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Women and Fashion
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Women and Fashion - Part 1. March 2006. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. July 22, 2014. http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/living/item/9/show/7.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

(March 2006). Women and Fashion - Part 1. University of Houston Barbara Karkabi Living Archives Recordings. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/living/item/9/show/7

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Women and Fashion - Part 1, March 2006, University of Houston Barbara Karkabi Living Archives Recordings, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed July 22, 2014, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/living/item/9/show/7.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

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Title Women and Fashion
Creator (Local)
  • D'Alessandro-Behr, Francesca
  • Sewing, Joy
  • Whitaker, Toni
  • Pactor, Roz
  • Ngo, Michelle
  • King, Kay
Publisher Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program; The Friends of Women's Studies
Place of Creation (TGN)
  • Houston, Texas
Date March 2006
Description Two-part video of a panel interview consisting of four women (Toni Whitaker, Roz Pactor, Michelle Ngo, and Kay King) who are involved in Houston's fashion industry answering questions from moderator Joy Sewing (who is also in the fashion industry). Question topics include whether or not the industry is understanding what real women want, how the panelists got into fashion, lack of diversity in the fashion industry, trends, one thing they'd change about fashion, and general questions and commentary from the audience.
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women--Texas
  • Fashion
  • Women fashion designers--United States
Subject.Name (Local)
  • D'Alessandro-Behr, Francesca
  • Sewing, Joy
  • Whitaker, Toni
  • Pactor, Roz
  • Ngo, Michelle
  • King, Kay
Genre (AAT)
  • interviews
Language English
Type (DCMI)
  • Moving Image
Format (IMT)
  • video/mp4
Original Item URL http://library.uh.edu/record=b4555844~S11
Digital Collection University of Houston Barbara Karkabi Living Archives Recordings
Digital Collection URL http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/living
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Repository URL http://info.lib.uh.edu/about/campus-libraries-collections/special-collections
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see the UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the “About” page of this website.
File name index.cpd
Access File Run Time 00:58:16; 00:30:59
Item Description
Title Part 1
File name 2011_17_040a.m4v
Transcript Living Archives panel on Women and Fashion March __, 2006 Menil Collection foyer Transcribed by Elaine Rusin Fashion [inaudible talking in microphone before program starts] Francesca Behr: Good evening. Can everybody hear me? Welcome to everybody. Thank you for waiting. As you probably know you are at the Living Archives Series. This particular panel organized tonight is called Women and Fashion. I would like to thank the friends of Women’s Studies for having invited all these wonderful guests and I would like to thank the guests too for accepting the invitation. Some of you may already know that the Friends of Women’s Studies is this wonderful organization that supports the Women’s Studies program @ the University of Houston. One of their main focuses is to document the lives and women’s organizations in Houston. So we are making history as I talk because this will be taped and this will become part of our permanent collection. About tonight – you know, I am the interim director of Women’s Studies. You may be familiar with Dr. Gregory, but she’s on sabbatical this semester so I am just pretending to be her. [giggle] [giggles from group] F: But our moderator – our official moderator is going to be Joy Sewing right in front of me. Some of you may already know Joy. She’s fashion writer at Houston Chronicle. I believe she has been in such a role for at least 3 years. Thank you very much. From my right to the left we have Toni Whitaker, a fashion designer and owner of her very own boutique with the very same name, right? And Roz Pactor, a fashion director at Foleys. Michelle Ngo – [one from panel = P] That’s right. F: I hope I am saying these names properly. P: [chuckle] F: Fashion designer. And you know, again all these women sent me great bios with a lot of very interesting things and then they told me, “No. We don’t have time…” [chuckles from group] F: You cannot say anything about it. I remember that Michelle has been designing clothes since when she was five years old. And last but not least, Kay King, she’s the chair of the applied arts department at HCC, Houston Community College. So I think that we are in great company tonight. Thank you very much again. And forgive me, I have missed so much. [chuckle from one in the panel] F: Thank you very much. J: Well I want to start by thanking you for having us here. I am in the company of some wonderful women. I’ve also had the privilege of working with them on various stories that I do for the Chronicle. Toni, when I first started back – this is my second go around at the Chronicle – when I started back, Toni was the first designer that I did a profile on and I learned a lot about her story, but I was also fascinated that she was – she has been working in the Rice village area for 20 years as a designer and probably the only African American designer in the area. Roz has been a treat to work with. She is probably the best in terms of knowing fashion trends. And I call her for advice from time to time. I also did I profile on Roz a couple of months ago. Michelle as well, I did a profile last fall. Michelle is an emerging designer. I want to say that Toni is semi-retiring this spring and Michelle is emerging in Houston as a designer. And then Kay King is just a wonderful resource over at Houston Community College. I call her from time to time wanting to know – someone to talk to about particular issues in fashion and she can always point me to the right direction. R: Thank you. J: I want to get started with – dealing with the whole image of women in fashion. There’s been this trend moving toward real women, real fashion. I get press releases all the time about new jeans that are geared for women with curves or you have things like the Dove campaign which focused on real women, real sizes. Average size of most women – about 12, 14. And so I wanted to ask the panel if you feel like the industry is actually changing or is this – we’re just getting little tidbits here – but do you feel like the industry is moving toward understanding what real women want in fashion. Toni? T: Okay. Well, in terms of the industry I’m not really sure if we are leaning toward real women just because I think that is a tidbit here and there. Just because when you still see the runways the ads primarily – everyone is very model thin. There are few companies that may concentrate on fuller women or women with curves or if the entertainment industry has a very curvaceous star – for a moment you might get a dose of it, but I think the trend is still to go back to the super thin, very petite, tall model. In terms of my business I’ve always leaned toward real women because that’s always been my client. So, I’ve never had to be forced to follow that. I may make a sample in an 8 or a 10, but we customize it to whatever size the woman is and, you know, that’s kind of been the one great part of my business is because I don’t have to feel forced to follow those trends. J: And I want to say that Toni also specializes in dresses for women, so that really has been her focal point. I didn’t give the panelists opportunity to talk about their experience getting into fashion, but we’ll talk about that. Roz? R: Well, I think that certainly for high fashion runways there is always the supermodel is certainly – I mean she’s really more of less the hanger for the apparel and that’s not probably going to change to a large degree. I do think that there’s a consciousness that’s been happening that is starting where it’s - Scarlet Johansen is a celebrity that spoke out about, you know, her body and her curvaciousness. There was a lot of negativism around some of the young celebrities because they were getting too thin and they were not great role models for the young girls. There’s been in the jean business, I think you mentioned jeans – in the jean business there is a trend happening towards a little bit more of a curvaceous figure. There’s a few people coming out with two – not just two waists – first of all stretch in denim has become the thing. You have to have stretch so that it can fit a woman’s body and we carry a line at Foley’s now called Apple Bottom, which was one of the first groups that one of the hip hop guys put together and it’s done phenomenally well. And now there’s some off shoots from that, that are doing four way stretch to give more – because there are a lot of women out there, and I’ve talked to some of my friends that a buyer at Tooties, and some other places, not just with the department stores that are saying that they are willing to spend 185, 200 dollars on a jean, but it has to be able to be more than just, you know, pencil thin. You have to have a little bit of a tush. Or you may have a little bit of a tush. [chuckle from one on the panel] R: So anyway, there are some things going on about that that I think is very positive. And you know our women’s business – first of all our number one size is size 12. So that does tell us, we never - we have our buyers, they never buy enough small sizes. We cater very much to the mid to high end because size 12 is our largest size – largest… not largest size! [laughter from group] R: Largest selling size. And so I think that we are trying to do that. Our women’s business is on fire. In the women’s world – it’s interesting because what’s happened is, for the longest time when we used to buy to for women’s – and I think I’m taking up too much time, but – when we used to buy for women’s, we were always more conservative in the large