Bald Ambition: Annette Becker, the director of the collection, started out pursuing an engineering degree before she was bitten by the fashion bug. One of her goals is to ensure that as the collection grows, so does the diversity of the designers represented. Elizabeth Lavin

Fashion

A Dallas History Lesson Miranda Priestly Would Love

In finding one of the nation's largest fashion collections, we discovered a teenage Todd Oldham, a copycat scandal, and a Holocaust survivor with serious style.

My awakening to Dallas fashion history was not unlike the famous “cerulean scene” in The Devil Wears Prada, in which editrix Miranda Priestly icily schools the bumbling Andy on the complex lineage of her blue knitwear. However, my Miranda was not a pursed-lipped dragon lady, but rather a well-spoken fashion nerd named Annette Becker, the director of UNT’s Texas Fashion Collection. She is the kind of person who geeks out over, for example, the retro relics and advanced technology used in Todd Oldham’s digital prints.

Looking back, I guess I was something of a lumpy-sweatered Andy when I first approached the story, which was published online today. My plan was to produce a simple photo feature with a sampling of the collection’s 20,000-odd items. Big pictures, pretty clothes, small captions. Easy enough. But sometime during my second tour of the TFC with Becker, as she expounded on the background of the pieces, I started to wonder if, in this case, a picture was actually worth a thousand words.

I mean, we could take a beautiful photograph of the intricate applique on a Lilli Wolff dress, but that didn’t explain that the Jewish seamstress had picked up her theatricality working as a costume designer before being forced into hiding during the Nazi regime. Wolff eventually rebuilt her life in Dallas and found happiness as a Baptist.

As I began my own research on the garments’ designers and donors, my photo captions were shaping out to be … not so caption-y. I sent my editor, Kathy Wise, a series of messages apologizing in advance but, holy cow, Victor Costa was such a character—a Dallas-based designer who turned high fashion knock-offs into an art form in the ‘80s but was essentially run out of town in the mid-90s when a sexual harassment lawsuit accused him of gossiping about his well-heeled clients (he now lives in Houston).

I promised to keep the other captions to a couple sentences.

But, you know what, the story of the three Dallas sisters who invented maternity clothing and launched a multimillion-dollar empire in the days when working women were usually confined to a secretary’s desk just didn’t quite work in a two-sentence structure. Plus there was a thing about tranquilizers and yoga that I couldn’t not include.

And then I found Todd Oldham’s first press clipping. He was all of 18 when he appeared up in the Dallas Morning News fashion insert, talking about how he doesn’t believe in cars or air conditioning.

Eventually I had completely overwritten all the photo captions except for one on Michael Faircloth, Dallas’ reigning king of couture. I was determined to keep this one brief. We spoke on the phone and he told me that as a young man in small-town Texas, he planned to study law but it was his mother’s dying wish that he go into fashion. “Goddammit. This one’s fascinating too!” I said (in my head).

As I found, the garments within the Texas Fashion Collection are really more than just things to look at. I ended up sending Kathy a 10-page Word doc and told her I lost control but she could wield her scalpel as she pleased. She either liked what I wrote or she’s really lazy, because few cuts were made and the story ended up on the November cover. You can read about the Texas Fashion Collection and the rich history within it here. Though I know what some of you may be thinking: Oh, a story about fashion’s significance in Dallas. Groundbreaking.

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