2008’s Art of Fashion would’ve made Vreeland swoon

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I always love to cover the Art of Fashion show during CAM, both because I think CAM needs more fashion and design events, but because I also feel it’s San Antonio’s only “serious” vehicle for local fashion talent. I like to think so, anyway — I admit I’ve been disappointed by overblown, uneven, undirected attempts in the past. Not this year. First, kudos to those behind the scenes. This year’s Art of Fashion show started promptly, moved quickly, and wrapped up with a true finale. It was the most professional execution of the show to date, and bless the organizers for making the necessary changes.

Students and emerging talent began the evening, with a quick look at work from the AVEDA Institute and the University of the Incarnate Word. AVEDA’s ethereal looks showcased serious braids, crimping, and teasing, for a kind of woodland sprite on the go-go take that was quite charming on the young models. UIW’s top 2008 graduates and award recipients — Samantha Plasencia, Rosanna Isham, Rodrigo Valez, Stephanie Travieso, and Oswaldo Elias Delgado — each showed their best single work, which was just enough to leave us wanting more. Especially inspired were two pieces using of-the-moment ombre dye by Travieso and Delgado.

The rest of the show focused on fall/winter collections by Art of Fashion veterans. Henry de la Paz, also an accomplished hair stylist, offered a lot of iridescence, glitter, and gleam. Fabric ranged from a lavender charmeuse pantsuit to a shredded denim collar, all with a rock’n’roll edge. The best de la Paz? A mallard-teal draped top with dolman sleeves over silver-lamé hot pants and silver stilettos. Fresh and super sexy.

Agosto Cuellar, owner of Southtown’s Jive Refried vintage store, uses the pieces that come his way as inspiration for often tongue-in-cheek architectural expressions. This year, when he confided his theme was “Mexican Baroque by way of peasant ladies of the night,” I expected at least the usual level of Agosto flamboyance. But among a few super-padded collars and bustles, the collection was a lovely mix of wearable high and low — restructured Mexican embroidery, faux fur, painted fabric, and lots of bright, delicious, ethnic touches. The pieced mini-dresses were perfect, and a flowing madras wraparound halter dress said everything you need to know about July 2008 in San Antonio.

I’m a huge believer in Javier Castillo’s sumptuous embroidery and beadwork. This year’s collection did not disappoint — almost entirely in decadent gold (with a few black and gunmetal-gray moments), Castillo sent more than a dozen lean silhouettes encrusted in shimmering sequins, beads, and paillettes down the runway. Classic lean lines — trapeze dresses, fishtail hems, spaghetti straps, Nehru collars — let the handiwork tell the story.

It would not have been Art of Fashion without a collection by artistic director (and fashion-design overachiever!) Angelina Mata — worthy of the finale in every way. Her fall/winter Reinvintage collection was strong and thoughtful, as usual. Capelets and cape collars, belled sleeves, ruffles, bias cuts, platform ankle-strap shoes, and dainty shoulder pads seamlessly conveyed a ’30s and ’40s nostalgia. Vibrant prints in shades of purple and brown dominated. And to end it there would have been fine.

But the collective intake of breath when the music suddenly changed up and the first model of a new collection appeared transformed our local fashion show into a big-city spectacle. Supported on one side by severely handsome male escorts and on the other by gargantuan walking sticks, the final models teetered complete laps around the main gallery of Blue Star on sky-high wooden shoes hand-carved by Peter Zubiate. The shoes alone were exquisite — rustic and raw, with ragged cloth binding and the occasional shot of primary color — and yet totally in keeping with the sophisticated Asian feel of Mata’s clothing for this part of the collection. Expect to see Mata’s John Singer Sargent-worthy black evening gown — strapless, with a sheer underskirt, opaque peplum skirt, and a huge half bow at the shoulder (which always reminds me of the Korean hanbok, perhaps an influence) — on many the lucky lady this winter. It was a theatrical finale that elevated Art of Fashion to a must-see annual event. •

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