The Look

Houston Style Setter: Lea McKinney Tcholakian

Fashion is just another canvas for this effervescent artist.

By Jamie Smith May 25, 2016

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Tcholakian is a name synonymous with Phoenicia Specialty Foods, but the family's newest daughter by marriage brings a grace, style, and creativity that is all her own. Artist Lea McKinney Tcholakian fuses her vibrant artistic sense into all parts of her life and if you get a peek, you will find that her wardrobe is dotted with dramatic and unique pieces that she has created herself. Find your inspiration at the bottom of the rabbit hole with Houston’s hottest new style setter!

Houstonia: Share your summer wardrobe staples.

Lea McKinney Tcholakian: I have three Lacoste knit tennis dresses in various colors that I have had for years and live in all summer. Those and any and all of the Dolce Vita sandals. They're inexpensive and incredibly comfortable. 

How do you keep your look fresh in the summer heat? 

Ha! If that is even possible in my beloved Bayou City. I love my Tarte Cosmetics maracuja blush and glow. The "glow" is a subtle shimmer that I apply to my eyes and cheeks. Makes me look dewy rather than sweaty. Plus all of their makeup is made with natural ingredients and they don't test on animals.

After returning from multiple trips to the Far East this year, did you see any trends that you think could or would become popular in the U.S.? 

On our recent trip to Japan, my husband Haig and I saw a retrospective of the Japanese graphic designer Ikko Tanaka. His style was a lot more minimalist and abstract that a lot of what you see here. I feel that Japanese style is that, less clutter and more efficiency and it is slowly ebbing its way stateside. The bestselling success of Marie Kondo's book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up supports that. 

Your locks are always so effortlessly romantic; what is your beauty routine to keep them in perfect shape? 

Well thank you! Ha! Honestly, I use Bumble and Bumble then hang my head upside down and blow-dry it. I'm either lucky, or you're delusional. Either way, I'll take it.

What are the shared qualities of your art pieces and your fashion sense?

I modify a lot of the things that I wear, whether by painting on them, changing the shape or length of something or completely re-purposing an article. Dress into shirt, etc. I have always loved fashion. It is like a sandwich board, telling people who you are. My name is Lea, I'm nice, slightly odd and I love color! 

Tell us about your favorite pieces of clothing you've made yourself. 

I found a dress at a thrift store, an old washed-out mauve thing that can only be described as a frock, and painted these really bright and fun flowers on it. I brought the skirt up from the ankles to the knees and poofed it! It is my favorite party dress because it looks like so much fun, so I always have fun in it. People feel compelled to comment on it, so you get to connect over it. Once Carolyn Farb complimented me on it and I pretty much fell over. That woman has style!

Which exterior influences are influencing your art the most these days? 

I am really interested in whimsical nature of '60s- and '70s-era cartoons. I did two arrow installations recently. I inherited an old oil painting of a scary looking relative. He lived in my grandparents dining room growing up and his eyes follow you everywhere you go. When my Dad was 9, he shot the painting with an arrow, much to the chagrin of his parents. When my grandparents passed away, my aunt offered to have the arrow hole repaired before giving it to me but I declined. I ordered a Native American arrow online and hung the scary man with the arrow protruding from his chest. It sounds gruesome but is actually really fun and whimsical. My father thinks it is hilarious.

The second installation I did was with a whole volley of arrows suspended from the ceiling, arcing from one painting into another. It reminded me of cartoons, where things like that were actually possible. Roadrunner could run into the tunnel painted on the side of cliff, while of course, poor Wile E. Coyote never could. 

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