sizes and we didn’t give them as much fashion, and they had to have sleeves, and they had to have all this… until you know what, they don’t care. We sell as many tank tops for large sizes as we do for – maybe not as many, we don’t buy as many – but we sell a lot for the number that we have. So I do think there is certainly an appreciation for fashion, and it’s not as restrictive. And I could go on forever about it, but I’m not. [chuckle from one on the panel] J: Michelle? M: Umm. I have a personal experience about, you know, the size 14 and up because I do have clients that come to me, and actually I have a lady come crying to me saying, “I cannot find anything that cute.” And she went to just every department store and finally she said, “I’m willing to spend, even to go to Neimann.” And she said anything thing she find cute in the regular size or petite size she cannot find in her size, like size 14 or 16. It’s not curvy enough and it’s just straight. It doesn’t have cute pockets or it doesn’t have laces. It doesn’t have cute buttons like the other – you know, even though it comes from the same lines and same designer. K: True. M: And she also brought and article to me and said that the reason they’re doing that because they don’t want the thin people or the model – the people with the model figure – run into women who wear size 14 or 16 having the same thing. That’s why. I actually read the article myself and that was only 3 weeks ago. [one on panel] Uh huh. M: My own opinion, most of received orders size 8, 12, and 14. I don’t have a smaller size like 4 or 6. I do customize design those, but for most boutique that I work with, even in Austin they order mostly 12 and 14. R: And you’re selling just in American. J: Kay? K: Okay. I happened to be in Toronto at a wonderful fashion group international conference where the public relations firm that created the Dove soap commercials and they had just begun to air them, and actually they had been on the air for about 6 months. They said they absolutely fought tooth and nail with the executives of Dove Soap because they just thought it was totally going to totally ruin the product to show these real women and their real bodies on television and on billboards and in magazines. The product sales TRIPLED in six months. And so it totally made a believer of the executives of that company, that people wanted to see real women in the ads [chuckle]. I think, Gala Bently one of our local fashion designers who does clothes for women with curves and she’s been extremely successful just selling sizes 12 and up. And then I don’t know how familiar you are with Chico’s, but what an amazing company! R: What an amazing phenomenon. K: I mean their customer service is so – I mean I’m wearing Chico’s. And you figure I’ve been in the business for 40 years now, you do the math, you know my age and my waistline is disappearing. Well, Chico’s knows about people like me. [giggles] And they create clothes that are comfortable for me to wear because they have that four way stretch and elastic waistbands. But they’re cute and smart and chic. R: So chic. K: And when you’ve spent 500 dollars they give you 5% off everything. And then their sizes are not 8, 10, 12, 14! They’re 1, 2, and 3. Zero, 1, 2, and 3. I wear 1! [laughter from all] K: I’m not one. R: Ooo that sounds good doesn’t it? Wow. [more laughter from group] K: So you do the psychology. That’s very flattering. J: If I could make an appeal to the industry, and I know that the powers that be may not hear me here, but I think one of the biggest areas of growth are sizes for teenagers. Larger sizes for teenagers. R: Bigger sizes for teenagers. J: I think that’s an area where trends are so important for these girls. I remember last year I went out with an 18 year old high school senior on a search for a prom dress and she was a size 18. And it broke my heart because we were in the middle of Sears looking among all these moo moo looking dresses. P: Awww. J: And it was because we could not find a dress to fit her that was stylish and hip and young. And that’s a big dilemma right now for these teenagers. R: Think if somebody could really capitalize on that they would have a goldmine. I mean, what’s the store in the galleria? J: Umm. Hot topic? Is it hot topic? R: Well hot topic and – they’re side by side – one is for the small sizes and one is for the large sizes. J: Right. R: I mean, I have a daughter who is 18 and a size 12. She thinks – she can’t wear juniors and it is a real issue. And it’s interesting, you know after Joy did that article on me, I got 3 letters and all 3 letters were young larger size people saying help me. [laugh] Help me! So you’ve really touched on something that’s really out there. They’re making progress for Chico’s and all these other areas. That’s the next target. J: The teenagers. I skipped over you all talking about your entrée into fashion, but if you could just spend a few minutes and just kind of tell the audience how you got into it and about your experience. Audience: Louder? J: I’m sorry. I’m asking the panel to talk about their experience, their entrée into fashion and just to kind of give us an overview so you all can know about them. Toni? T: Okay. Well, I studied design. I felt like I’ve always known that that’s what I wanted to do. Then I studied design at Syracuse, and textiles at North Carolina State and a few art jobs here and there. Taught a while and ended up in Houston, but basically I grew up in a self-employed family, so owning my own business was always going to be the way for me. I think now that I’m – will be 50 tomorrow P: [giggles] T: if I [mumbled comments from panel] T: could do it over again. [clapping from all] T: I might try working for someone else first, just because of – you need a little money. [giggle from one on the panel] T: But I went out there with 100 dollars, a sewing machine, and a closet and that’s how I started. But you could do that 25 years ago. You cannot do that today. But I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been very blessed because I started out in that one room on Thomas Boulevard. In fact, Kay remembers that K: [giggle] I remember. T: because I was teaching at HCC and we joked about me not having but one phone. K: [laughter] Right. T: So if you couldn’t reach me at the shop, you couldn’t reach me. [giggling from Kay and from group] T: And I know we remember that well. K: I do. [chuckle] T: Because I did not have a phone at home. I said I need one for clients to call me. But one client and a referral and a referral, and a referral. And I have really been lucky. I always could appeal to some landlord who felt sorry for me who would give me a shot. And that has really been my success in the village because John Sacaris, even the landlords that I have now with a fabulous space, they said that because I had put so much of my personal life and being, they were willing to take a chance. I was far less likely to walk out on them than anybody with a huge financial statement. So in addition to wanting to do it, the training, the talent, there was someone who gave me that space. That opportunity to do it. Because if I had to stay in a closet for 20 something years, I don’t think it would have happened. Me making that move only 3 years ago to that corner in University village has been MAJOR. My business tripled. P: Wow. T: From having the signage, the exposure, the everything. And I’ve always done what I wanted to do. That’s been my entrée into fashion. I firmly believe that when you’re doing what you want to do, you can’t help but do well. So I’ve never had to sacrifice any of those personal things. I will say, I’ve never been married thought. I’ve never done things like that because I was always doing the other things. But what it has afforded me to do it be a caregiver now to my mom who’s 84, who comes to work with me everyday and answers the telephone and books appointments and actually has the nerve to sell a dress or two. But my entrée into fashion has always been what I wanted to do. I sketched as a child. My mom taught me how to sew. I designed every prom dress that walked in my town. My dad had a drug store so I crocheted red, black, and green skulls caps, dashikis [laughter from group] T: mittens, scarves and he gave me my own showcase to sell them out of. I made so much money at 12, 13, 14, and 15, I didn’t need his allowance. And it scared him to death. [laughter from all] T: because I had a new garment almost everyday. That was when you could buy fabric for 4 yards for a dollar. I would go to Walmart – or it wasn’t a Walmart – Moore’s department store. Buy fabric. Have a new dress for the next day. Sew some. Put them in my dad’s shop. Sell them. And my dad was very good. He taught me how to be a businesswoman from the start. You know, count money, put it in the bank. Kind of blew it in my thirties though. [chuckles and laughter from group] T: somehow, you know you start doing other things. [chuckles] T: But, I mean I’m making this funny, but I entered into fashion because it’s my love. I’ve always wanted to be self-employed. The hardest part for me was just always hearing the no word. And I don’t like to use race as a race for people saying no. I think Kay said it to me best one time. Maybe it’s not racial prejudice, but it’s professional prejudice. