11 Dallas Style Setters You Need to Know
From feminine frocks to shoes that rock, these local designers create wearable masterpieces.
When Dallas native Sariah Carson isn’t sketching and painting in her tiny Staten Island home studio, she’s on-site in New York City’s garment district, overseeing the meticulous construction of the dresses and tops that began to turn heads only a few seasons ago. The petite 26-year-old Lake Highlands High School alumna and former dancer emerged on the fashion scene with Carson Potter, a collaboration with a fellow Parsons graduate. The enterprise, which quickly became a victim of its own success, taught Carson a few lessons that she has used to launch her new line, Sariah.
Approaching art in terms of both craftsmanship and covetability, the line is a throwback to a time before disposable dressing became de rigueur. Each piece is cut and sewn entirely by hand, and every style sees a limited production of 50 or fewer. Carson lights up when she talks about her clothing, explaining that she takes a fine art approach to all her work and wants women to view her clothes as forever garments (at $295 to $695, they are priced to keep). The designer embraces color and loves to fuse fashion with painting. The prints in the collection are her original hand-painted designs; Japanese and African influences are evident.
We love her latest effort for its feminine, flattering, Mad Men-inspired shapes and spontaneity. For Carson, who calls herself a girl’s girl, fall segues into special occasion and holiday dressing, and details like ’60s-style paillettes add a hint of glam to certain styles. Sariah is available at Barneys New York. To see the collection, go to www.sariahnyc.com. —Allison Hatfield
Venezuelan designer Rocio Ildemaro says that shoes are her fountain of youth. After living in Milan and learning the art of bespoke shoemaking from master Italian craftsmen, the 33-year-old returned to Dallas and has been custom designing shoes for private clients for about five years. “After listening to my clients’ woes about shoes, I’ve had hundreds of muses,” she explains. This fall, her eponymous ready-to-wear shoe collection will be available at Gregory’s stores in Texas and at www.gregorysshoes.com. Shoppers can expect stilettos, boots, booties, and more, with textures that range from snakeskin to suede (and prices from $545-$1,400). Her inspiration comes from all around her, from her own closet to music—even her dreams. Speaking of dreams: Ildemaro’s dream Dallas client is a bit unexpected. No Jessica Simpson or Cindy Rachofsky for this girl. “[York Street chef] Sharon Hage,” she says, without hesitation. “I love her food. If I wasn’t a shoe designer, I would be a chef.” —Sarah Eveans
Meet the two local contestants on this season’s Project Runway
Louise Black, 32
Background: Grew up in Temple, Texas. Moved to New York to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology but ended up working at an art gallery. Taking courses at El Centro College. Runs an online fashion business with her husband.
How she got involved: “My mentor, Jan Strimple, contacted Project Runway behind my back!”
Surprises: “I didn’t realize what an accent I have.”
Tips for dressing well: “Stop shopping at the mall. That’s how you get in a rut. Also, always wear nice shoes.”
Design aesthetic: “I use a lot of dark colors and jet beading. I like to keep colors neutral. History is a big influence on me. I love old-world glamour.”
Has living here affected your style? “It hasn’t. I kind of stand out here. I try to wear my own creations every day.”
Tim or Heidi? “Definitely Tim was my favorite. He was like a father figure. A true mentor.”
Where to find her: www.louiseblack.com; www.louiseblack.etsy.com.
Shirin Askari, 24
Background: Grew up in Richardson, went to University of North Texas. Graduated with a B.F.A. in fashion design in 2008.
How she got involved: “The summer after graduation, I broke my knee playing basketball. I was supposed to go to Europe, but I was homebound. I got an e-mail from my professor about Project Runway, and I sent in a tape. If it wasn’t for breaking my knee, I wouldn’t have tried!”
Design aesthetic: “I love vintage clothing, and I don’t go heavy on prints. I like to experiment with fabrics and keep clothes wearable.”
Tips for dressing well: “I cannot stand Crocs. Also, I believe you can be sexy and not show everything.”
Inspiration: “I like looking at architecture. I also like high fashion, especially Christian Dior, Elie Saab, and Hussein Chalayan.”
Tim or Heidi? “Tim was my favorite. He is impeccably dressed. I had a crush on him!”
Where to find her: www.shirinaskari.com. —Sarah Eveans
Lamarr Nanton and Sojung “Sue” Yang
Lamarr Nanton and Sue Yang used to work for The Man. Now they’re working for women. After being downsized from their corporate jobs, the dashing Virgin Island native and the petite Korean darling (who have a combined fashion pedigree that includes time at Donna Karan, Giorgio Armani, and Manuel Designs) launched their own ladies’ fashion line, Elli Grace. Significant interest in their fresh, flirty fare quickly led to a retail store of the same name.
