You can see it every time New York Fashion Week rolls around: Houston media and fashion personalities sitting right there in the front row. Top designers like Tory Burch put them there not only because of Houston’s oil-fueled purchasing power—and, it must be said, love for any ballet flat sporting a logo—but also because of strong ties between designers and the local social set. Becca Cason Thrash, Houston’s other Queen B, is close with everyone from red-carpet staple Naeem Khan to Gela Nash-Taylor, the co-founder of Juicy Couture who now designs the Pam & Gela line.
With such a passion for fashion in this town, why is it that Houston has so much trouble supporting a serious, successful fashion week?
Since 2010, former model, national aerobic champion and TV personality Victor Marquina has produced Houston Fashion Week (which took place last month), and in 2012 he added The Woodlands Fashion Week (Nov. 16–22) to his roster of events in cities across the country, including New York, Oakland, Miami, Dallas and San Antonio.
Despite—or perhaps because of—Marquina’s plethora of runway events, his local efforts to attract attention and big designer names have mostly failed. Marquina says his biggest hindrance here is a lack of consumer demand. “It’s not a failure of effort,” he says. “The fashion industry is very challenging, and developing it is going to be a long process.”
Meanwhile, for the past five years, ex-Audi exec and man-about-town Jared Lang (whose former wife is a Houstonia employee) has produced the more prominent Fashion Houston at the Wortham Center downtown, showcasing local designers alongside national names like Khan, Nicole Miller, Zac Posen and Monique Lhuillier. Ticket sales have nevertheless been disappointing; often during the show’s runway presentations last year, more than half the seats were empty.
But that’s not the only impediment Lang has faced. After he partnered with pink-coiffed socialite Vivian Wise on Fashion Houston 2014, the relationship ended acrimoniously, and she filed a lawsuit against him that was settled out of court.
Wise has now founded—what else?—her own annual affair, Heart of Fashion. The three-night charity event is set to debut Nov. 18–20 and will showcase designers from across the US, including Peter Cohen and La Isla, at Million Air, the private jet hangar near Hobby Airport. “Jared and I had different visions for what we wanted Fashion Houston to be,” Wise says. “His focus was more immediate and flashy, and I was looking for something with longevity and legs."
As for Lang, he’s altering his concept. His revamped Fashion Houston, he says, will host a handful of events throughout the year. “The goal is to give the city something it wants,” says Lang.
Here’s hoping someone figures out what that might be.