New Kids on the Block

Meet five up-and-comers doing big things in Austin fashion.

As a revered 20th-century philosopher once said, “Beauty’s where you find it / Not just where you bump and grind it” (Madonna, Vogue, 1990). Such wisdom is especially applicable to Austin’s current set of style up and comers, who find beauty in all sorts of unexpected corners (though we’re not necessarily ruling out Barbarella). In the following pages, an editor, a designer, a photographer, a writer, and a professor discuss their own creative journeys and their personal takes on style.

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The designer. In May 2012, a successful local Kickstarter campaign generated lots of attention. It was from a young fashion designer with a bold new line, a Madeline storybook on acid: orange knee socks with bright purple shorts, Peter Pan collars with giant bows, miniskirts printed with trout. With vintage shapes and saturated color, Crowned Bird was a breath of fresh air for Austin, land of sandals and braided leather.

Now, just over a year later, that—Priscilla Barroso—has a season of NBC’s Fashion Star under her belt, not to mention three collections of Crowned Bird and a showroom in Los Angeles. She’s also about to teach a couple of courses on collection building and creative business strategy at the Austin School of Fashion Design this fall. A shockingly productive year, no? But Barroso has even bigger plans.

“I’m branching out Crowned Bird internationally, and I’m now in stores in Australia and Tokyo. Even though I’m established as an Austin designer, my head is definitely in a ‘love locally, grow globally’ space,” she says.

A former tailor in San Francisco, Barroso expresses her own aesthetic as equal parts sixties whimsy and thirties restraint, Twiggy dresses topped with bowler hats. It’s a muted version of Crowned Bird, begging the question, Where do her playful creations come from?

“Because of the way I grew up, I never got to dress up as a kid,” says Barroso. “So for me, designing in this way, whimsical, fun–it’s definitely me making up for lost time.”

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The writer. Two dogs peek out from Levi Dugat’s right calf, lovingly rendered and looking as happy as can be.

“That’s Hambone, and that’s Styles,” explains Levi, gesturing to the tattooed portraits of his longtime canine companions. “My roommate and I were going through a phase of being really into knockoff, campy designer crap, and tried taking one of our dogs out to the park to test some names. We’d call out, ‘Fendi! C’mere, Fendi!’ Then we were like, ‘Okay, this is ridiculous. It’s all about style,’ so Styles she is.”

The musician/woodworker/co-owner of Paloma Botanical Beauty Parlor has long possessed an eye for style, as evidenced not only by his dog’s namesake, but by the interior of Paloma as well: there, carefully selected antiques mingle with Dugat’s own furniture and wooden displays, all crafted with Shaker-like simplicity. But these days, he’s interested in digging up the stories behind the style, both his own and those of emerging artists. These tales are collected on his blog, which he writes with two other artists, his sister Amy and local photographer Nicole Mlakar.

“If you’re doing well for yourself as an artist, that’s awesome,” says Dugat. “But I don’t think for anybody, success is a completely fabulous experience. There are insecure moments, depressing moments, anxiety-producing moments. So it’s frustrating when you’re living in that as an emerging artist and nobody’s really talking about it. You think, ‘I must just not have what it takes and these people do, because look how fabulous they are.’”

To that end, the tone of is unique for design blogs—a little less Martha Stewart, a little more Sassy magazine. Dugat’s own writing is disarming and real, which encourages his artist subjects to open up just as much as he does. He recalls an interview with local musician Tiffanie Lanmon, in which she talks about waiting for inspiration, finding work/art balance, and squeezing in time for rest when she can.

“Tiffanie’s intensely vulnerable answers to those questions are very affirming,” says Dugat. “For me to have read that article about her when I was an 18-year-old musician would have meant the world to me.”

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The editor. Jessica Thompson, editor in chief of the fastidiously curated online quarterly Velvet Dust, is all drapes and tassels when I see her. She’s come from her day job in the tech industry, a relatively rooted station for her, given the past few years. That’s because she’s spent her twenties living and working all over the world as an English teacher, aspiring fashion stylist, international jewelry marketer, and one-time presenter of said jewelry on the equivalent of QVC Japan. But in 2011 Thompson took an English-teaching job in Tunisia that cast a somber tone over her gypsy lifestyle.

