Mom Crush: Four Women Changing Dallas
They do interesting work, possess serious style, and are changing our city. And they just so happen to be moms. We took a peek inside their worlds to see how they do it.
MOM CRUSH NO. 1
New York Times street style photographer Bill Cunningham is selective about the people he snaps. But on a trip to Fashion Week this year, Hanh Merriman made the cut. Cunningham photographed her wearing a mix of Jean Paul Gaultier, Rick Owens, and Comme des Garçons. The famously circumspect photographer even threw in a compliment.
That Hanh considers this “a moment I will adore forever” underscores a reverence for fashion that goes back to her childhood in rural Vietnam, when her reward for perfect grades was a trip to the city to see the latest clothes. Suffice it to say, she studied relentlessly.
In 1994, Hanh moved to Dallas to reunite with her family and study business management. She also took a job at a salon. There, a client introduced her to, winemaker Mike Merriman, and after two years of his mannered persistence, Hanh agreed to a lunch date. They married in 2000, and have two daughters, 8-year-old Chloe and 10-year-old Emma.
Both girls possess their mother’s eye for fashion, mixing styles and sketching outfits they’d someday like to create. On mother/daughter shopping pilgrimages Hanh encourages them to “buy only what you really love, don’t settle for something you just like, no matter the price.”
When Hanh isn’t talking fashion, she’s playing badminton with the girls (their favorite pastime) or cooking weekly Saturday feasts for her extended family of more than 20. She also plans learning trips for the family, seeing “vacation as a time for the girls to get excited about new things.” They’ve made pasta in Venice, taken acting classes in New York, and watched whales in Vancouver.
Three years ago, Hanh launched her blog, Life in Travel, to chronicle her dual passions. Posts featuring her artful ensembles are shown alongside images of the family hiking and picking cherries in Portland. In fashion and life, she says, “You have to play and be adventurous, but not take it too seriously. Fashion is fun, but family is what’s really important.”
MOM CRUSH NO.2
Kayli House Cusick
Kayli House Cusick sits at the piano in her cozy Oak Cliff bungalow playing Mozart’s Sonata in B Flat Major. “I haven’t played this in forever, so I’m rusty,” she says between notes. Whether she’s running her Oak Cliff art collective, Oil and Cotton, with business partner Shannon Driscoll or keeping up with her 4-year-old daughter, Katy Rose, Kayli doesn’t have much time to practice complex piano pieces from her grad school days. Still, there’s magic happening here, and it fills the room.
Kayli graduated from Booker T. Washington, studied music, math, and physics at Reed College in Portland, and did a stint writing speeches for traffic engineers before obtaining a master’s degree in music composition at the University of North Texas. She then decamped to Manhattan, where she taught piano and met her future husband, artist Matt Cusick. Matt and Kayli married in 2007, and one month later, Kayli was pregnant with Katy Rose and the couple was headed to Dallas for the summer so Matt could prepare for an upcoming show.
They didn’t intend to stay, but before long Kayli and Matt were putting down roots in Oak Cliff, where she planned to “be a mom and teach piano.” A chance encounter with Shannon while volunteering at a pop-up art studio during Oak Cliff’s 2009 Better Block initiative changed things. The women connected over the two days spent helping visitors create art, and they set out to open a permanent space based on the concept.
Today, Oil and Cotton is one of the city’s more treasured creative resources. Kayli teaches piano and art at the studio and works with Shannon to oversee a bulging roster of classes, camps, and workshops for children and adults, ranging from drawing to screen printing and Shibori dyeing. “I get to do music, art, design, business—all the things I love,” Kayli says. “I see this rubbing off on Katy Rose. When I ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, she says a doctor, a chef, and a mother. She wants to wear more than one hat. I’d like to think that comes from how she sees me.”