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the two. A lot of it I do know has to come with my color because questions would be, “How can you do this and be African American?” Which would always insult me. I can do it, because I had parents that prepared me to do it. And then what they didn’t prepare me to do, they taught me how to go out and get it on my own. The young people today, opportunities are there for everybody. I said, “Gosh. If I could just be 25 now and given everything that I had then, it would be different.” I’m looking at 50, getting tired. You know, whereas I’m looking at young people now who come out of high school fashion. High schools everywhere, Parsons. And they can do so much more than I could graduating from THREE universities just because it wasn’t there. We had to study home economics. P: Right. T: And go through just that whole challenge. But I’ve done well. And I can say that I can semi-retire at 50, which I planned for since I was 25. K: That’s right. T: I want to work on some scholarly thing. Working on an exhibition with the University Museum and African American Museum at Dallas, on the influence of the African American on the fashion industry. We always look at the influence on the music industry but we have been significant. And what Joy brought up about the lack of African Americans on the runway. We touch on that. The expatriate we have to go to Paris just to be able to get a chance. So now it’s time to take some of that stuff I’ve learned in the past 25 years and hopefully make an impact on Michelle and the other young people. And then I’m hoping to emerge a little bit later after I’ve given my mom a little bit of a rest and do it all over again. [giggles from panel] T: In a different way. P: That’s good. [giggles] P: That’s great. J: Roz? R; Let’s see. I started out when I was, I guess in grade school, I always wanted to be a model. [giggles from group] R; And I’ve told this story – I’ve also told this to a lot of people. Battle Stings – if any of you are native Houstonians – Battle Stings had a show in the afternoon and Elsa Rozburough modeled. And I wouldn’t be in Girl Scouts because I didn’t want to miss the show. [laughter from all] R: Alright. And so that sort of – my brother started playing records at 3 – when he was 3 years old. And I started looking at modeling when I was young also. So, my mother said she had these two very determined kids. My problem is that I just didn’t grow! [laughter from all] R: So it really didn’t kind of matter because I never got any taller than 5’1 so I could love it all I wanted but it wasn’t – talking about diversity, you don’t see a lot of 5’1 models out there. [laughter from all] R: Anyway, I went – I always knew that’s what I wanted to be. My family was in the grocery business and retail and always was kind of selling. I was always selling. So I went to Neiman’s when – [brief pause] I just feel like I’m so old when I talk about it – [chuckles from group] R: I went to Neimann’s when they were downtown and I worked the move to the Galleria. And I went to them and said, “I want to be a buyer. I want to be in fashion. And please just teach me!” And they were fabulous to me. They worked around my entire schedule at the University of Houston. I also had to be a Home-Ec major. P: [gasps] R: I mean I had to – it was like ridiculous. I used to say to Shirley Ezale who is still there. I mean, okay! What do I have to take cooking for? I just want to buy for a department store. [laughter from all] R: But I had to do it. And so that was the only way you could get – fashion merchandizing went through Home-Ec. So, Neiman’s was wonderful, they worked with me on all my schedules for 3 years and then they sponsored me to a school in New York called Tobe Coburn. K: Oh I’ve [mumbled] R: And Tobe Coburn was on Madison above the Eve St. Lauren boutique and when I go to UH and talk, I tell them now, “You’re very fortunate. You don’t have to go to Tobe Coburn.” I had to because I had – I didn’t feel like I had enough of a fashion background and a retailing background from my Home-Ec. So, I went there. Fabulous time and I did two internships, one in A&S in Brooklyn and one in Bloomingdale’s in New York. And when I did Bloomingdale’s in New York I said, “This is where I was born to live.” [chuckles from all] R: Okay. So I went to Bloomingdale’s, I interviewed, they made me an offer and put one of the hardest things that I had to do was to tell Neiman’s that I wasn’t coming back. That was the deal. I was supposed to be sponsored for a year and then go through my training at Neiman’s. You know, they were great about that too. They’ve been great to me all along. [chuckles in group] R: So they were great about that too. And I did my buyer’s training at Bloomingdale’s in New York. And then after a few - couple of years of that, I worked for a PR agency in New York that was very marketing oriented. And I did that. And I lived in New York, in a fabulous time. And I had no money and I lived in great buildings, but you know, New York can wear you down a little bit. I lived through – this was pre-Big Apple – so I lived through every kind of brown out, every garbage strike, every… And it just wore you down. So Houston was boom city. So I decided – I had some friends at the time who were opening up a boutique in Houston and they used to come see me in New York. And it was called Tootsies. [giggles from panel] So I thought, “Well I can do that. I can do that.” So I had a sponsor – a financial sponsor, and that was my plan. I was coming to Houston. I was going to open up my own store. And again Shirley Ezale called me up from U of H and said, “You know if you want to get back into the retail scene, Foley’s is hiring all these people. I think they’ve restructured or done some kind of major restructuring program.” And I went to work at Foley’s in October of ’75. Less than a year later, I met my husband. We got married. We both worked at Foley’s. Had kids, all that stuff. Anyway, 30 years later I’m still at Foley’s. [laughter from group] R: I kind of never did that store. Foley’s was good to me and I learned a lot at Foley’s and I’ve had a few different niches at Foley’s and it’s been fabulous. But, like a lot of other things at Foley’s that happening right now, it’s going to come to an end. So, I’ve enjoyed – I’ve been a fashion director for 10 years. Before that I was the – over the visual presentation department in all the stores for 12 years. And before that I did buying. So I’ve always been in some aspect of retailing and fashion. And the fashion job for me has been the job – I think I said this somewhere. My bio maybe? It was kind of hokey – but the job I was born to have. So anyway, it’s been great. It’s been a great run for 10 years. I’m hoping now – I’m not moving to Atlanta so I can’t stay with the guys at Foley’s and Macy’s. So, I’m hoping to do a lot of things on my own, that I’ve done for Foley’s. So I’m going to be free-lancing. J: And for you who don’t know, Federated bought out Foley’s and it will become Macy’s this fall. So all the Foley’s stores will become Macy’s. Which that means Roz will transition into becoming a fashion consultant with her own business. R: Yeah. Working out of my house. P: Yeah. R: Which is so weird. I mean, I’m just the opposite of you. I’ve worked for someone since I was in the 8th grade. [laughter from all] R: So now I’m going to have to work for ME! And I don’t know how that’s going to go. So, we’ll see. [laughter from all] J: Michelle? M: Um. My road to fashion design is a little bit unconventional. I never had any sewing lessons. My mom doesn’t sew so I didn’t really own a sewing machine growing up. I started out making clothes when I was 5 for my dolls. And I would ask my mom to have her blouse or her dress where it had the poofy sleeves. So I would cut it off and turn it into a skirt for my doll. [laughter from all] M: After a while I improvised and made blouses with the sleeves and stuff like that. So I grew up doing that. Loved to play with dolls and clothes, but never for anything practical. Until, by leap of fate or, you know, my family had to migrate from Vietnam trying to get to the US and on the way we – a lot of articles and writing talking about boat people, so our family is one of the boat people. But on the way to the boat, my parents get caught behind. So I am the oldest along with my 3 younger siblings, got to Thailand and we woke up in the boat and found out that we couldn’t find our parents. P: Awww. M: That was devastating. But I was too young – I was 11 – to really understand anything. And that’s when I started to have to design when we came to Thailand and I also learned how to sew. You know, it was my necessity. And there’s not much to do there besides just cooking, cleaning so I find that’s a very interesting hobby. And most of the time we do not have new fabric to sew so it was like donation clothing, really big that could not fit any of us. I had 3 younger sibling, so I learned to take them apart and recut them. And there was a lot of women at the refugee camp who were willing to teach me how to do that. So a lot of hand sewing, stitching, embroider, crochet and all that. That’s where I learned. I was there for about 18 months. And then my sponsor, sponsored all of us here to Houston. He was in Houston at the time. So I got here when I was about 12 years old. Never kind of put the sewing skill behind. I went to junior high, high school and then I graduated from the University of Houston with an MIS degree. That’s Management Information System. Went on to work for several Fortune 500 companies here in Houston and also other states for about 10 years. By coincidence, I love to shop. [chuckles from group] M: I graduated. Got a good job. Making decent money and then of course I support my three younger siblings. Were they all after – Let me see. Four years after I graduated from college all my three siblings graduated with very decent degree from different universities. That time I felt like, “Okay. I can enjoy myself. Start spending. Buy a new car, new clothes and all that.” [giggles from group] M: So I shopped very often, actually. [chuckle] I was a frequent shopper at Lot 8, in West U. P: [giggles] uh huh. M: West U, yeah. And one day she said, “You know I saw you were a lot of cute tops. Where do you get them?” I said, “Well I make them myself.” A lot of time things don’t fit me very well and so I kind of developed a – you know, go back to my own hobby once in a while I make cute tops to wear with hand embroidery and stuff like that. And she said, “I bet you, if you make more of those tops I can sell them for this Christmas season. This holiday season.” I was like, “Hmm. Okay.” Well you know, it’s kind of interesting because I’ve been in IT for ever, 10 years, And I was very successful at that time, but never think that I can really sell anything that I can sew or learn from refugee camp. So she said, “Go home and give me a calculation of how much things cost and see if I can sell them.” So I came back to her with the whole big spreadsheet being an IT like I am. [chuckle] [loud laughter from group] M: “You know, here’s my price quote. You can multiply by two. Here’s how much it costs. You