Combined with the surge of social media, Austin’s ever-growing fashion scene has given up and coming local designers a platform to expand creatively and unconventionally within their small business while offering expansions to both their personal branding and product development.
With this article, Austin Fusion invites you to meet four fashion artisans — trailblazers that have taken the reins of their talents to bring an uncensored filter of imagination to the public. Interviews with My-Cherie Haley (Shimmer & Bliss), Laura Del Villaggio (Milli Starr), and jewelry designers Misty Evans and Mark Kalen will allow you to not only get to know the person behind your already favorite or soon to be daily outfit staple, but also find out where to shop their collections.
It is 9:30 in the morning and My-Cherie Haley multi-tasks, cutting fabric during our interview. With a voice that’s open and inviting, the professional model and mother tells how she utilized her knowledge of the wide-market New York and Atlanta fashion industries to bring the city a unique flavor of accessories with Shimmer & Bliss, a collection of eco-chic crinkled air silk scarves.
“I’ve always been the one who has always enjoyed creating her own style; I don’t have a neutral personality. I have a bold personality,” Haley said, describing her versatile scarves as “the perfect accessory [that] you can accompany with any wardrobe.” Preferring to wear bright colors of turquoise, canary yellow and deep pinks, Haley says her personal style background has inspired the overall look of her pieces.
Growing up in Dixie, South Carolina, Haley is the daughter of missionaries, and the only girl to three brothers. She says the scarves bring a sense of nostalgia, reminding Haley of moments in childhood when her mother would wrap her hair at night. In the summer of 2006, Haley moved to Austin, which she says has “the largest amount of small business owners in the country.” She accounts her experience as a journey, learning that flexibility is a key to success and growth.
“Nobody said it was easy,” Haley said, remembering earlier days when she would practice dyeing at home. “But if you stay focused on the big picture, then everything will go according to plan.”
Holding to values rooted in faith, love, and a little luck, Haley married in Austin on 7/07/07, and credits the support of her family as the basis towards a high-profile career.
“He (Haley’s husband) knows I’m a butterfly, and my wings can’t be clipped; he knows I need to fly,” she said.
As the recent recipient of a FedEx sponsored grant, Haley plans to expand nationwide and internationally, with upcoming possibilities in Europe and Caribbean. In hindsight, it’s clear that My-Cherie isn’t just flying in the fashion industry, but soaring clear into her destiny.
Shimmer & Bliss scarves are available online, with a 12-step tutorial on how to wear the scarves. You can also find them at online boutique Electric Frenchie, as well as many other local boutiques here in town.
Laura Del Villaggio sets wooden hat blocks on a backroom table, her display case waiting patiently in the entranceway of Studio Downtown. “It’s my 19th century career choice,” the milliner (women’s hat maker) tells me. An Austinite and UT graduate, Del Villaggio moved to New York City for her master’s degree in museum studies. She also attended the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and completed a two-year program in millinery design.
A strong preference for history and costume design has lead Del Villaggio to practice her craft in its original form — from scratch– with a needle, steam and thread.
“There’s a softness and uniqueness to handmade hats,” Del Villaggio said. “I source my materials from around the world,” she continues, illustrating these one-of-a-kind works as “three dimensional sculptures” and “art pieces for your head.”
Founding Milli Starr in 1999, Del Villaggio is a busy mother to her 10-year-old daughter, balancing a worldwide cliental, teaching millinery classes at the Stitch Lab, and overseeing costumes for Austin Community College (ACC) drama productions.
“I encourage dress up,” Del Villaggio said. “The possibilities are endless.”
Favoring a fine hand-woven “parasisal” straw (among other materials) within her collection, the designer creates a wide range of pieces from special occasion and bridal, to casual hats for each season. Grateful to see hats rise in popularity due to the Royal Wedding, Del Villaggio said her work is “a lost art form” that completes a look from “head to toe.”
For custom hat details, or if you would like to re-work a family heirloom, Del Villaggio is available for consultation, with more product details available on Milli Starr’s website. Her hats can be found locally at Studio Downtown and Hatbox, a modern haberdashery (6th Street and The Domain). Del Villaggio’s latest costume design collaboration can be seen during the June 14th-24th ACC (located on 12th and Rio Grande) production of Albee’s “Three Tall Women” on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.
