Cliff Notes

Fashion Houston kicks off with an international point of view — and a dress with an adjustable slit

Fashion Houston kicks off with an international point of view

Fashion Houston, BCBG Max Azria, November 2012
Photo by Cody Bess
Fashion Houston, Rabih Kayrouz, November 2012
Maison Rabih Kayrouz red evening gown Photo by Cody Bess
Black Halo, Laura Berman, Fashion Houston, Nov 2012
Laura Berman's Black Halo collection offers contemporary clothing with a flattering fit Photo by Cody Bess
Georges Chakra, Fashion Houston, November 2012
Edition by Georges Chakra sparkly onesie. Photo by Cody Bess
Fashion Houston, BCBG Max Azria, November 2012
Fashion Houston, Rabih Kayrouz, November 2012
Black Halo, Laura Berman, Fashion Houston, Nov 2012
Georges Chakra, Fashion Houston, November 2012

"We've gone international this year," Fashion Houston creative director Neal Hamil told an audience of unusually well-dressed individuals for a Monday night as the city's third annual fashion extravaganza kicked off at the Wortham Theater Center.

Indeed, on the first of the four-night runway showcase, Fashion Houston highlighted two creative designers from Lebanon who regularly show in Paris — Georges Chakra and Rabih Kayrouz — along with two innovative Los Angeles designers — Laurel Berman of Black Halo and Lubov Azria of BCBG Max Azria.

All are talented, but each designer's aesthetic couldn't be more different. Berman has even come up with a promising, and sure to be talked-about new invention — an evening gown with an adjustable slit.

More about that later. Let's start with the men first.

Georges Chakra

At Fashion Houston, Chakra presented the spring 2013 edition of his Edition collection, which is more moderately priced than his couture creations. It includes color blocked dresses in shades of pink, white and navy; jumpsuits in a variety of designs; pale blue sequined jackets paired with short shorts; and evening gowns with cutouts in the back, at times with see-through netting dotted with sequined squares.

"I like playing with the back a lot. It's like having another dress in the back. Maybe she's wearing two dresses, something from the front and something from the back. I think it's very feminine. It's gives a romantic and glamorous touch," Chakra told me after the show.

 "Lebanese are big fighters for life. They like to spend their evenings dancing, having nice dinners, or clubbing, for the young people. We are refusing not to be happy."

 The designer, who first established his brand in 1985 and has remained in Beirut throughout the turmoil that engulfed the Lebanese capital, notes a similarity between the way women dress in his home city and in Houston. "They are both very feminine, very glamorous, very chic and not overdressed," he said.

Indeed, through the conflict, Beirut has remained a city where a zest for life remains, he said. "It's a very unusual city. Lebanese are big fighters for life. They like to spend their evenings dancing, having nice dinners, or clubbing, for the young people. It's a very cosmopolitan city. We are refusing not to be happy."

Chakra will make a personal appearance at Saks Fifth Avenue on Tuesday from 2 -5 p.m.

Rabih Kayrouz

Kayrouz, who has made dresses for private clients since 1998 but only launched his Maison Rabih Kayrouz label in Paris in 2009, chose to showcase his autumn 2012 collection at Fashion Houston, so it naturally was darker with heavier fabrics. Even so, the look is sophisticated, with structured silhouettes and a mixture of leather and mesh materials.

Kayrouz is known for a lean, architectural style, using exacting methods of construction, and some of the early looks seemed rather dour as models in black riding boots that looked more like galoshes trod the runway, although there were some nifty little black dresses and crisp, wearable white shirtdresses. 

But then the music picked up, to more lilting Middle Eastern tunes, and the collection brightened considerably. Models in flowing gowns in black, white, deep red and forest green, some belted at the waist, looked positively ethereal. The real stunner: A deep purple gown with a leather bodice and chiffon skirt.

