The Million Air terminal near Hobby Airport became Fashion Central Wednesday night as Heart of Fashion kicked off with three colorful runway shows featuring opinionated designers and an ageless model who's not afraid to speak her mind.
Organizer Vivian Wise was determined to create a new vibe at the new venue and keep the show running at a brisk pace. After a pink carpet entrance, which attracted many of Houston's fashion faithful, including Diane Lokey Farb, Beth Muecke, Elizabeth Petersen, Hallie Vanderhider, Staci and Dr. Quang Henderson, Theresa Roemer, Mandy Kao, Nicole Lassiter, Carolyn Farb, and Michael Pearce and Matt Burrus, the back-to-back runway happenings proceeded, ending around 45 minutes later, with plenty of time for some heavy-duty partying in the hangar, where DJ Lewis Grell held court above the crowd.
Event planner extraordinare Todd Fiscus transformed the hangar into a New York style runway space with a dramatic black box showcasing a gleaming white runway surrounded by cabaret-style tables and tiered seating for the shows, which differed in style, offer a range for just about every woman.
Cushnie Et Ochs: Texas for the first time
Designer duo Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs of Cushine Et Ochs led off the evening with a show that combined key elements from their resort 2016 collection with their spring 2016 pastel-themed line. Known for creating sexy, body-hugging looks with strategic cutouts, the show featured such standouts as a black polka dotted pants suit with plunging neckline, a flowy one-shoulder dresses in pastel yellow and suits with exposed backs outlined in ribbon and bow like a holiday present.
"It's still very sexy, but it's a little more playful, a little softer, more, I guess, romanticized, with more ruffles," Cusnhie explained. "A lot of color — pastels and brights — in the two collections. It's focusing on the female body and very empowering in that sense."
"We like to see our collection as an evolution, so we want that woman to come with us," Ochs said. "It really is about building a wardrobe."
It's the first time the duo has been to Texas and they made the most of it food-wise, visiting Caracol on the day of the show and meeting with customers at Neiman Marcus luncheon Thursday.
Norisol Ferrari: Models with personality
Designer Norisol Ferrari showcased a dramatic urban-themed collection of fitted jackets, corseted dresses, fur ponchos and python pantsuits, featuring middle-age models that still know how to work a runway. Jan Strimple, a Dallas runway icon of the '80s, opened the show in a dramatic black dress and white cape, drawing enthusiastic applause.
"(Ferrari) wants powerful, sensual models who have a good sense of themselves," Strimple told CultureMap. "She actually cuts some of these clothes just for some of us. I'm a little curvier than the average working girl right now. She said, 'I want women of all ages.' And she celebrates that."
Ferrari told CultureMap she doesn't believe in runway shows but made an exception for Heart of Fashion because it benefits a charity (the first night's beneficiary was Meals on Wheels) where "they can be honored, adored, enjoyed and you can truly engage with the customer."
Her inspiration: "Fall is always about enjoying your figure while keeping warm and being functional. I need my clothes to work as hard as I do," Ferrari said.
Ferrari met with clients at Tootsies on Thursday and planned to make it by State of Grace, where she is good friends with assistant manager Tex Sage. "I love Texas and I love Houston," said the New York-based designer. "I love to eat."
Angel Sanchez: Latin American flair
Venezulean-born designer Angel Sanchez, who has a large following in Latin America, was surprised to be besieged by fans after the showing of his wildly colorful collection, featuring polka dot textiles, hand-cut leather flowers and stylized hibiscus prints.
"Venezuelans definitely support me wherever I go," he said. "It was a nice surprise and I enjoyed it so much."
Sanchez returned to his roots for this collection, which he showed at New York Fashion Week in September. "I went back to my country and had the opportunity to have contact with the flowers, the colors. And I started getting inspired with that," he said.
"It's definitely one of the most Latin collections in my last 10 years. And you know why? Maybe because nowadays I feel more secure in what I am doing. What fashion needs is diversity. When you go to a fashion show you don't want to see the same thing. You want to see unique voices."
A first, he admitted, he was afraid that the collection would "only be understood by Latinas," he said. "But we got a lot of good orders from American stores. And also from Dubai and Kuwait because they love color. I think this is a happy collection that makes people bright and glamorous."
Sanchez, who will be in Houston through Friday to meet with clients at Elizabeth Anthony, said was impressed with the Heart Of Fashion production.
"The quality was New York level," he said. "It's the first time I've seen a show with a kind of loungey area. I'm very happy I got this invitation."
Carmen Dell'Orefice: Still turning heads at 84
A highlight of the evening came when famed designer Ralph Rucci presented legendary model Carmen Dell'Orefice with the first-ever Texas Legacy Award. Dell'Orefice, who at 84 works a runway better than models a quarter of her age, thanked the crowd and Wise for the honor, especially on a night when Meals on Wheels was the beneficiary because it is a charity close to her heart.
In an interview earlier in the evening, Dell'Orefice credited her parent's good genes and a strong work ethic for lasting so long in a business where most models are washed up at 25.
"I get enough sleep. I'm never into drugs. I didn't drink a lot of coffee early on. I have an appetite for real food. I always show up for the job, I'm never late. And I plan ahead," she said.
"It's a job for me — a pleasant one, albeit. But since I'm not trained to do another job, I've kept moving. And because I always showed up, another generation always picked up that they could count on me. And I had a look that was photogenic. Because my looks certainly have changed — the color of my hair, my weight. I am more consistent in my look in the last 25-30 years. It took me all that time to become myself."
And she had some words of wisdom that come from a long life well lived.
"For all those ladies who wonder, "What is life all about?", stop that." she said. "Just treat people the way you want to be treated. Be happy with the instrument you were born with and take good care of it. I don't care what size or shape it is. Don't envy anybody else.
"If you love yourself in the right way, you know how to give love — and you'll get a lot back that way."