In late 2009, while doing an interview for a still-in-progress book on Austin's live music scene, I was able to sit down with Brent Grulke, the late creative director and co-founder of the uber-influential South by Southwest Festival. The interview included story after story about what life was like in Austin in the early 1980s and how Grulke and a band of friends got together to make both the Austin Chronicle and SXSW cultural icons in the Lone Star State. At the end of the conversation, feeling inspired, I shared an idea: "Why not do a style or fashion component during SXSW?"
Fast forward to today and I'm proud to share that two of the most important American menswear designers, and two guys who know a thing or two about the intersection of music and style, will be making their way to Austin this March. But you may be surprised what they'll be doing while they're visiting the Texas capital.
John Varvatos, the menswear icon and frequent face on NBC's Fashion Star, will be a leading voice in HuffPost Style Sessions, developed for The Neighborhood -- a new style-centric showcase launching March 11-14 this year in Downtown Austin's 2nd Street District. The Q&A series will be hosted by HuffPost Style with executive editor Anya Strzemien moderating the discussion.
Varvatos has been making his presence felt in the menswear industry dating back to the 1980s, when he started at Polo Ralph Lauren before taking over menswear design at Calvin Klein, later returning to lead menswear at Polo in the mid '90s. In 2000, he launched his eponymous brand to critical acclaim and preceded to win the Council of Fashion Designers of America Perry Ellis Award for New Menswear Designer and followed it up with Menswear Designer of the Year, an unprecedented feat.
"I am very excited to be part of The Neighborhood & HuffPost's 'Style Sessions' discussing my two favorite subjects -- music and fashion. It's an interesting link, and one that has quite an effect on pop culture," said Varvatos, who often styles Gary Clark, Jr., one of the more recent stars to come out of Austin's famous live music scene.
Joining Varvatos will be fellow multiple CFDA Menswear winner Billy Reid. Reid won last year's CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year Award, and can routinely be found hosting live music performances in his shops and during SXSW where he host a music showcase each year. As I wrote last year, Reid's "Southern-bred luxury" has found a home in Austin just blocks from the one of the world's premier independent record shops, Waterloo Records.
"We really enjoy opportunities where creative spirits can overlap and music is a natural love for us. It one of the favorite parts of our jobs," said Reid. "The city of Austin and music -- really cannot be separate thoughts. The scene here nurtures it and welcomes all to enjoy it. We are so proud to be a part of such a great community."
The Neighborhood is the newest project undertaken by myself and my business partner Jon Pattillo, a 9th generation Austin resident and veteran of the design, music and merchandising industries. Over the last two years Jon and I worked hand-in-hand with key producers at SXSW to create and produce an event I named "Style X" (pronounced "style by"), playing off the locals' moniker for the festival "South by." And those two years brought forth more than 100 brands from American Apparel and Keds to What Goes Around Comes Around and Zanerobe, along with an estimated 35,000 shoppers in just four days of showcasing. To make it even more dynamic, we put together panels featuring the likes of The Man Repeller, Marcus Troy, and editors from Elle, Nylon and other fashion-savvy publications. It was a great time if you made it, but our partnership with SXSW came to an amicable end.
WIth that experience, The Neighborhood was born. Along with these talks, The Neighborhood attendees can look forward to pop-up shops, lounges, blogger talk and panels, and parties with DJ studs like Mick Boogie. Mick, too, will be a guest speaker during The Neighborhood sharing his insights from years spent working with brands like Adidas Originals and artists like Jay-Z. I'm guessing he knows a thing or two about style with that kind of resume.
Both the Varvatos and Reid talks will be completely free and open to the public with no badges required so that both official SXSW badgeholders and Austinites (often fearful of the massive festival) can venture downtown to 2nd Street District for insightful discussions as part of the HuffPost Style Sessions.
If you've been to Austin during SXSW, you may be thinking to yourself, "Wow, do they really have room for a big fashion event too?" My answer: If there's room for Nike to put in a full basketball court or Doritos to create a vending machine stage (as both did last year during the festival), there has to be plenty of room in The Neighborhood for style too. See you in March.