Kayrouz will make a personal appearance at Neiman Marcus on Tuesday from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Laurel Berman

The last time Black Halo founder and designer Laurel Berman was in Houston was a decade ago under some pretty unusual circumstances. She had flown from Los Angeles to Dallas, with plans to change planes to continue on to Paris. But officials in Dallas noticed her passport had expired and wouldn't let her go any further.

So she rented a car, drove to the nearest passport office in Houston, got a new passport, drove back to Dallas, and within 24 hours was on her way to the City of Light.

Thus far, this trip has been considerably less eventful for Berman, although her career has skyrocketed since then.

 "The beauty of the zipper is that you can leave it zipped during the cermony. The longer you stay at the reception the higher the slit goes."

 Her contemporary line has won raves from working women for its style, fit and price point (most dresses retail for under $400). Among big fans at Fashion Houston were Roseann Rogers and Sharron Melton, who snapped photos of the collection from the front row.

"It's really about making women feeling great about themselves," Berman said. "And then they can conquer the world."

Berman is proud that her line is completely made in the USA (in Los Angeles, in fact). "It's all about quality control and the only way to keep stringent quality control is to make it under your nose. Making it in China is not making it under your nose," she explained.

While she says Black Halo is never trendy, she does stay on trend. The spring 2013 collection shows hemlines that are longer in the back than the front. She is offering evening wear, under the Black Halo Eve label (it started with a six-style exclusive with Neiman Marcus last season), and she came up with a great invention — an adjustable slit.

"The newest thing is a high slit but it's really an invisible zipper. So it can be closed all the way to the ground or be opened all the way up," Berman explained.

"My school of thought it that it's good for different girls. Some girls want to show a lot of leg, some girls want to show a little leg, some girls want to show no leg. The beauty of the zipper is that you can leave it zipped during the cermony. The longer you stay at the reception the higher the slit goes. So my idea was different personalites for different women.

"But someone told me (it could also describe) the many moods of a single woman. One woman with different moods. I thought that was kind of fun."

The reaction to her invention, as you might expect, is "pretty great," Berman said. "There was a void."

She will make a personal appearance at Neiman Marcus Tuesday from noon -2 p.m.

Lubov Azria

At Fashion Houston, Lubov Azria chose to show the BGBG Max Azria resort collection, which will be shipped to stores next month, instead of the spring 2013 collection that I saw in New York, because she considers it more important to show Houston customers clothes they can buy in stores soon. 

"I'm a consumer as well, so I like to see things I can be able to buy right away," she said.

Azria was particularly excited because it's the first time in BCBG's history that a resort line has been featured in a runway show. Normally a resort line is shown only to New York fashion editors and buyers in a presentation where the models are static.

 "I'm a consumer as well, so I like to see things I can be able to buy right away," she said.

 Azria, who collaborates with her husband Max, who did not make the trip to Houston, based the collection on Hotel Il Pellicano, a photo book that details jet-setting escapades along the Tuscan coast. The collection is loaded with lots of bright, colorful and wearable items — caftans, dresses, shorts, pants and motorcycle jackets — in exotic prints, intricate lace, neon fabrics and ethnic-inspired embroidery.

Perhaps because the models in this show were all blondes in aviator sunglasses, the collection had a California cool vibe. Many of the designs are made to show off toned arms and expose lower backs to flatter the woman who works out and wants to show the results.

Azaria, who lived in San Antonio in her early years and still considers herself a Texan at heart, says she was delighted to bring two collections to Fashion Houston (she will also showcase the Herve Leger by Max Azria resort 2013 collection on Wednesday night), because she likes the idea that the shows are meant for customers, not the fashion press or store buyers.

"It's the first time we are able to show a collection to a true consumer — these amazing women who are powerful and dramatic. It's very exciting. I'm sure all of these women are open to fashion because of fashion week. That's what fashion week is doing, it's educating the consumer on fashion for the night."

Azria is in Houston through Thursday, where she will make a personal appearance at Neiman Marcus from 1-2 p.m.