The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024
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Dallas, fashion capital of South, rises again

Fashion royalty flocks to New York, London, Milan and Paris for a taste of the trends every spring and fall at fashion week. And—at one time—they came to Dallas, too, in the form of Fashion at the Park(FATP). Fashion at the Park began in March 2007 at NorthPark Center with eight shows in five days. The entire city was a buzz with the news of Dallas’ first fashion week.

This year’s fashion week, however, was geared toward the consumer rather than elite editors and buyers of New York City. FATP worked exclusively with retailers located inside NorthPark’s white brick walls to launch a brand new marketing plan.

The clothes shown at each event were in-season and pulled directly from the stores, allowing consumers to see the show, and then immediately go buy what they just saw on the runway. According to NorthPark’s website, FATP was an “exclusive opportunity to view the latest fashion and shop the shows.”

This concept is foreign to all the other fashion weeks as they have always focused on the next season’s trends. Publications all over the city boasted that this event was going to put Dallas on the fashion map and capture the sartorial nation’s attention.

But, the glamour and the flashbulbs faded away as quickly as they had begun.

In March 26, 2008, Fashion at the Park was in its hayday. The line-up was several times more impressive than the previous season’s—including Barneys New York, Custo Barcelona, Oscar de la Renta, Giorgio Armani, bebe, Diesel, Nordstrom, CH Carolina Herrera, Intermix, Miss Sixty, Macy’s, Dillard’s and Neiman Marcus.

I was 17 years old and one of 120 interns recruited to help make this unprecedented four-day production happen. My duties were split between hauling clothes from the pre-production area (a vacant retail space) and scanning tickets at the door. On the first night, I couldn’t scan the tickets fast enough as show-goers bombarded the tents to see the Barneys New York show.

Creative director Simon Doonan was set to make an appearance after the show, drawing three times the crowd. Members of Dallas’ social elite — and anyone else willing to fork over the $100 price tag for a ticket—filled every stark white chair in the main tent.

Night after night, people shuffled into the mall to see the shows and the clothes, to see and be seen.

A few short months later, in October, Fashion at the Park’s fall season began. But this time, the consumer’s enthusiasm for spending last month’s paycheck on beautiful clothes was out the window.

The nation was experiencing a grave downfall in the economy, and luxuriating in trivial pastimes like shopping was no longer an option for many American families.

Fashion was then replaced by necessities: food water, schooling and shelter. In 2008, U.S. apparel production was down 41 percent from the previous year, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association.

The malls told the same story—sales signs plastered the windows, racks left untouched, and not a single customer was in sight.

The ominous warnings from the media had sent the average shopper into a financial crisis tizzy. Fashionistas had morphed into “recessionistas,” doing everything they could to shop on a budget. It wasn’t about how much you paid, but how much you saved.

The fashion industry was left in the dust.

For the ill-fated fall 2008 season, Fashion at the Park coordinators decided to extend the events to span a full seven-day week. Due to the lack of sales, tickets dropped in price from $100 to $50, and then dropped even lower to $25. Except for the two shows featuring designers Roberto Cavalli and Marc Bouwer, empty chairs were abundant.

As an intern, I had to scour the mall shamelessly, offering free tickets to anyone that was remotely interested in coming to a fashion show, just to fill seats. Empty seats at a runway show is a major faux pas, one that the press can ruthlessly capture on their Nikons for all to see.

People would normally be begging for seats, begging to get a glimpse of the glamour, but not this time.

Fast forward to the spring, and there were no great white tents. There were no photographers, no press. There were no racks of clothing being hauled away by interns. There was no red carpet or featured designers. There was no more Fashion at the Park. It, too, had fallen victim to the economic meltdown.

It is now 2011, and all financial systems have, for the most part, regained their footing. A collective sigh of relief abounds across the nation—Wall Street is no longer on its knees, and consumers are finally starting to shop again.

But yet, the tents have not returned to the great southern city. NorthPark now functions exclusively as a shopping mall, nothing near the grandiose style center it was transformed into every spring and fall. NorthPark may be quiet — but local designers and fashion-minded Dallasites are not.

Since the recession and the vanishing of Fashion at the Park, Dallas has maintained its strong sartorial attitude sans a sanctioned fashion week. In fact, the fashion industry has come back with an even stronger, more personal voice. It’s no longer about national brands being flaunted in front of wealthy ticketholders; it’s about design, craftsmanship, creative expression, and homegrown talent.

In 2009, Brittany Edwards launched The Dallas Flea, an indoor marketplace that exclusively showcased purebred Texas talent. An average of 70 to 75 vendors come from across the state to peddle their artwork, food, furniture and, of course, clothing.

“The Dallas Flea has supported several fashion entities over the years and sometimes even helped launch them into the public eye,” Edwards said.

Amber Perely, Amber Venz, Abi Ferrin and Mari Hildago are just a few of the designers who utilized The Dallas Flea to make themselves known.