“Four months into my stay, the Arab Spring broke out,” says Thompson. “I stayed about half a year into the revolution, but work became pretty unstable because of the political situation.”

So she landed back home in Austin at By George, designing window displays, creating jewelry, and picking up styling gigs on the side, all the while wondering what her creative hobbies would add up to. That’s when she and a couple of friends began talking about making a magazine, and in March 2013, Velvet Dust was born, almost instantly finding an enthusiastic readership. The online quarterly bursts with avant-garde photo-essays, with a perspective on fashion that is pretty much the opposite of your standard glossy—think young men perched on garbage heaps, models levitating over sharp rocks.

“Through my experiences traveling, especially in North Africa, I was confronted with some very real and very difficult things,” says Thompson. “So what I’m attracted to now is usually darker, and for the magazine, I’m drawn to work that feels thought-provoking, that tells a story.”

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WYNN MYERS | Wynn Myers Photography

The photographer. She worked alongside Ashley Olsen for Zac Posen, had photos land on the websites of places like The Atlantic and Vogue Italia, and was selected two years in a row to show work in the prestigious American Photography–all before age 30. But Wynn Myers’ success all started with a chance meeting at the Nordstrom in Barton Creek Mall.

“I met a rep for Zac Posen who was in sales and marketing. She told me her assistant had just left, and was I interested?”

One week later, Myers took off for New York to work in Zac Posen’s tiny, 10-person fashion studio in Chinatown. She was only a hobby photographer at that time, but Posen’s sister recognized her talent and encouraged her to enroll in Maine Media College.

“It was a huge shift from New York, and I loved it,” says Myers. “I spent a year there doing their Professional Certificate Program in Photography, and didn’t take a single digital class. All film, analog, and lovely.”

Myers eventually returned to Austin, and applied to St. Edward’s to formally earn her degree in photo communications. In between classes and exams, she’s built up her own photography business, worked for I Love Texas Photo (an online portfolio of Texas visual talent), and has become the go-to shutterbug for numerous editorial outlets, including With a portfolio of work that ranges from sun-soaked portraiture to moody still lifes, her photography prospects are only rising–and she’s got more free time now, having graduated from St. Edward’s last May.

“You get to meet fellow artists doing this,” says Myers. “Austin is blossoming with creativity right now, and I feel lucky to have a profession where I can spend time with these people.”

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ERIN MULLER | Ralph Lauren, University of Texas

The professor. A lecturer in the Division of Textiles and Apparel in the School of Human Ecology at UT, Erin Muller spends her days teaching students about historical textiles. It’s a fitting gig for this former librarian–albeit she never was the kind of librarian most of us are familiar with.

“I was the manager for the Ralph Lauren Library in New York City for about five years,” explains Muller, then a freshly minted Fashion Institute of Technology grad. “It was an inspirational and historical resource for the in-house designers, and filled with all kinds of textiles and garments that the designers could take inspirational cues from.”

In what can only be described as one of the coolest jobs in the world, Muller made sure each garment was cataloged, organized, and easily accessible for Ralph Lauren’s creative teams, even working alongside a few to help create new lines. But when she moved to Austin with her husband, Muller used her experience to volunteer at local institutions with textiles in their collections, and to teach a couple of fashion-related courses around town. This all prepared her for her current work at UT, where she advises students on their research projects.

“One of my textiles students conducted research on a Mexican serape,” says Muller. “It was believed to have belonged to General Santa Anna and was left on the battlefield at San Jacinto,” says Muller.

It’s not necessarily fashion itself that intrigues Muller–but the tale lurking behind each garment.

“The fashion and textile industry was not always something that I had known I wanted to be a part of,” she says. “I switched my major many times in my undergraduate coursework, but once I found the graduate program in fashion and textiles studies, I never looked back.”


Photography by Andrew Chan


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