can multiply by three. This is how much you can sell them for.” You know I really can sell your tops. What else do you have? I said, “Well you know, I make a lot of stuff for myself.” So she want to come over look at my closet. [laughter from group] M: And so that weekend, her and her sister came over. Looked at my closest. Select about 20 styles out of my closet and they decide to make an order and I think the whole order was about 20 pieces of garments. I came up with the formulas again and gave it to her and she loves it so I instantly at that time recruit three seamstresses here in Houston to work with me on the patterns. Now I have to do normal size. Real size. Not just my size, anyway I wanted it. And with label and everything. And I had 6 weeks to do that. While I was in IT I got shipped off to Asia to work overseas and that’s why I got a lot of experience with a lot of seamstresses over there. Because I’m so used to the US where you go into department store and buy something. In Asia, beside the traditional or the local clothing, you cannot buy suits or the clothes that you wear here. Or even T-shirts. So when I was over there – and I found that a lot of people are very good with sewing and hand stitches and stuff like that so I bought fabric and worked with a few seamstresses over there. So then I called Asia and looked for all my old seamstresses for those times I was over there. Recruit them. And took a trip. I was there for about 5 days. You know, get a little workshop. I rented a little workshop. My machines. And everything. Recruit everyone in. And I said, “Okay. You guys don’t have to do anything until I send the patterns. And so I went back to US again. Check on my 3 seamstresses. We finished up with all the patterns. That’s when I sent off the specs to Asia with all of the fabrics and stuff like that. Of course – then that wasn’t it. So the clothes are in and everything and I got the webcam and everything at my workshop, because you know I was IT. [loud laughs from all] M: [chuckle] so I was working daytime, night time. I had dinner and everything. Like at around 7 o’clock here, 8 o’clock in Vietnam. I’ll be on webcam. If you look at the scene through my webcam you would just bust out laughing because all my family is like, “what are you doing. Because you see all the seamstresses that doesn’t not how to type, doesn’t know how to use the computer. And they’re trying to type and trying to put the sketches and clothes in front of the web cam [laughter from all] M: [chuckle] to show me how everything turned out. But we accomplished what we needed to accomplish because we actually worked daytime and nighttime working on that order. It got in on time to L.A. Now I have no experience with US customs. So it got stuck there. And they were mistaken my shipment with some other company and they said, “Well these are such a small shipment, so they wanted to put the sample stamp on it.” You know, because they said, “Well, these are only 3 of one style, another 3.” It looked like sample. So it was just a lot of misunderstanding. I went through DHL which is a very reputable company and they just didn’t know how to handle it. I had a deadline with Lot 8 that I have to deliver. And with my background in IT, a deadline is a deadline. You’ve got to meet it. [chuckle from group] M: You have to meet the deadline otherwise your head gets chopped off, it’s like IT. [loud laugh from all] M: Because I work on a commodity trading system where every minute counts. It’s like if the system down for 15 minutes you know your boss can get fired. That sort of thing. [laugh from group] M: [chuckle] So, I sit there for 3 hours calling DHL. Say, “Someone has to help me. Have to call US Customs in L.A. to explain the situation so hopefully they will expedite it faster instead of just put it on another bow and say, they’ll go back to it later. And DHL couldn’t help me. So I actually get on the website. Search for the number. I call EVERY single Custom agent in L.A. [gasp from one in group] M: I mean, I left messages begging and everything. This is my new career. I’ve got to make it. And this is the deadline. Pretty much crying over the phone. [chuckle from one on panel] M: Finally, I got one agent that he sympathized with me. I said, “I understand.” So, he actually biked over to the box because they’re stationed over there. The way he described it to me, he had the bike over there, picked out my form. Like a U.S. Custom form and looked at everything. He said, “Okay. You’re okay. And we’ll let you pass through.” But he actually had to bike over. And then I have to tell DHL, “Okay. It’s approved.” But they won’t believe me. They said, “No way you got approved.” [chuckle from one on panel] M: I said, “Yes! I got approved. Here’s the name of the agent. Call him.” They won’t call him, so I had to call him back and HE called them.” [laugh from group] M: And this is talking about part work, and determination and persever(ance)e, because if I didn’t go through that I would never have the courage to continue on. Of course the order went in. Chloe – Lot 8 were happy with it. A lot of stuff sold out 2 weeks after that. I want to start my story with determination, hard work, and persever(ance)e. Without that, even with – if you have great talent with anything, in fashion design or anything, I don’t think it can be a success. So that was done and I was like, “I don’t know if I want to do this, because it’s so tough.” [laughter from group] M: But of course I love to design. And shortly after that Rosanne actually purchased many outfits from that collection that I sold to Lot 8. So that’s how I got discovered by Channel 2. And shortly after that I also start design for Dominique Sachse. And on and on and on. Five months after the day that I delivered the collection for Lot 8, it’s just gotten really crazy with the order and everything like that, so I decided resign from my 10 years career from IT. It was a very - I wouldn’t say it’s a tough decision but it’s – it would be a tough decision, but I got a lot of support from everyone to kind of give me the…um []pause] – a lot of people at work would say, “Michelle, you have to try it, or else you’re going to be sitting there programming and crunching in the wrong number anyway! [laughter from group] M: Thinking about what dress I’m going to design next. So you’ve got to go try it, so if it works or doesn’t work then you know. You don’t want to look back 10 years from now wondering what could have happened. So that wasn’t a tough decision after I talked to a lot of my co-workers. And I was very blessed because most of the people I worked with were very intelligent and very supportive. So… J: Michelle, you’ve been doing this for now how long full time? M: Full time? A little bit over two years. A little over 2 years. J: Mmm hmm. And now she sells in different boutiques in Houston and just opened her own studio on West Gray. P: Great. M: Yes. Audience: Is it open? M: Uh. Right now, it will be open. I’m still – of course there are other issues because I don’t have any experience in renovation in old house. I bought an old house in West Gray. I wanted to have my own place. I got a Renovator company to renovate it, but he didn’t follow the City of Houston code of converting a residential to a business. So I’m working on that. [laughter from all] M: [chuckle] baby step. J: And Kay? K: It should be less challenging than Customs. J: I’m trying to kind of negotiate time a little bit so Kay why don’t we talk about yours? K: Well I’m older than all these people so I’ll try to make it quicker. I knew from the time I was 3 years old, or at least when I was 3 years old. My mother was a concert pianist and had this beautiful long black taffeta skirt that she used for her performances and I just was dying for a long skirt. So I took my very best party dress that my godmother had given to me that had a lace overskirt and a taffeta underskirt and I took scissors and cut off the lace overskirt and with giant safety pins, pinned it to the bottom of taffeta underskirt and made myself a long skirt. Well, I sort of still remember the spanking. I was pretty sure by the time I was 14 that I wanted to major in fashion design. And I was able to find a school where you didn’t have to major in Home-Ec. And I was very determined. I didn’t want to major in science because I didn’t want to take chemistry and biology and all of those things. So at the University of North Texas, the fashion design major was an art major. It was a Home-Economics minor, R: Oh, really. K: but you only took textiles and things like that. You didn’t have to take cooking and child development. Right. [chuckle] K: After I graduated I was quite fortunate to get a job as a fashion designer. I tell my students now they’re not going to do that because usually you have to work as an assistant or in the design room, as a pattern maker or something else. But this company was – well I was willing to live at home and my father could drive me to work and they weren’t willing to pay me very much so they took a chance on me. It was a company here in Houston, who’s name was Kaybro of Houston, and we designed very kind of moderate to low priced clothing. The most expensive thing we made cost let than 20 dollars retail. This was in the early 60s. But I really got a fabulous education there. I had not been trained. I mean, the school that I went to didn’t even have a serger so I didn’t even know how to design. My first designs were real production nightmares. I would design giant pieces with big sleeves that, you know they lay the fabric at like 100 ply and if you have big chucks that fall out that aren’t used for anything, well that’s just all that money falling on the floor. But I was quite lucky that I didn’t get fired, and I was recruited away from this job to work for another really high fashion sportswear designer in Houston, named Joe Frank, which Betty is familiar with, she just gave me one of her old Joe Franks. And that was just wonderful because at Kaybro I was just selling to little Mom and Pop stores all over Texas, but at Joe Frank, my clothes were going into Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord and Taylor, and they were in all the major fashion magazines and so it was really quite