“Between our [web] site, media coverage, and huge crowds at the show,” Edwards said, “these talents really get a lot of exposure that would be hard to drum up on their own.”

Designers are also looking to one particular non-profit organization for support and publicity. Heidi Dillon founded The Fashionistas as an outlet for emerging designers to gain promotion, notoriety and attention from the Dallas fashion scene. Their slogan reads, “Fashion. You love it. Admit it. It matters.” Dillon and her team put on several events throughout the year to accomplish what designers simply can’t do by themselves.

“Nobody can do everything,” Dillon said. “They have to produce and design their collection. They have to worry about so many different things. So we have all these ways in which to get their name out there.”

Twice a year, The Fashionistas host glamorous runway shows for designers they deem worthy of the press and attention. They have previously showcased Nha Khanh, Shirin Askari, and most recently, Indian designer Prashe. They have also raked in numerous fashion industry insiders for their Fashion Talk lecture series, including the Vogue contributor Hamish Bowles and local fashion production guru and formal model Jan Strimple.

“These events are so beneficial because it gives students interested in fashion the opportunity to be in an intimate setting with these people and really network and learn from them,” Dillon said.

Even SMU has recently come into its own as a potential player in the industry. SMU’s Retail Club hosts a fashion show every spring, relying solely on student models, student producers, student public relations, student photographers and even student disc jockeys.

In previous years, the club has left all of the major event planning and coordination to Barneys New York in NorthPark. But this year, the club chose a more innovative route.

The show was held on-campus in Meadows Museum, and featured not the national brands found on the racks of Barneys, but local designers instead. And, as an added attraction, they hosted a panel of native industry professional
s for a Q&A panel before the show began.

“We knew that it wasn’t just about putting on a fashion show,” fashion show chairman Rebecca Marin said. “Members of the Retail Club wanted to learn from and be inspired by what the fashion industry has to offer. What better way than by giving them the opportunity to learn from professionals and experience the beautiful products of local talent?”

One of the “local talents” who showed her clothes in the Retail Club Fashion Show was Brianna Kavon, who was an unknown designer until just recently. She launched her line this past February with a fashion show that coincided with Super Bowl weekend. As The Fashionistas’ Heidi Dillon mentioned, putting on a runway show is no easy feat.

“I spent a year just with the collection, so planning the event was very interesting,” Kavon said. “I realized I was a designer, not an event planner. Doing that taught me a lot about every aspect of the business.”

Producing a well-done show is difficult, but not impossible without a fashion week, as Kavon clearly proved.

Amber Venz, who cut her teeth as a jewelry designer in Dallas, and whose pieces were featured at The Dallas Flea, attributes an early start and strong connections to her brand’s success.

“I paid my dues in the Dallas fashion world starting from the time I graduated from high school, so once I was ready to launch a line, my contacts and relationships were in place,” Venz said. “My network is incredibly strong locally.”

Another one of Venz’s make-or-break factors is close ties with the major players of the industry.

“If you don’t have press, editors, and buyers coming into your network, it is hard to make contact with their world,” she said.

Designing isn’t the only creative medium that has sprouted since the demise of Fashion at the Park. Many more fashion-minded Dallas residents, including Amber Venz, have turned to blogging. Her blog, VENZedits.com, features a wide range of photos, interviews, videos, and a “Girl of the Month,” all related to fashion and relevant to the Dallas area.

“It allows readers and customers to understand my personality and perspective—giving them a greater emotional tie to my brand,” Venz said.

The gained exposure isn’t a bad thing either.

“It gives me a reason to have a 15-minute conversation with Ken Downing, to meet Proenza Schouler, to be on the set of the Foley & Corinna fall fashion shoot and to have lunch with the Glamourai,” she said.

Other famous Dallas bloggers include SMU student Krystal Schlegel (krystalschlegel.blogspot.com), style prodigy Jane Aldridge (seasofshoes.com), handbag fiend Tina Craig (bagsnob.com) and the campus-based site SMUStyle.com.

While Dallas may not have been successful with its own fashion week, the industry is still thriving, generating new content, and gaining attention from outside metropolises. The design future is not dim in the South.

“I want Dallas to have more national and global attention in regard to fashion. But that’s up to us,” Kavon said. “We can’t sit around and wait on Dallas to become New York. We have to come together and make something happen.”

According to Dillon, this can only happen if the local designers stay local. “My hope is that our young designers stay here and continue to work here,” Dillon said. “And that other designers would see Dallas as an attractive place to be.”

As social media becomes a bigger and bigger part of the fashion world, it’s flourishing in Dallas as well. Venz believes that Dallas’ real strengths lay in the media and the press.

“We have Sea of Shoes, who has the attention of the world; we have [boutiques] 4510 and VOD who dictate who is the new who; we have Stanley Korshak and Neiman Marcus who make or break designers—we may be small but we are strong,” she said. More importantly than anything else at the moment, we still have money, which is what drives the industry. Designers need Dallas.”

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