Image by Peter Tung, MUA: Kandy Glass, Hair Stylist: Danielle Barr
Misty Evans is a survivor, using the love of her craft and materials to help give other women the confidence and power that she in turn finds through her work. After a difficult pregnancy, Evans found herself leaving interior design to focus on her childhood passion — jewelry.
“There’s something about wearing those pieces,” said Evans, who anticipates helping a woman “feel beautiful and confident, with a spring in your step.”
Blessed with a productive mindset and fearless personality, Evans chose to act as her own publicist and marketer, utilizing Facebook to connect with HGTV Design Star winner Meg Caswell. This lead to accessory designs for Caswell’s wedding and a Christmas Special which aired on the network. Further appearances of her work can be seen every Saturday on HGTV at 8 p.m. central throughout the current season of Meg’s show “Meg’s Great Rooms.”
Evans pieces can also be seen on Vogue Italia as the product of a collaboration between her and local photographer Jai Mayhew; therein emphasizing the close bond the city’s fashion industry shares. Mayhew’s work can also be seen on Misty Evan’s Etsy store, where her designs can be purchased.
Inspired by the likes of fashion designer Alexander McQueen and Pinterest story boards, Evans is preparing to show her fall line during Austin Fashion Week, ultimately crediting her daughter and collection towards giving her a “fulfilling and rewarding” sense of purpose.
Thus, the same assertiveness that Evans jewelry exudes has helped her to grow both personally and professionally. “A lot of people don’t get what they want because they don’t ask, [but] if you don’t ask you won’t get it,” Evans said. With that said, it seems as though Evans will continue to amplify her own voice, along with her customers in each Misty Evans Design piece.
Individual photo by Lindsey Lee, MUA Face Kandy by Kandy Glass, Hair: Amy Evers of Russ & Co
Product photo by photographer Jai Mayhew
With its sleek lines and industrial design, Mark Kalen’s stainless steel jewelry collection is classic with a modern finish. In our exclusive Q&A, find out more about his unique design approach, which caters to both men and women.
AFM: How did you get started in the industry? Have you been in Austin long? Do you have plans to move or expand?
MK: I am a craftsman who likes to imagine a theme and then bring it to life, piece by piece. My passion and enjoyment for innovative design steered me first toward customized motorcycle accessories and then into jewelry design. I understand that sounds like quite a departure, but moving into jewelry allowed me to introduce my designs to a broader audience. I have been designing in Austin for about 3 years now. I am currently expanding a retail plan, so look for MK to make an appearance in some local shops.
AFM: Can you elaborate on your design aesthetic?
MK: Each person has an individual aesthetic or style that speaks to who they are. Whether you’re the rebel in the crowd or the more traditional one….my designs should speak to that style representing who you are, but also including a timeless quality that endures.
AFM: What are some of your hopes and goals for the present and future?
MK: I threw myself into MK Design and I haven’t looked back. I hope to find various platforms that encourage attention to my designs. I want people to recognize the Mark Kalen label and seek it out due to the quality of design, workmanship. [It’s] today, it’s fresh, and it’s a statement that carries forward.
AFM: And inspirations?
MK: Artistic interest is often born out of the observation of what currently exists and a curious, confident idea that it could be better. I tire of seeing repetitive design and am excited to create something unique…something sophisticated and elegant, but with a provocative edge. I love the challenge of taking difficult, inflexible materials and forming them into something unexpected. I am fascinated by statement pieces that speak to who a person is and what they stand for, and that drives my need to design and create.
AFM: How would you describe your role in the Austin Fashion scene; how would you like to grow professionally along with the industry itself?
MK: I think of myself as a “sleeper” in the Austin fashion scene. You know, a SURPRISE just when you don’t expect it….look out, here I come!
To get a firsthand look on Kalen’s designs, a trunk show is planned at Edge Boutique on June 21st from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Find out more about the event on Facebook here. For more product information, visit the “Shop MK” section of the Mark Kalen website.
Product photos by Jai Mayhew
With time taken to perfect every detail, these fashion artisans have utilized their hearts and handmade craftsmanship to simultaneously ensure that each work stands as an ultimate reflection of individual voice and vision. Austin Fusion suggests you take Kalen’s advice, and be on the lookout for all designers featured in this article, either during Fashion Week (Aug. 10-18), or on the web respectively.
Written by Audrea Diaz
Individual and Group Photos by Lindsey Lee