exciting. Well, by this time I had been designing for about 10 years and I had been married for almost 10 years and my husband and I looked at each other and thought, “You know, we’re either going to have kids or we’re not going to have kids.” So we decided, “Yeah, we do want to have children.” So we started trying to have a baby. And the doctor said, “Your job is just too high pressure. You just need to quit that job.” And, “Oh I can’t do that I just love it too much.” But I thought, “Yeah, I do want to have children.” So we went through all kinds of fertility things. And while we were doing this, Foley’s came to me and asked me if I would consider just doing some part time work for them. It was when the men’s peacock revolution was happening in the late 60s and they needed somebody to be their men’s fashion director, but they just wanted somebody that would be willing to come in a couple of days a week. And I thought, “Well I can handle that while I’m trying to get pregnant.” And I was very up front with the president of Foley’s and I said, “I’m trying to get pregnant.” [loud laugh from group] K: And he said, “That’s okay.” [laughter from group] K: [chuckle] Can you believe that? This is the funny part of the story. After practicing birth control for 10 years, [giggles from some in group] K: [chuckle] and you find out that you cannot have children. You think, “Oh, my God, we wasted all that time and effort!.” [loud laugh from all] K: [laugh] But we applied to adopt a child at DePelchin and Colin is now 34 years old. In fact, he is in Texas right now up in East Texas visiting his grandmother. We had ate at Pappasito’s together last night. The rules at DePelchin at that time were though that mother’s were not allowed to work. So I – Foley’s came through for me there too. They said, “AstroWorld is getting ready to open. And this judge Hofheiz is calling us that he’s fired the costume company that he was working with in New York and he doesn’t have anybody to design the costumes for the opening of AstroWorld and could you do it while you’re working at home, you know, while you’re with this new baby?” And I thought, “Oh, sure. I can do that.” Well I just didn’t go to bed for a month. It was absolutely the best, worst job I have ever had. Because I had to call in everybody I knew that could possibly sew. Every contractor that I ever knew about to sew thousands and thousands of costumes. It’s everybody that worked there. All the shows. All the workers that were working the trams and taking the tickets and so on and so forth. Well with the money – some of the money that I got from that job, I bought a grand piano for my house because I thought I want something really big sitting in the living room that will be a constant reminder to think twice before you say yes to jobs like this! [loud laugh from all] K: [chuckle] But it opened my eyes to a whole new business. And that’s when I started my own company. Kay King Houston. And I would kind of make full circle because of my work for Hofheinz. He told other people about me. I designed all of the uniforms for the AstroDome which of course he owned that too. But then I moved over and did all of the costumes for the Houston Oilers Cheeleaders. P: Oh, wow. [mumbled discussion among panelists] K: And then did some stuff for the Houston Rockets for a group called flight crew. They were kind of like Turbo. I even did some stuff for Houston Grand Opera. So it was really an exciting time in my life and I could do this and still be a mother and I was really happily doing my own company when Houston Community College called, and said, “We want you to start an advisory committee to help start a fashion design program at Houston Community College. And I thought, “You know, that would be GREAT to have a fashion design here in program here in Houston.” They had one at the University of Houston, but they’d closed it. And I had no intention of ever working for them. I was just going to ________[tape cut off to side 2] and as we wrote the curriculum it was so awesome. It was so good and I got so enamored with it that when they said, “Why do you teach a class.” I thought, “You know I got to be a little fly on the wall at this school, just to make sure they don’t mess up this great curriculum that we’ve planned.” [giggles from all] K: So I just got sucked in and then I ended up teaching every class and [laughter from all] K: ended up being the head of the department, so now I’m over fashion design, fashion merchandizing, interior decorating, theatrical costume design, and photography, and what else? [light chuckle from group] K: But it’s been a wonderful ride. So I’ve really had two 20-year careers. One as a fashion designer and one as a fashion educator. And I have to tell you, it is just as much fun to teach somebody what you know and then have them go out and do it, as it is to do it yourself. P: I bet so. J: I also want to say that Kay in June will be the President of the Costume Society of America. And she’s also a costume collector and has over 70 costumes and over 100 masks at home. K: I do! [chuckle] J: And she’s building a new closet to store all this stuff at her house. K: I really need to take lessons from Toni, because I’m 68 and I’m still working and you’re 50 and you’re going to retire. [laugh] [loud laughter from group] J: There are a couple of other important topics that I wanted to get on, touch on. One is the lack of ethnic diversity in the fashion industry. I’ve gone to fashion week in New York and L.A. on several occasions and noticed that the runways just really do not reflect our society. Just recently I was pleased to see Saks Fifth Avenue do a 24 page insert for their spring collection in W magazine and Vogue and they used 4 black models. Several were African American and several were African. And I thought that was pretty edgy for Saks to do and I did talk to the fashion director at Saks about why they chose to do that. And they said that it reflected what they wanted to show in the dresses and the style. I also spoke with Iman, the supermodel and she told me, in her dealings with the fashion industry often time black models were used as, when they were doing a tribute to Africa or something that was specific but never just in terms of overall look. The same with Asian models and Hispanic models. And I want to find out from the panel what your observations are on the lack thereof of diversity in the fashion industry. I’m opening it to anybody. T: Well, I’ll start I guess. Go this way. J: Sure. It doesn’t matter. J: It’s interesting because as I’ve said, as I’ve been working on this exhibition about the African American influence on fashion, I’ve actually looked into that. And I’ve read Joy’s article, cut it out and sent it to the other curators and thought it was edgy, definitely. I’m not sure just from a personal stand point, how I feel about it because it just seems so deliberate for me. J: The Saks or..? T: The Saks. J: The Saks, yeah. T: You know, just to say to me African American women have been beautiful forever, now in 2006 say it’s time to put four out there. For me, I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I appreciate the effort I guess. But in credit to Saks, when we’ve been looking at African American influence, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom’s have consistently bought lines by African American designers. That was very much impressed with. When ebony did an article called “Man Made” and they talked about the African American male designer and they listed where you could find the clothes it was Nordstrom’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. To me that’s a little more impressive and solid than the four girls modeling the clothes by other designers. In looking at that also, we looked at the models that had to go to Paris just to get a shot at the runway. And typically, when African American models were used, they had to be recognizably black. They didn’t want the coloring, the hair, the texture, to make what they were questionable at all. It wasn’t like the old cotton club, where they wanted them to be anything but recognizable black. But that’s what I’m saying, I’m not quite sure where I am on all this, in terms of the way the industry portrays African American people, black people because we have always been such a significant impact to the industry. I don’t need Saks to now say, “You’re here. You’re there.” Definitely overlooked, but that’s been in everything. You know, that’s just traditionally the way it’s been. But given now and where we are now, the kids are just out there. You know to say that we’ve got African American models. I met a girl the other day. She introduced me to her new baby. The baby was quad-racial. You know what I’m saying. Black, White, Asian, you know we’re still talking about “We’re going to showcase African American models” I just think that we should be beyond that. A pretty girl is a pretty girl. You know what I’m saying. And if we look at everybody’s history in here I doubt if you’re going to find one pure breed of anything. [chuckles from one on panel] T: You know, I’m Black. I’m African American. I’m American Indian. You know what I’m saying. That’s just kind of the way it is. I wish we could just stop saying, “this is the African American model, we recognize this as. What is a beautiful woman?” You know, gosh, we’re all that way. J: But even … T: But… J: I’m sorry, Toni. T: That’s okay. J: But even in magazines. You look at the magazines and they are really not represented in the ads, in the coverage. Are not represented, not just of Blacks but of T: Of color? J: People in general. P: Mmm hmm. J: Women in general. It’s rare to find a representation of what we look like. I don’t know if you all are experienced in that but do you think it’s getting better? T: I think it’s getting better. M: I do believe it is getting better. R: I do. I think that – I guess, maybe my eyes are not as focused, but I know that there is nothing that we produce in any of our catalogs or any of our advertisements that we don’t have a cross-section. I mean we always make sure that we have African Americans, that we have Hispanics. I was telling Joy the other day, that one of the things that’s really happening that we have really been