Their bitty boutique, which opened in late June, is located on the second floor of the Shops of Willow Bend, across from Saks Fifth Avenue. It’s bright and airy and provides a sophisticated backdrop for the line, which comprises enough tulle, pleats, ruffles, and lace to give Carrie Bradshaw a coronary. Two things make their conceit truly unique: every pretty top, frilly skirt, and flouncy dress is handmade by one of the two, and the designers are in-store to customize the limited-edition clothes. So if you want a hemline 3 inches lower, a t-shirt with twice as many flowers, or the bodice of one dress attached to the bottom of another, no problem—and no extra charge (pretty amazing given that prices range from $50 to $200).
The duo’s first fall collection retains its youthful appeal but has a bit of a rock-and-roll edge. Chiffon floral embellishments make way for those of leather and wool. Metal studs join Swarovski crystals. And you can look for those whimsical Sex and the City skirts to be layered over leggings. To see the collection, go to www.elligrace.com. —Allison Hatfield
Switching majors proved to be a life-changing decision for Dallas designer Knanh (pronounced kuh-awn) Nguyen. While attending the University of North Texas, she made the switch from biology to fashion and never looked back. “I felt so discontented with my studies in science,” she says. “Since then, the whole fashion world has opened up for me.” After finishing her degree, Nguyen won the Top Achievement from the Fashion Group International of Dallas, and she shipped off to Paris for three months to study haute couture sewing techniques. “I came back to the States with that knowledge and couldn’t wait to use it,” she says. Since then, Nguyen has created couture clothing line Nha-Knanh, available for custom order at www.nhakhanh.com. Her fall collection, Ocean of Beauty, is inspired by water. “Water is associated with the quality of emotion and intuition of a woman,” she says. Nguyen is inspired by nature, and she usually leans toward neutral or muted colors, and the Dallas heat plays a part in her design aesthetic. “I love dresses! I want to wear them every day and everywhere,” she says. Blending in with the crowd is not part of Nguyen’s philosophy. “It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed,” she says. “Find a way to stand out in a room full of chic people.” Next up: a ready-to-wear line she hopes to have in local boutiques next year. —Sarah Eveans
Gable and Ed Shaikh
There are plans for a storefront, but for now Hadleigh’s remains hidden in the Kessler Park neighborhood of Oak Cliff. You will need an appointment. At the door, you will be greeted by the charming Adnan “Ed” Shaikh or perhaps by his adorable wife, Gable. If you prefer, they can come to you, but then you’d miss meeting their 2-year-old daughter, the eponymous Hadleigh herself, who has the run of the place. A glass of wine? A panino? There is no rush. The Shaikhs will want to get to know you before the measuring begins. They met while working at the Ralph Lauren store in Highland Park Village. She had just moved from New York, where she graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology. He was the third-ranked Ralph Lauren salesman in the country. They were friends at first, then more than that. Ed went on to become a buyer at Stanley Korshak, and Gable followed. By then they were engaged. Last winter, they decided to open their own atelier, Hadleigh’s, selling bespoke clothes for men and women—everything cut and sewn by hand in Italy, made to fit you and only you. You will need to take your wallet. A Hadleigh’s custom suit starts at $1,700; one by Cesare Attolini could cost five times that. To finish the look, Hadleigh’s carries Mazzarelli dress shirts ($600) and bench-made shoes from Barker Black (wing tips, $750). There are lines such as Emanuele Maffeis for women who are similarly unconcerned by price points. Ed says most of his very private customers buy by the dozen. If that sounds like you, make an appointment by visiting www.hadleighsbespoke.com. —Tim Rogers
Andrew Bayer and Doug Voisin
Ladies love pockets. That’s one of the many things designers Andrew Bayer and Doug Voisin learned during their three-year stint as owners of House of Dang, the popular clothing and vintage shop that closed its doors in late July. They also learned that running a store takes a lot of time, time they would rather spend growing their women’s wear line, also called House of Dang.
“People just knew us as more of a vintage store in East Dallas, and people didn’t even know we had a clothing line,” Voisin says. “Whenever you have a retail space, you can’t go anywhere, you can’t do anything. We want to expand our line, and we could expand it only so far before we had to come back to the store.”
Now the guys have moved operations to a studio in the Bishop Arts District that they’ll use as a workspace and showroom for their designs, which they describe as playful and comfortable. “The line is very youthful and energetic,” Bayer says, “and we use a lot of really bold colors and a lot of jewel tones.”
Think knit dresses with hoods, soft tees, and pattern skirts with, of course, pockets. All the pieces are fun and wearable, which is another thing the duo discovered during their retail days. “We got to learn what people will and won’t wear, more of like functionality of clothing,” Voisin says. “We want to make something a girl can actually wear, that will be part of her closet, that she can pull out at night or during the day.”
Bayer and Voisin share the new space, dubbed Studio 411, with friend and accessories designer Tara Tonini, who they say will help keep them motivated. “She’s going to keep us on our toes,” Bayer says. And that’s a good thing, because the boys have some big plans. “We want to be a nationally recognized brand,” Bayer continues. “I don’t want to be known as crafty or just an independent designer. I don’t even understand what the independent designer thing is. We’re designers.” 411 N. Tyler St. www.thehouseofdang.com. —Rhonda Reinhart