as the majority of proceeds over the three nights benefited the Rebuild Texas Fund, led by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation to help communities affected by Harvey.
Each night honored a different Houston-area Style Setter and philanthropist. On Thursday, that was Lindsey Love, who was unable to attend the event. Fall looks from River Oaks District retailers, including Roberto Cavalli, Baanou, Alice + Olivia by Stacey Bendet and Chopard, rocked the runway. CleRenda McGrady was the emcee.
On Friday, it was Staci Henderson’s turn to be recognized and it was a lively affair. At one point, friends Michael Pearce and Victoria Hellyer donned red wig bobs complete with bangs, paying homage to Henderson's signature haircut. She showed a collection of sorts as well; models wore some of the outfits right from Henderson’s closet.
Henderson also paid close attention to what came down the runway, pointing out a bottlecap dress created by Ruth Waddy’s House of Resource, a brand that uses recycled materials. And if she did want to take it home, it wouldn’t be the first time she’s ended up in a look straight off the runway.
Halfway through the event, Henderson slipped into a hand-painted dress by Croatian brand Hero4Heroes – a look she saw on a model at this year’s New York Fashion Week.
But Henderson says the night was about more than looking good. The focus on helping others recover after Harvey hit home for her, as it did for many in Texas. “We were untouched, but my mother got hit in Rockport, her house, hit her business,” Henderson said. “This is everything to me. Anything I can do to give back is my biggest thing.”
Houston’s own Chloe Dao, the Project Runway Season 2 winner, says she sees the impression the storm had on others, even if they experienced no physical damage. “Every single one of us is affected one way or another. This is going to be an ongoing rebuild,” she said. “In certain areas, you don’t see the devastation or you sometimes forget about it, but it’s there. It’s great that we can do the show and give back.”
On the runway
Dao’s collection was the Friday night finale and one that plenty in the crowd stood on their feet to see. Based on Mae West’s quote, “When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m better,” the collection oozed sex appeal — and how could it not with Avicii and Audra Mae’s cover of “Feeling Good” as the soundtrack?
“She’s dark, sexy, you want her to break your heart,” Dao explained, with a smile. “She’s a little bit older. She’s a self -confident lady in her 40s just like myself. Not a lot of skin but at the same time very sexy.”
Bridal and resort wear designer Adrienne Yunger brought an ocean vibe to the stage with a playful spin on underwater motifs. Flowing white tops, wide leg pants and netted mini dresses were adorned with sequin octopus and starfish shapes. Metallic separates stood out on the catwalk along with pieces that didn’t take themselves too seriously. That included a twist on nude fishnets, bedazzled with stars and seahorses, and a hi-low skirt and crop top covered with pom poms.
Fashion X Houston was also a platform for emerging designers. Monks & Mavericks, Mansion Rose by Deanna Santiago , Born Poor Live Rich Clothing, and B. Poshi were showered with cheers as they showcased their three-look capsule collections.
Witchcraft on the catwalk
Alan Gonzalez of Alantude returned to the runway, this time without the smoking dress (a piece shown last year that literally released smoke as the model walked) – but he still brought the fire in a spell-binding 18-piece fall/winter collection titled, “Eclipse.”
“It’s based on witchcraft and the idea of understanding other people’s beliefs before you even judge them,” Gonzalez explained. His show opened and closed with models who carried sage— an incense he explained is burned in a practice often used by witches called “smudging,” which is a cleansing that clears away negative energy and brings in positivity.
Pops of amethyst broke up the greys, blacks and whites that made up the core of “Eclipse” and relying on a jewel tone to do that was no mistake. “Amethyst purple is the jewel of cleansing and really what light witchcraft is about,” Gonzalez said. “It’s all about getting in touch with yourself, nature and God.”
Something about that color must have conjured up a good spirit.
Gonzalez, clad in a flowing cape of black chiffon that billowed behind him, was named the Bernina Houston Fashion Fund recipient – meaning he’ll receive a sewing machine from the Swiss company.
Saturday night, the show honored Carolyn Farb for her charitible work, while collections from designers, including David Peck, Nha Khanh, Mysterious by NPN and Daniel Esquivel, graced the catwalk.
Spotted in the crowd over the course of the three nights were Neal Hamil, Kara Swinney, Anika Jackson, Magen Pastor, Hannah McNair, Joanna Marks, Nicholas Phat Nguyen, Jennifer Rivera, Kylie Bollwitt, Chasity Sereal, Sophia Jacqueline, Stephanie Gonzalez, Jade Danhach and fashion illustrator Rongrong Devoe, who live sketched the runway show and models getting their hair and makeup done backstage.
If anything, the three-day extravaganza also proved there’s no place like Houston to stage a comeback after the storm.
“Houston just brings it home,” Gonzalez noted. “You feel like you’re at your grandma’s house, and she’s bringing you a home-cooked meal. That’s what Houston gives you, and I love that.”