gravitating to, is what we’ve been calling multicultural. Some of the hottest models now are multicultural. You know, there is a beautiful model that we use in our fashion catalog that is Italian and African American. She was born in Rome. She’s beautiful and so we’ve – I can’t even think of her name, I was going look for her name, I can’t even think of her name. [chuckle from one in group] R: we are trying because of, certainly of where we are here in Texas, to make sure that we get a multicultural group. You know I’m not sure how well we do with Asians quite frankly. When we’ve looked at some other sister stores, you kind of focus in a lot of what your population mix is. I do know that we make a focus on African Americans and Hispanics. I know that California at Rob May, when we used to compare our catalogs, they had probably a larger mix of Asians in there than we do. And it’s more a reflection of their mix within their market place. You know, I don’t know if we do a good job or not. I mean, I think that’s for you to tell us, but I think we certainly try to. I think we really try to make an effort to get – and I will tell you, There’s a lot of – and I think I would put this to you jokingly [chuckle] – I have to get what we call model approval, on most of our fashion books from vendors, and I rarely get a request for a blonde haired, blue-eyed person. They are really going more and more towards – I mean to your point there’s a friend of mine, several, the Ralph Lauren guy and the Tommy guy just says, “Just give me a beautiful woman.” [chuckle from one] R: And they really don’t put a lot of restrictions on us. So, I mean I think we’re trying, I know we’re conscious of it. I mean, I don’t know how good – I could say would you guys like to tell us how good a job we’re doing. J: I will say at the Chronicle, I feel like I have editors who understand the need for diversity. And they understand that it’s not just plugging a model into T: A slot. J: A slot. T: But Joy is one of the, I must say, she has really showcased designers across the board. African American, Asian, and I did not see that pride to Joy as much. So, I had to say that. J: But I think, and it’s not just me, I work with people who kind of understand that and that the fashion esthetic or the beauty esthetic is not just blonde haired, blue eyed. K: Nuh huh. It’s almost the opposite now. J: And I appreciate that respect. M: I agree with all the comments before this. And I think now-a-days, because I’m going to incorporate with the information technology age. I think that has something to with that because we have access to data easier, so all these – I believe all these fashion shows, and the ads and marketing are according to the data we got. You know from the – R: The demographics M: Yeah. The demographics. R: The demographics, the geographics of the market. M: Just like Roz mentioned, like in California there’s a lot of Asian models in the catalog and stuff like that, compared to the other state or the other community. P: Mmm hmm. M: So, I think it’s more business oriented and, - well, do I think that it shows enough diversity in our shows and our runways? No I don’t, but I think it should get better because we are more objective because now that we have tools to get to the data to get to the real need compared to where we were before. J: Let me ask you a question, the panel. Do you think women call the shots of fashion? T: Nuh uh. J: I mean, women make up the majority of consumers, the ads are geared toward women. Women are represented throughout magazines but do women really call the shots in fashion? T: Well I can think of this one photograph that is typically…. [tape cut off] J: How are trends determined? How do we… [loud laugh from all] J: Really. I mean, now we’re into dresses. Last season was big poofy skirts. Next season, who knows? Who do you… R: Can I start or…? J: Yes. Go ahead. R: That’s a big part of my job. J: There’s a resident trendy expert. The expert. R: I think that trends are partially dictated by the runway. You know, and how designers see things. I think they – but I do think trends really come from life. I mean, I think that – I mean I know that sounds so [sigh] esoteric, but I really think that, right now, we’re very celebrity driven. I think that if a celebrity wears it, it becomes hot. And I think that, that has a large impact. There’s a famous fashion director who just passed away who was wonderful, and he made the comment, and I mentioned it to Joy when we were talking about New York that, “restaurants are today what discotheques were to the 80s.” I mean, you go to a hip restaurant in town and it’s the best people watching in the world. And if it has a great bar you really – and you just see it happen. You know, the way I feel that we know what’s the best big thing is going to be you just sort of feel it. It’s gut feeling you get and you get it because you look. You look in the magazines. If you’re fortunate enough to go to Europe and you can see it there. I mean I was in Milan last summer and things became so blatant. Everybody was so fashionable I was just like, “Oh, my God!” [chuckle from one in group] R: And it was wonderful though because you could really see it. You could see such a cross-section of people and you felt it. Whether it was color direction where it comes from Milan, or San Trope wherever it is. But I think that the designers are giving it out to the celebrities. The celebrities are wearing it and validating it and it’s becoming trends. And that may be over with at some point, but right now it’s really, it’s almost coming from the street, up. Does that make sense? P: Mmm hmm. R: You know what I’m saying? J: A lot of the designers that I’ve talked with said that they get it from the street. R: Yeah. It’s coming this way. Not that way. You know. It’s not being dictated by them. I think they’re getting as much inspiration from going out to dinner and looking around and going out to the streets and going over to Europe and see it. But going over to Europe to see what the people on the street are wearing. P: Right. P: Mmm hmm. R: More than anything. K: I think we need to mention the trend forecasting services R: True. K: Because they have a huge impact. There are these companies that do nothing but research what the next trends are going to be. And they do that up to 5 years out. Five years in advance. P: Mm hmm. K: Of when we’re actually going to be wearing it. And people subscribe to these services. The major designers subscribe to. Foley’s. R: We do. We do. K: We do at Houston Community College so our students can experience the same thing that people in the industry are experiencing. And, so that kind of explains, if everybody’s subscribing to all these same trends forecasting services, why designers end up with the same things on the runway [chuckle] R: No, exactly. K: At any given season because the trend forecasters [giggle] said this is what’s going to be in. [chuckle] J: I have a couple of sentences that I would like you all to complete. R: Oh, no. J: The one thing I would change about the fashion industry would be, what? K: Oh, my. [brief silence from all] [loud laugh from group] J: I can’t believe I stumped this panel. M: I fell like bringing back to the first topic that you brought up about real size, real women, normal size. P: Uh huh. P: Right. M: And that’s one thing I want to see changed in the fashion industry. Because I… J: You want to see it move…? M: You know more – we should have the same type of clothing for all sizes across the board, not just for the people with the model figure. And that’s because I talk to so many women and it makes them feel lesser than other people who born with the natural, tall, and thin figure. J: Sure. M: And some of them even afraid to go to the department store and ask for help, you know, to look for the clothes that they want. They’re afraid to say, that’s what I want in that size. See that dress, I want it in my size. P: Uh huh. M: They’re embarrassed to ask for help. And you know, I want to see a change in that. J: Anyone else? K: I would like for the industry to try to figure out how to control Walmart. [loud laughter from group and claps] K: Because truly, Walmart has had a devastating impact on our industry. The Dal… The Apparel Mart in Dallas has closed and I think Walmart had a lot to do with that because all of the people that wanted to shop in Dallas were all of the small stores, all over Texas, all over the Southwest that have been closed down because there’s a Walmart in their town now. And so there’s no longer these people to go shop at the Dallas Market anymore. And Walmart has really changed our clothing. [chuckle] J: And I would probably say Target has done the same thing. T: Right M: Yes. K: Yes. R: See, I see Target as a very positive thing. K: Target in a good way. [laughter] J: Yeah. R: Yeah. I see Target as a positive thing. K: Right [giggle] R: I think there’s probably nothing around these days that has had a greater impact on fashion than Target. P: Mm hmm R: I mean, I feel passionately about that. Joy knows that. [loud laugh] R: I mean, because there is a real reason. What Target has done is that it has delivered the runway to the masses at a relative speed that has never been done before, so that if you’re a retailer, like a department store or even a specialty store to a certain degree, you have – there is nothing more important to me in this job than speed. P: That’s true. R: Because I go, and I know that if it was on the runways and they came and they wanted to do _____ - that’s a sore subject [chuckle from one] R: Say cropped pants were in and that they were all over the runway, they’re going to be in Target in 90 days probably. Is that about right? P: Right. R: So if I’m going to be fast and give it to my customer, it’s given you a couple of things. It’s given you pricing. The good news is that everybody can afford fashion. P: Right. R: That’s the good news about it. That fashion is no longer an elitist idea. It’s for everybody. But for the world that has to survive on fashion, meaning department stores and specialty, it’s really made it challenging because you have to be able to deliver it to your customers, really quick because if you don’t then it will be in Target in about a