City of the Future
Vivienne Tam's Houston-inspired collection makes a high-fashion landing in Space City
Talk to internationally-known designer Vivienne Tam for a few minutes, and you’ll quickly learn, her love for Houston runs deep. “This is perfect for me that I can express a love of Houston culture to the world,” Tam says. “It is a future city. It is the city of the moment.”
Houston is also now home to Tam’s 2017 spring/summer collection honoring the city through vibrant colors, 3D textures and iconic logos from Rice University’s owl mascot to “Howdy,” the bowlegged “H” of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and of course, NASA.
The latter combined to become the main theme of what Tam calls a “Space Rodeo,” paying homage to the technology-driven landscape of a city that is as modern as it is welcoming enough to feel at times like a small town.
The collection debuted at New York Fashion Week last year (where CultureMap editor-in-chief covered the runway show) and will now be sold at Baanou, making this the first time that the line will be available at a U.S. storefront.
Around 75 people gathered for a private lunch at the River Oaks District boutique to celebrate the collection’s landing in Space City. Judy Nyquist, Y. Ping Sun and Claire Cormier Thielke hosted the occasion.
Guests included local designer and Project Runway alum Chloe Dao, philanthropist Carolyn Farb, The Voice’s Tamar Davis, Staci Henderson, Carrie Brandsberg-Dahl, Drs. Duyen and Marc Nguyen, Viet Hoang, Linda Toyota, Karen and Charlie Le, and Anika Jackson.
“The most important thing that I take from all of this is she put Houston on the map in the fashion scene,” Maryam Khreibani, owner of Baanou, said. “When you have someone like Vogue writing about a collection inspired by Houston, it just brings attention to how multicultural and how different we are.”
A portion of the proceeds from sales at the event benefited Buffalo Bayou Partnership.
Dressed in a red cowboy shirt with hand-stitched spoonbills and a matching red lace flounce skirt (both items are from her line), Tam says the collection was about incorporating what she saw during a visit to Houston last year where she made stops at places including La Pulga 59 flea market, Voodoo Queen and Comicpalooza. It was there where Tam says hearing the stories and seeing the craftsmanship of the vendors inspired her to create something that bridged the cultures in Houston.
Her mission was clear as models glided around the store wearing 16 of the 45 looks in the collection. Indian, Chinese and Mexican embroideries flow throughout jackets, tops, dresses and skirts made of cotton and rayon. In one sequin dress, Thai and Japanese are among the languages you’ll find weaved into the piece along with symbols like rockets and Mexican flowers. The words “Power City” are on the back because as Tam says, that’s exactly what Houston is.
Tam also mixed cultures in what she calls her rodeo lace dress, an outfit that blends pandas, stars and the Rodeo’s Howdy logo into a pattern.
Tam later slipped into her “city stripe” dress, which boasts logos from the Houston Ballet, Cactus Music, Buffalo Bayou and more, creating one print.
A motif that’s particularly hard to miss in this space rodeo adventure is the butterfly. Tam says it represents nature and Houston’s free spirit. Origami butterflies made by artist Kyle Fu dangled from Baanou’s chandeliers but real butterflies stole the show later. Guests each received a packet with a live butterfly and stepped outside to release them together and make a wish.
Houston on the map
Those who helped bring this vision of a Houston-inspired collection to life say it was more than a wish fulfilled. It was a fashion miracle that began when Mike Waterman took over as president of VisitHouston two years ago.
“How do we put Houston on the map from a global perspective? And I kiddingly said to my team, ‘If our desire was global domination for Houston, what would we do?’” Waterman said. “If you look at it through the lens of global domination, you look at things differently. You look at collaborating with an international designer, and that’s where the idea came out.”
Thanks to the previous ties that creative agency Asian Wives Club had through working with Tam on projects for Hewlett Packard, Waterman was able to help secure the collection. VisitHouston paid Tam nearly nearly $450,000 to create it and underwrote the Houston debut.
The experience won a place for Houston in Tam’s heart, bringing her back to town and into Baanou. “Houston is in my blood,” Tam says. And for good reason. During the event, it was announced that the city declared May 4 “Vivienne Tam Day.”
French restaurant Toulouse Cafe and Bar served a menu in her honor — Toulouse chopped salad, grilled Norwegian salmon and chocolate fondant.
Celebrate local artists
Even though the day was meant to recognize Tam, it also celebrated local artists and their talents. Musician Zubair Al Awadi, a refugee from Iraq, played the oud as attendees chatted. Poet Outspoken Bean closed the program, dropping a line that wrapped up a day focused on H-town. “All 646 square miles of Houston is a dinner table and you are all welcome here so make sure that you bring a dish. While you’re at it bring your wish and I guarantee you it will be granted here.”
Tam said she agrees: “You can do what you love here, and people accept you.”
“I hope people feel great in this collection,” she added. “That they’re proud of their city like how I love their city.”
Vivienne Tam’s 2017 spring/summer collection will be available at Baanou through the summer. T-shirts start at $175. Dresses start at $340 and go up to $1300 for embroidered lace.