Miss USA Central: Beauty pageant contestants flock to Houston to consult with the gown whisperer
The curved stairway at Elizabeth Anthony/Esther Wolf in Uptown Park took on a bit of a fairy tale feel recently when couture dress designer Gionni Straccia came to Houston.
The designer held court on the second floor, delighting a steady stream of pageant contestants who came from across the United States to have him design and create their gown. Straccia has garnered a winning reputation with international pageant contestants and real women alike for making their dreams and dream gowns come true.
His appointment book was full, much like it always is when the Venezuelan-born designer comes to Houston. Soft-spoken and focused, Straccia depends on his partner Luis Serra to translate, but between his hand gestures, my deep love of cognates and a sketch pad of gowns, we spoke the language of fashion easily.
“He has a vision for you. I come to him for his great work. I know the dress will be beautiful, so I just put it in his hands."
The same was true for his conversations with Paromita Mitra Miss Mississippi USA. While she stood draped in muslin, Straccia drew on the fabric, outlining the beauty it would become. The two discussed what Mitra likes, but she says ultimately, she trusts him.
“He has a vision for you. I come to him for his great work. I know the dress will be beautiful, so I just put it in his hands,” Mitra says.
The roster of trusting international clients is long, starting with Miss Venezuela participants in 1995. Since then, he has created gowns for Miss Ecuador, Miss Honduras, Miss Peru, Miss Teen USA, Miss USA and Miss Universe. Straccia also designed the dress of Miss USA´s first runner up Miss Oklahoma Morgan Woolard and contestants Miss District of Columbia and Miss Maryland.
“I look at her attitude and how she holds herself. Is she shy or is she extroverted? That’s when the ideas start coming,” Straccia says. “Some girls come in with a clear idea and others think they know what they want, but it’s not quite right for them.”
He also takes into consideration how the dress will look on television and under lighting. He sketches and makes the pattern himself. Much of the cutting he hands to his team of seamstresses, but even then it’s hard for him to relinquish a gown. If time allows Straccia does the intricate handwork, but when he has 22 gowns working at once, he hands that off to three women who sew the beading.
“I’m very protective,” he says.
“I want them to feel comfortable in the dress and take on the aura and excitement of the dress. I want her to feel like the dress completes her instead of complicates her.”
A gown can take up to three weeks to finish and Straccia is busy with gowns year round, but not all of his clients are pageant girls. In fact, he really got his start designing social gowns. His repertoire extends from gala gowns to wedding dresses and he says is goal is the same for every dress he makes.
“I want them to feel comfortable in the dress and take on the aura and excitement of the dress,” Straccia says. “I want her to feel like the dress completes her instead of complicates her.”
He travels to Venezuela and the United States (he also has a thriving client base in Miami and Panama) for his clients and admits he is a workaholic.
“This is not work. I could be in the atelier seven days a week and be happy,” Straccia says.
His partner Serra says he tries to get him to vacation and relax some, but Straccia says there’s just no time. He is focused on seeing his gowns on the red carpet and he is toying with the idea of launching a small collection, as Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman did.
“Fame is not important to me. I started from scratch and love high fashion and the wow of a dress,” Straccia says.