The beauty of fashion is that, when done well, it can transport you to another place and time. That's what happened during the opening night of Fashion Houston Tuesday at the Wortham Center where a host of eclectic designers carried the stylish audience into a world of magical fantasy.
Los Angeles-based designer Alexis Monsanto got the evening off to a mesmerizing start with a wildly staged runway show that evoked the Game of Thrones and Gladiator. Among the eye-catching looks were colorful gowns with billowy trains, often accessorized with sparkly skullcaps or headdresses, jackets and leggings lined in metal chain detail, feathery skirts and pleated dresses in harlequin patterns. One gown even had 3-dimensional gargoyles at the waist.
"I'm a dreamer and a visionary. There's always has to be a bit of drama to it," Monsanto said.
His showstoppers included a bit of theater as a model dressed in a stark black gown with silver fasteners weaved among a group of men swathed in see-through hooded capes and tight trunks. And the finale, in which a princess in a blush column gown adored with feathers was carried on a palette by four shirtless men, whose already sculpted torsos had been airbrushed for more definition, to meet her king, who was covered in a chain-metal robe.
"I try to deliver entertainment and fashion as well," Monsanto said backstage after the show. "I'm a dreamer and a visionary. There's always has to be a bit of drama to it. But I design a collection that sells. I like balance. You take off the styling, it's all wearable pieces."
Later in the evening, Houston designer Sameera Faridi evoked a similar spirit of mystery and fun with a stunning collection that combined her two cultures, American and South Asian. Faridi, a native of Pakistan who emigrated to the United States when she was 18, features sari-like tunics with elaborate beading over modern skinny pants and elaborate evening wear that sparkled in the runway lights.
Afterwards, Faridi said one heavily beaded red gown took three months to complete. But every piece has a ethereal, almost royal quality.
"It needs to depict royalty and royalty doesn't run, it glides," she said.
Having worked as a designer for a decade, Faridi appears to be coming into her own with her signature style. She also presents a roadmap of how Houston might become more of a fashion center by offering designs that can't easily be found anywhere else.
Little Black Dress Supermodels: Work it girls
For sheer enjoyment, nothing beat the participants in Little Black Dress Designer runway show. Earlier this year. Neal Hamil Agency director Jeff Shell paired fashion design students with some of Houston's leading women who served as their muses. The results were displayed on the Fashion Houston catwalk as each muse appeared in a black dress created by the designer, preceded by a model in an LBD based on the designer's inspiration from the muse.
The dresses were first rate, but it was more fun to see real-life models Yasmine Haddad, Ursaline Hamilton, Lucinda Loya, Beth Muecke, Judy Nyquist, Theresa Roemer, Roseann Rogers, Jessica Rossman, Holly Waltrip and Donae Chramosta work the runway with the confidence of a pack of Victoria's Secret supermodels.
A Grungy good time
Though the evening ran long by the time the Grungy Gentleman collection hit the runway as the last show of the night, the depleted crowd was roused by rapper Jadakiss, who preformed live on stage as male models in hip styles took to the catwalk while designer Jace Lipstein, in a checked coat and baseball cap, peeked observed intently from just behind the stage opening.
GG features too-cool styles — I lusted over the slacks gathered at the ankles like sweatpants, a navy business coat with a hoodie, quilted sweats and a gray wool jacket with pockets ont eh shoulders and couldn't wait to check out the GG website. Among the models, former Dynamo player Mike Chabala stood out in a wine colored quilted sweatpants and coat.
Amid the flashier shows, Tibi designer Amy Smilovic's stylish casual collection offered plenty of easy-to-wear styles in a subdued color palate that her twenty-and-thirtysomething fans crave, while hometown favorite Jonathan Blake, whose designs are made in Houston, featured a collection peppered with green digital prints, soft leather jackets trimmed in croc or python, shiny blue party dresses and slinky evening gowns.
Blake looked like he could barely keep his eyes open, but there was a reason: He had just arrived from Bora Bora only a few hours earlier." I'm really tired, but I had a lot of fun and it was great to do this," he said.
A Big Surprise
Before the parade of fashion began, the night opened with a surprise as Fashion Houston CEO Jared Lang, who co-hosted the evening with KHOU Morning News anchor Lily Jang, who looked stunning in a lavender embroidered gown by Faridi, announced that the stylish Vivian Wise had joined Fashion Houston as president.
"I thought I was just going out for a hamburger at lunch with (Jared) and by the end of lunch I was a business partner. Did not see that coming," Wise said. "We have a lot great things tonight and for the rest of the week and I hope you keep coming back. And next year, oh boy, buckle up."