minute. [loud laugh from all] J: The next question: If I were the fashion police, I would outlaw what? [loud laugh from all] K: Tube tops. J: Tube tops? Anyone else? R: I’m thinking, I’m thinking. I mean I have this vision. I have this vision. J: Come on ladies. K: What is the vision? R: Well, the vision is really, ill-fitting clothes. [laughter from group] R: Okay? I mean we all kind of – that’s probably why you said tube tops – you think about it. I do think that we’ve all got this same mission which is to get fashion to real people in all sizes because that’s the way I think the world is going. But, when I give it to you I just want you to wear the right size. [loud laughter from all] R: [laugh] Accept your size, and wear the right size because nothing to me is worse than ill-fitting clothes. K: I’m really fascinated by this trend toward dresses. T: A lot. [whispering] R: Not dresses. [mumbled] K: I don’t know if you’ve noticed that everyone is pushing dresses. And dresses are hard to fit. I mean, if it’s a one piece dress the waist is not going to be in the right place. And, do you remember last time there was a trend that everybody rejected was the maxi was in the 70s? P: Mm hmm. K: And that’s when everybody started wearing pants. I just don’t know if women are going to give up their pants for dresses. Would you? Are you? [laughter from panel] R: I think the demise of the dress is it’s lack of flexibility. Women today need to buy pieces and their need to be able to put it all together. P: Right. R: And when you buy the dress K: Make it look like a dress [laughter] R: Yeah! [laughter] I mean if the dress could go over – but leggings are coming back so you could take that dress and put it over leggings and it could have another life. [chuckles from panel] J: I get this question a lot from people in other cities if Houston has a defining style, in terms of fashion. What do you all think? R: More is more. [loud laughter from all] J: More is more? R: That’s it. I think that women here like – they’ll spend money on clothes but they like stuff on it. I mean, when – you know, we’re kind of on the down side of embellishment right now because we’ve just done it to death, but I do think that it was a trend. When I saw – when I was in California market a year and a half ago, and I walked – it’s all glass there, you can see every room and everything was beaded. I came back and said, “there couldn’t be a bead left in the world because it was all in that California market.” [laughs from all] R: But I said to our CEO at the time, I said, it would be perfect for us. K: Perfect for Houston. [chuckle] [chuckles from group] R: And it has been phenomenal. I mean our business – I do think that a good part of our business, that Foley’s has had good business and a lot better than most of our sister stores is been because the trend was so right for us. When little handbags were in, we didn’t sell them well. Okay and y’all are going to kill me when I say this – and we’d go into a show room and they’d say, “Well they’re in, all these little it bags and whatever.” But we’d say, “You can’t put a can of hairspray in it.” [loud laughs from all] R: And so now the big handbags are in and it’ll be great for us. J: Anyone else? T: I’ll say something. I’m going to disagree with you. R: Oh, really? T: It’s okay, but I disagree with you about the dresses too. And maybe that’s because I have my shop that I design R: Oh, you do great dresses. R: What people want. And I get – for me they’re the perfect client and they’re coming in all sizes and shapes, but there’s nothing clashier than that Texas woman that walks in that store, and I really think she’s got it, and they’re going to have to start looking at Houston just like with Chloe. You know, taking project runway. P: Mm hmm. P: Right. T: It’s that we’re not all about big hair, big dresses, big this, big that. You know, it’s just good taste and you’re going to hit a niche within any community. But I think they’re looking at Houston period, in terms of everything, P: Yeah. T: Architecture, the arts, fashion, everything and so I’m going to disagree with you R: [chuckle] On which part? T: On both parts. R: The hairspray… [laugh] T: Even in terms of the dress, you know I just think that – not that it’s everybody, but being out there for 20 something years and watching people and watching the people that walk into my door, what they basically want is, not that big dress. They want that classic, little dress, that looks good, that’s timeless, that says I have a style K: And it fits them. T: And that it fits them. And the girls of sleek – you know the hair is down, you know what I’m saying. That’s not what I’m getting. You know, they want something other than what that department store is giving them and I see a real high style female emerging out of Houston. J: I will say that Project Runway with Chloe Dell, the Project Runway has put more focus on Houston, which I think is great. R: Right. T: Yes. K: It’s great. J: But I also think it’s been emerging over the last couple of years. We have more boutiques than we’ve ever had, just sort of cropping up everywhere. I can’t keep track of them. P: Mmm hmm. J: You have some businesses – strong businesses, that are based here. Janet Geridge with Laura Mercier Cosmetics is based here in Stafford. I mean you have a number of things that a just happening in Houston, where I think the industry as a whole is paying attention. And finally, we’re hopefully, outshining Dallas. [laughs and claps] R: I think we are. I think we’re different from Dallas. J: I guess we open up to questions? Yes. Audience 1: I was going to say, the dresses that people – most of the panel agreed that dresses are hard to wear and you’re saying that you’re getting the opposite in your shop, but I think that’s because you’re giving them the measurement. T: Right. I’m giving them what they want. A 1: Because I can’t find that in the store. I’m a very long waisted person and I can’t find the shirt dresses _______ I can’t find them because the waist is up here on my boobs [laugh from one on panel] A1:And you know it doesn’t work. But I think K: Go to Toni [chuckle] A 1:You’re seeing what we can’t find in the stores and I agree, I think women here are a lot more elegant than in the past. R: Definitely. I think we are too. J: I don’t think that was a question, but she was just commenting on Toni’s dress boutique and how… A1: Well I guess the question is, don’t you think that if women were able to find the dresses? T: To find the dresses, that’s what they would prefer P: Yeah. T: to be in. That’s what I’ve said. Yes, Exactly. J: And you say yes? T: Yes. Yes. K: I think we agree. [chuckle from panel] J: Yes, m’am. A2: Um, is it okay to talk about shoes? [loud laughter and claps] J: Oh that’s a big topic at our office. A2: It’s making news the other day, but I remember a time when high heels were considered damaging to women’s physique and it looks like I am very out of step, to wonder about that. I work with women who wear very tall heels and I don’t understand it. What does it say for a strong woman to be wearing fashionable shoes. J: The question is what – question – the question is should women wear high heels or is… A2: That’s part of my question. I just wanted to hear from the panelists ideas on that. J: Can I just say something on this high heels shoes? Wedges, Wedges, Wedges. [giggles from some] J: are the best solution because I am not good with high heels, but I have one on right now and it’s a great wedge. R: Me too. T: Stiletto wedges at that. J: That I got at Marshall’s. That it’s comfortable and I can wear it, and it gives me some height without jacking up my feet. You know? Anyone else? T: Well because I design the dresses they wish I could design the shoes. K: The shoes. [chuckles from all] T: What can I say. There’s nothing prettier with a little black dress than a great pair of high heeled shoes because it makes the legs look so pretty. And I don’t care – I mean if you’re going to be a fashion horse and you ‘re going to be in fashion, I must say women want the total package. You know, it’s like – it’s got to be what you want. I have watched so many people have me build them a 23 inch waistline to pass out literally. One of my clients literally passed out, from how tight she had me make the waist when she says “I want my waist to be 20…” We can make it 23, but trust me you better find someplace to breathe. [chuckles from some] T: But the point is, I must admit there’s that thin line between good fashion, vanity, I’m going to look – and I have a lot of answers for a lot of things, but that’s the one thing I have not quite been able to put my finger on because I know at 26 I could do almost anything. Now, J: The Shoes. T: Shoes. Clothes, anything. I will take them off. I just cannot do it. There’s only so much pain I can take, but I have that client who will wear that 6 inch, 5 inch stiletto. You have to walk with your knees bent just to make it across the floor. [giggles from some on panel] T: But they will do it. They’ll have me make that dress about 2 inches below the knee so you won’t quite see… K: It. [chuckle] T: It. But that one I do not understand, but it does make the leg beautiful. And I think that’s it. It’s just the total look. And they’re strong women. [laughter from all] T: Because in order to deal with that kind of pain you have to be. R: I think wedges are comfortable. I think there’s nothing more flattering than a stiletto heel. T: Yeah. And that’s when it goes with anything. R: It makes the leg look slim and just right. T: I mean, I don’t know. That ‘s kind of… K: I think you pick the places where you wear those shoes and then you wear sensible shoes the rest of the time. P: Yeah. P: Mmm hmm. K: If you’re going to some wonderful charity event, wear the stilettos. J: We have an editor at the chronicle who, I think has 5 or 6 pairs of shoes in her office that she goes changes out. [laughter from group] R: I take Advil in market so that I can wear my high heel shoes. [laughter from group] R: That’s how strongly I feel about it. I just think they look so great. T: But that’s what… I don’t know, because you will find even the most sensible women who will wear a stilettos and be in that much discomfort. And I don’t