Texas, Threads Ahead: UFG x TXA Senior Capstone Collection

May 12, 2024

Photo by Liv Martinez

Hidden behind a set of steel roll-up garage doors in an East Austin venue is a thriving community of designers itching to show you what they’re made of.

Bright lights spell out the name of the venue — an inconspicuous warehouse that has transformed for the evening into an organism in and of itself, pulsating and thrumming with the energy of all of the moving parts of the show. Models flit to and fro backstage, ensuring their finishing touches are in order; designers rush to greet their parents, offering them momentary kisses on the cheek before taking their places in their seats to get a front-row look at their creations. When I walk in, large cardboard signs of each designer’s headshot occupied a grassy space underneath a canopy, and mannequins draped in their pieces stared back at them, like children greeting their mothers.

Despite the elaborate level of professionalism behind their event, the University Fashion Group (UFG) is, as its name suggests, a student-run organization that allows students from diverse academic disciplines to pursue their interest in the fashion industry. The yearly tradition of producing UT’s Textile and Apparel Design senior fashion show offers UFG’s members a unique opportunity to get hands-on-experience working with designers, models, and future fashion industry professionals.

It feels like a tight-knit community of people coming together to do something that they truly love — a sentiment which is even more necessary in an industry that can be so cutthroat. Dahee Lee, a UFG general member, describes the organization as “an accessible way for people to dabble with fashion without having a big time commitment.”

“I'm not in textiles,” she continues, reaffirming the multidisciplinary mission of UFG. “I'm an English and Corporate Communications major. But I love clothes, and I think it's so fun.”

The show begins, and a hush falls over the crowd as the first of the models emerges from the murky backstage darkness. Techno beats pour from the overhead speakers as the figures parade down the runway; I glance curiously towards the raised eyebrows of the observant crowd.

They take in one model as she hits her final pose at the end of the labyrinthine runway — the chartreuse hue of her gown, the assortment of bangles that litter her wrists, the plain white heels — before snapping a photo. The model waits for the flash of the cameras to subside before pivoting and turning away, returning down the runway. The crowd grows restless again, ready for more.

From my position, obscured in standing-room-only shadows, I have a privileged vantage point: I see the models from the moment they emerge until they slink back behind two oversized velvet curtains. The crowd ebbs and flows as garments are showcased, each more complex than the next, and with a keen eye, I can spot the designers I recognize from their 2’x4’ headshots outside. They’re proud when they see their own work, and equally so when they see that of their colleagues and friends.

Photo by Liv Martinez

When the show winds to an end, UFG leadership invites the senior designers to stand for a round of applause collectively before offering their thanks to all those involved. Afterwards, I speak with Faith McNabnay, president of the University Fashion Group.

“It's always an honor to see what the designers are doing,” she explains. “We have a lot of artists coming together to really put it together. The music was done by another UT student named Tia, who mixed it individually for every designer. And then our creative team made all the marketing material. Everybody's so creative, and it comes together in one thing, which I think is really cool.”

Emily Wager, one of the only juniors presenting her pieces at TXA’s Capstone fashion show, is also a Stylist with SPARK Magazine. Her capstone collection, “Labor of The Morrígan” stands out for its brilliant unconventionality, with looks including a show-stopping chainmail headpiece and a crinoline supported by the model’s neck.

In speaking to her after the show, she reveals that the reasoning behind the collection was quite personal. “My collection is …very inspired by the epic story and the epic hero,” she says. “That's something in general that has inspired me throughout life. It's just been such a love in my life. And it's given me so much creativity. So I thought, what better way to wrap up my TXA career than to do a collection that is kind of an homage to all of those things?”

And while Emily’s inspirations have the hallmark of the Medieval epic story, the resounding trend of the show seemed to be a definitively Texan influence on established fashion industry traditions. With many of the designers citing their heritage as a principal factor behind their garments, the show felt like a vision into the future of Texas as a hub of creatives synthesizing their diverse backgrounds to make the state a future fashion capital.

Photo by Liv Martinez

In a brief reception following the show, I watch as the designers collectively exhale the breath they’d held since arriving. I stick to the perimeters of the crowd, keeping an eye out for any designers or UFG leadership to speak with. Instead, my focus lingers on one individual. We exchange warm smiles before I compliment him on his outfit — a striking navy pinstripe suit paired with a Gucci belt. He introduces himself to me as Max Musas, a fashion producer and Fundraising Director for the Texas Fashion Industry Initiative (TFII). I recognize this name as the non-profit responsible for organizing Texas Fashion Week — the state’s biggest fashion event. He’s driven the 70-something miles from San Antonio to Austin to support the newest generation of designers, and see what UT’s graduating class has to offer.

“I've been doing a little bit to make Texas a great place in fashion,” Musas remarks. “We're giving the designers the platform to show what they are capable of doing. I think we're [going] in a good direction.” That’s the advantage of Austin’s fashion community being as tight-knit as it is — it offers those who want to get their foot in the door the chance to do it in a welcoming environment, full of supportive and encouraging peers. From UFG’s organization of the Senior Capstone Collection to TFII’s production of Texas Fashion week, fashion industry professionals and hopefuls alike receive a front-row seat to watch this state blossom into a future fashion capital.

As attendees and the supportive friends and family begin to leave, Gail Chovan, apparel designer and professor at UT Austin and Paris College of Art, makes her rounds between the remaining students. She chats with each of them briefly before taking a photograph with all of the featured designers, centered in the middle of all of them. Chovan had much to say about the works of her students as a culmination of their experiences in the TXA program. “The collections were super cohesive,” she compliments them. “This year, it is very studied and amazing. I think every collection was so well done, and they each have a really strong point of view.”

Chovan’s words go on to include a brief (but pointed) bit of constructive criticism on the overuse of grommets on the part of the designers. This seemingly reflects the relationship she had with her students, as a mentor and a true professional at her craft. She walks away, no doubt to offer similar wisdom to another designer.

Photo by Liv Martinez

In the aftermath of the show, flower petals from gifted bouquets litter the grassy outdoor floor. There’s a palpable sense of excitement that seems to have lingered since the opening hour, as if attendees and designers alike all know that they just witnessed the future of Texas fashion. With its diverse array of cultures to serve as influences, our state is poised to become a burgeoning beacon in the fashion landscape. With organizations like UFG and events like these showcasing the state's brightest talents, the future of Texas fashion shines brightly upon us all. ■  

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