Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Getting ready for Austin Fashion Week 2013...

Article by Katey Psecnik... photo by Sneha Joshi Gail Chovan professes that she doesn’t fit into the Austin fashion scene.  “I’m not overly influenced by the industry or trend,” she said. “I feel like what I’m doing is really personal to me. I think my style is darker. It’s more raw or organic. Some people say it’s sexy or more sensual and I tend to think it’s maybe a little more androgynous.” And in an industry where mass production and market researchers try to latch onto the next big trend, Chovan doesn’t design for the world — she designs for herself. “It reflects more of what I want to wear, not so much what other people want to wear,” she said. “When I design something, if I see a person try it on, I know if that’s the right person to wear the clothes.” Chovan, owner of Blackmail Boutique, returned to Austin from design school in Paris in 1997 and instantly became an Austin style icon. She won the Austin Chronicle’s award for Best Designer in 2011, in part thanks to her passion for workmanship and non-industrialization.  “The art of designing and sewing is very ingrained in me,” she said. “I do it all myself. I’m not interested in having manufacturers involved. The beauty in what I do is that I’m going back to craftsmanship.” One step into Chovan’s workshop and it became clear that she is exactly that — a craftsman. Her bookshelf reached to the ceiling, full of titles that read “Chanel” or simply “shoes.” Various-sized scissors hung from hooks alongside measuring tape. Behind her work desk, a large painting of a graveyard stretched out above a stainless steel tea set and tall, waxy candlesticks. Dress forms, butter paper — the designer’s nickname for parchement paper — and pattern paper were scattered across her workspace among varying fabrics. Chovan is acutely aware of the industry in which she works and the city where she lives. She knows where the lines are drawn and how to neatly tiptoe around them. “Austin’s fashion is growing, but it’s hard to pinpoint,” she said. “You either have the fancy designers, which, unless you’re getting married, there’s no place for that here because it’s really a rather casual town. Then you have the other end, the easy-to-put-together kind of style. I don’t fit into either.” The designer calls her work “artisanal couture,” using techniques taken from her schooling in Paris. Her most recent line was inspired by Georgia O’Keefe, who is known for wearing mostly black and white. “I think the process of inspiration is one that most young designers don’t necessarily comprehend,” she said. “Most students say they were inspired by a fabric or a color and I say you have to close your eyes and imagine inspiration coming from within. What I’m trying to do right now is about the earth, rawness and skulls and bones; not in a gothic way or anything, just deterioration.” Chovan said designing clothes wasn’t what she always wanted to do. In fact, she didn’t realize her calling until her late 20s. “As a little girl, I didn’t dress up my Barbie dolls,” she said. “I was a tomboy. I played sports, and I read. I started spending time in Paris and then I went to graduate school to become a professor. It was kind of a calling that I got in Paris. I wanted to do it because I thought I would be good at it. I thought, ‘I can do this.’” So Chovan came back to the United States, sold everything and enrolled in design school in Paris.  “My parents thought I was crazy,” she said. “I think it’s amazing when there are 12-year-old bloggers and 13-year-old designers, and I’m like ‘Oh, honey, there’s so much to do before you decide.’” Chovan’s workshop is her safe haven in the middle of a city that’s not as unusual as they find her clothes to be. “I do get very happy and flattered when somebody gets what I’m doing, but it’s very avant-garde for Austin,” she said. “I’m just happy in my studio by myself making what I want to make. I could sit at a sewing machine all day. I love to cut fabric. I love to touch it.” While Austin may not be the city to understand Chovan’s unique line of clothing, she’s perfectly content where she is. “I’m not trying to design for the masses,” she said.

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