know. K: I have been so thrilled over the mules. That shoes that don’t have any, P: Backs. K: Backs to them. And since I’ve been wearing them I’ve had no calluses on my heels anymore. [laughter from group] K: I’m very grateful to those. I think I’ll stay with those for a long time. [chuckle] J: Question in the back. A3: I want to know if those on the panel – this is a question for everyone – would you expect someone more who is basically more style that has like basically what’s going on or versus a person who has their own style and those who wear others? J: The question is, would you respect someone who has… A3: Not respect, but what would you tell what was fashionable out of those two? The ones who are in or ones who wear different colors? R: Who has their own style? A3: Yes. J: A person who has their own individual style as opposed to a person who… A3: A person who knows what colors you’re supposed to coordinate with. J: Uh huh. As opposed to a person… R: Who wears a trend. Is that what you’re saying? J: Who wears a trend? Okay. R: I definitely would go with the individual style. J: Same here. R: I think that’s what’s important not just – and sometimes even myself. I think I’m critical of myself because I’m in the business and I think I have to wear the latest thing, but I think that if you – I think we’re living in an era where people are very into being themselves, and I think that’s great. If you know your style and you wear – that would be the way to go. K: Also, understand your silhouette too because some people are inverted trying those for regular and other people are regular and trying those for pear shapes, whatever. R: Right. K: And every trend is not going to look good on every silhouette so you have to either adapt or keep wearing the one that looks best on you. J: Question right here. A4: In and industry that’s so big on labels and brand names – who’s wearing what comes to mind. What kind of advice would you give someone who’s getting into that industry who doesn’t have the brand name or the label and is trying to do it as quickly in an industry that’s fast ________. J: As a designer or? As a designer? A4: As a designer. Someone who’s just trying to get into… J: As a designer? A4: Mm hmm. J: What advice would you give to a designer getting into the industry. Dealing with celebrity trends and all… R: Are you referring to, or are you asking a question about how you should look? A4: No. R: You’re talking about… A4: I’m talking about getting into the business. J: Making a name for yourself. A4: Name for yourself. Getting in. J: In an industry where it’s very celebrity focused. A4: Everybody, you know all of the _____ about boutiques, these are what we carry. As a designer, how do you get into the boutiques without being one of those labels? M: [chuckle] J: I think you have two designers who have been very successful here making a name for themselves. M: I’d like to answer that question and that’s not the way I go at it. I do read all the trends forecast and all that, but I do not follow the trend forecast I actually complement the trend forecast. That’s how I get my clothes into the store. So I produce what the store doesn’t have that complements all the other brand name label. That’s my way of doing it. And on top of that you have to be a very good accountant. Manage your cash flow. K: [chuckle] Right. [laughs from all] T: For me, because I’m not trying to get into stores, I may try later and I have gone through that transition that the woman that walked into who did not want it to be a Toni Whitaker. As time has passed, I’m finding that my client is just very secure with who she is. She could care less if it said Toni Whitaker or Vera Wang, whoever, but that’s a call on who your customer is. So there are going to be those stores, those shops that are seeking established designers, but you could stand outside Barney’s in New York and they will look at any unknown designer and if you’ve got the right look, you’re just as good to them as the person that has the label. So you just kind of have to watch your market. Kind of target where you want to go. That’s why the West U, the Village has worked for me. Because they had that independent thinker. I don’t think I could ever move into the River Oaks shopping center and get that same response. It was more of an artsy, little gutsier, edgier crown. And it was like, “Oh. Wow.” And then I was a little more affordable, so that also made the difference. But I never felt that I had to be that other designer. Of course there was always that person who would bring in the designer pictures saying, “can you copy this” because they wanted it for half the price. [giggles from some] T: And I did it when I started. I would do anything almost, when I started. But now I can say, “No. I’m showing Toni Whitaker.” This is the way it is or it’s not happening. So as a young designer, if you’re trying to make your own name, look at where you want to start. You know, don’t go to those shops that are only carrying established designers. Go to those trend – like a Tootsies. Tootsies would have looked at you. P: Mm hmm. R: Mm hmm. That’s right. T: You know what I’m saying? There are loads of shops in Houston, R: That’s right. T: That only want newer, edgy things. That new store in the Galleria, Gregories. They don’t want what the other stores have because they don’t want their clients to look like everybody else. P: Mmm hmm. T: So I don’t think that that’s going to be the issue. The issue’s going to be, do you have that edge that makes you different and better than the other designers that are coming out. R: One of the things is, more and more designers do their own stores and their own boutiques. I think more stores are going to be open to more people. P: Right. R: Does that make sense? I agree with what Toni was saying. I think there’s a wonderful openness to new design in most of the boutiques. And I think even the big stores. I mean, Barney’s loves unknowns. T: They love unknowns. Yes. R: So I think that people – I don’t think that brand loyalty is out there like it was. It’s a very volatile business as Toni and Michelle will agree. And you need to be extremely careful because you have to back up all of this production, you know with capital backing to be able to deliver it. So we advise our students because they all want to have their own label to consider doing some custom design work while their starting or ready to have their own label so they have some cash flow. And then go to very, very small stores where you can actually talk to the owner and the person who is going to sign the check. Don’t go to Foleys. [chuckles from panel] R: Yeah. Right. Don’t. K: Not he first time. [giggles] R: Do not! Absolutely do not. K: But go to a small store because that person has been through what you’re going through and they understand that maybe you need 50% deposit for this because you need to be able to have some funding to create your production for the first time. J: There was another question I saw. R: Some are over here too. A5: This is going back to what she was talking about shoes. Do you think the change in reception of high heels and fish nets and women’s fashion what was considered – what flappers would wear, all those considered not appropriate or not classy – that change has made wearing high heels if anything any more acceptable now than it was 70 years ago. I mean even 10 years ago. J: Are high heels more acceptable now… A5: Because of the change in perception. J: Because of the change of perception. A5: Correct. J: Change of perception in women’s fashion. R: I never thought of that. J: Emphasis on flowers and feminine styles. Is that what you’re saying. A5: Yes. I know that my mother – she is 55 – P: Whew. [chuckle from one on panel] P: Oh, God. She’s my age. [muttered under breath, chuckle] A5: She at my age would never wear high heels. She says that all the time. Women that wore high heels when she was in her late 20s were considered women of lower class or lower status. Women that weren’t respectable. And now we see women in any arena of any professional status where wearing a heel would be fine. And do you think the change in the perception of women’s fashion and the change with the negative image women’s movement, liberalism has affected the fashion industry also. High heels. Wear a fish net with a suit to the office, that came back in not too long ago. But when my mother was my age, she didn’t see women wearing fish nets unless she had a certain profession. [laughter from all] J: Panelists? A5: That’s a long story short. R: I mean I never thought about the heel part, but you’re right about the fishnets. I would have never worn them with a business suit to Foley’s like I do now. They’ve just become more accepted. K: I don’t know, after the 60s… T: May I ask where is your mother from. Where are you from? R: I mean she’s my age. A5: Lost Angeles. P: Oh. P: Hmm. T: Well that blew that theory. [laughter from all] K: After the freedom of the 60s and women just did their own thing. I think that it’s just a freedom thing, now. M: And I think a lot of that has to do with television, the media. T: Yeah. Definitely. M: What shows on TV. Especially Melroz Place. K: Right. Sex in the City. M: Yea, Sex in the City. People wearing sandals. R: Sex in the City did a major thing for shoes. K: Yeah, they did everything for stilettos. R: Have you ever heard of, what is it, Vanilla Blanc, and Jimmy Choo before Sex and the City. T: The other thing is when you thought about what women wore when your mom was that age, you still see images of the Marilyn Monroe switching in the pencil skirt across and she was always a secretary that didn’t do anything, but looked pretty in the office. If was just the way women were portrayed at that particular period in time. And you know, the shoes have that association, that connotation. And now that things are changing and everything is opening up, I definitely – the connotation is different. It’s not a label to say, if you’re going to wear it you have to be this type of person. J: I want to thank the panel for coming. I appreciate every one of you for agreeing to do this. I also thank you for listening to us as we chat about fashion and women. And also stay for wine and cookies. [clapping from all]