Beefcake, Bouwer & the Project Runway connection liven up Houston fashion week
Day Three of Fashion Houston offered something for everyone: A couple of local designers-done-good, two Project Runway winners and even a little beefcake.
But during the last show of the evening, when even the hardiest fashionista was beginning to feel a little tuckered out, designer Marc Bouwer gave a master class on how fashion should be presented and sent a jolt of electric energy through the Wortham Theater Center lobby.
The funny thing is Bouwer, who with shoulder length-hair and a skinny waist looks like star Iggy Popp, has just about given up on presenting runway shows before a live audience. He has embraced the web and offers "virtual" fashion shows that anyone with an Internet connection can view.
But when his longtime friend Neal Hamil asked him to come to the inaugural Houston fashion week, he didn't hesitate. Bouwer recalled that when he was a fledgling designer, Hamil, an executive at the Ford Agency, supplied models for his shows "even though I didn't have money to pay."
"You support a friend and do things for people who do things for you," Bouwer said in an interview after his show.
Once he committed, Bouwer didn't scrimp. His fast-paced show featured 54 looks that began with stark black-and-white prints before morphing into flowing dresses, caftans and smart suits accented with touches of color and ending with an all-out assault on the senses with gowns in vivid primary colors.
"I didn't want to break up the collection because it's a story," Bouwer said.
He based the show on three artists. "I went to art school, but I finally realized you can sell a dress easier than you can sell a painting," he said with a laugh.
He started with Aubrey Beardsley, an English illustrator and author whose black-and-white drawings were influenced by Japanese woodcuts. Then he introduced color into his collection based on the work of Kandinsky, the Russian artist who is credited with creating the first abstract works. By the end, Bouwer's work reflected Calder mobiles, with bold use of primary colors and sculptural touches like epaulets, fringe, and gold jewelry incorporated into the clothing.
"In the real world, you take something like art as a starting point and create pretty, exciting and sexy clothing," he said.
Bouwer added a touch of drama when his models appeared in sky high hair (coiffed by Ceron) and dramatic makeup — black lips and heavily lined eyes — and used throbbing disco music to heighten the atmosphere. He picked up the pace by sending the models out quickly to showcase his collection.
"I wanted to bring New York flair here," he said. "Every major city should have a fashion week. You shouldn't have to go to New York, Paris or Milan to experience the excitement."
Those attending the finale of Houston fashion week tonight are in for a treat as Bouwer, a Hollywood favorite, will showcase 25 looks from his couture collection.
"I do love a live fashion show," he said.
A model in a multi-colored flapper dress came down the runway carrying a bunch of balloons to open Chloe Dao's runway show. It was an unusual — but fitting — way to start the evening. "I wanted a happy mood because it's a happy collection," Dao explained afterwards.
It was hard not to smile because Dao's collection mixed happy colors like turquoise and pink with happy themes — a bird motif and a nod to the freedoms of the 1920s. The Project Runway season 2 winner looked a bit like a pin-up girl in blue short shorts with a contrasting stripe at the pockets and bird-patterened blouse.The collection also included colorblocking — a Dao trademark — and something new, as she experimented with laser prints on electric blue fabrics for the first time.
"I always love color," she said.
Being part of a fashion week in Houston is "awesome," she added. "What's so great about this one is that it's professionally well-done. When it's this well done, I don't think you have to go to New York."
Houston designer Toni Whitaker has been in the fashion business for more than 25 years, but had never orchestrated a runway show of this magnitude. "It gives me a great platform for people in Houston to see what I do," she said.
Known for creating ladylike dresses for a loyal clientele from her Rice Village studio, Whitaker broke out of the box with a collection of hand-painted tie-dye dresses and slacks, and hand-pleated, origami-like gowns of bold colors. Her design assistant, Kristen Eide, accented the pieces with brooches and necklaces.
I found the flowing gowns and dresses — particularly one in a bold yellow — more interesting that Whitaker's more lady-like dresses that fall below the knee and are cut so closely to the body that they restricted movement on the runway. Here's hoping she experiments more with her new style.
But first things first. After the show ended, Whitaker planned to visit her 89-year-old mother with a great bottle of wine so they could toast her success.
Another Project Runway winner (from season 6), Irina Shabayeva is usually known for her hard-edged urban style. But after showing a few tough girl looks, Shabayeva channeled her inner goddess with a collection of ballet-inspired chiffon skirts and dresses fashioned into flowers or dotted with them. She accented the ethereal quality of her collection by placing hydrangea and crystal headpieces in the models' hair.
"The harder edge is great, but every women has a different side," she said.
The men got a little bit of runway time as the Italian design house Kiton sent out Houston's hunkiest male models in sharply tailored suits in strips and windowpane checks (often with a shortened sleeve just above the wrist), patterned hoodie cardigans, overcoats in a deep burgundy shade or blue herringbone, and a Mad Men-style black striped suit with matching fedora.
But the whoops and hollers came for two shirtless models in colorful swim trunks. A little beefcake is always welcomed.
Saks Fifth Avenue is hosting a Kiton trunk show today — models not included.
See a video of the Marc Bouwer spring 2011 collection below: