Austex and High End Fashion


CIA and the art of brussel sprout earings

Seems like a contradiction: I lived in Austin for nearly half my life, and haute couture was never a very obvious part of the woof and weave of the city’s fabric. Things have changed, which might be good for the value of my property, at least according to Teri Agins:

High-End Brands Expand, And Austin Gets a Makeover -
AUSTIN, Texas — This is the year high-end retail discovered Austin.

While Dallas and Houston have long tended toward gowns and spangles, this intellectual hub — home of the University of Texas, the state capital and some 700,000 people — had a jeans and T-shirt reputation. But now, as new technology wealth comes to town and the local charity-gala circuit booms, Austin has become one of dozens of U.S. cities undergoing a fashion and luxury-goods makeover.

This year, some 30 high-end retailers have opened boutiques in Austin, including Tiffany & Co., Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, David Yurman, Louis Vuitton and Burberry. These names — the vast majority represented in Austin for the first time — are among the retail tenants of a $250 million shopping and residential complex, Domain, that Indianapolis-based developer Simon Property Group Inc. opened in March. Neiman Marcus, which has exclusive rights to sell Chanel and other labels here, is the anchor tenant.

Boots Made for Walkin

All of this has spurred a backlash of sorts, as some local entrepreneurs pine for a return to the days when this liberal college town was referred to as the “blueberry in the tomato soup.” This summer, a group of local businesses banded together to protest the tax incentives handed out to the new Domain complex. Similarly, a few years ago, a different group of small businesses began circulating “Keep Austin Weird” bumper stickers. At Neiman’s charity gala last March, 1,100 well-dressed young partygoers danced to local bands until midnight. Neiman’s slogan for the evening: “Keep Austin Fabulous.”

There’s a Flickr group dedicated to Keep Austin Weird, it needs more members though.

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Romans Go Home

Austin typifies the newest preening of America. As high-tech jobs have brought in money and wealthy transplants from other parts of the U.S., the city’s society scene has been supercharged. Where there were a few black-tie events each year in the 1990s, now there are scores. Earlier this decade, the city added two monthly society magazines, Brilliant and Tribeza, that document balls, fund-raisers and other society events with color photos. As Austinites pay more attention to what they wear for the cameras, retailers are paying more attention to Austinites. “Cities that come up on our radar have many black-tie events,” says Karen Katz, president of Neiman Marcus Stores, a division of Neiman Marcus Group Inc.

Andrea McWilliams, 35 years old, is seeing people dress up like never before. For years, the Austin native and University of Texas graduate says the local style was “not glitzy.” Fashion-minded Austinites shopped at By George, a boutique that carried some European and U.S. designers, and at Last Call, a Neiman Marcus outlet, where they bought marked-down designer labels. Ms. McWilliams says she did most of her shopping on business trips to Dallas.

As the city’s benefit circuit expanded, she says, local events began to take on a red-carpet feel. For the first time, she says, local reporters or photographers were asking attendees what they were wearing. “That got people thinking, ‘Maybe I need to ratchet it up,’ ” she says.

Ms. McWilliams, a lobbyist and Republican fund-raiser, says she’s a fan of Escada, Chanel and Missoni. She has already started buying clothes for the Austin fund-raising season, which starts Thursday with a gala for Ballet Austin, where she says she’ll wear a St. John gown she bought at Neiman’s. She says she bought Oscar de la Renta and Badgley Mischka gowns there as well.

Lance Avery Morgan, who founded Brilliant four years ago, estimates the city now has as many as 100 black-tie affairs between September and April. “Sometimes there are two big events occurring on the same night,” he says. “That never used to happen.”

Austin’s largest employers have long been the University of Texas and the state government. But starting in the 1980s, Austin also became headquarters for many high-tech companies. A University of Texas student named Michael Dell founded a computer business based in nearby Round Rock in 1984; Dell Inc. now employs 17,000 people locally. There are now 3,200 high-tech companies in the area, according to the Austin Chamber of Commerce, with Samsung, Hewlett-Packard and PayPal recently expanding or opening offices here. This part of Texas hill country is now dubbed Silicon Hills.

Since 1980, the population of the metropolitan area has doubled to 1.5 million. In 2005, Austin edged out Dallas and Houston as the richest city in Texas, with a median household income of more than $50,000, well above the national median of $46,500. A perennial front-runner on most-livable city lists, the area is also home to celebrities including athletes Lance Armstrong and Andy Roddick and actors Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock.

(more, article might be free today)

Taco Bell

3 Comments's time for me to move.

such a different city from what I (mis)remember. Of course, I'd hazard a guess that the "old Austin" and the "old Austin" residents still outnumber the Needless markup contigent by a factor of 5 to 1.

I remember the days in Santa Monica where everyone was kind to each other and very generous. However, now, 8 years later, people have become greedy and the only cheap places are boutiques that are closing down and possibly some mom and pop stores... However, that's part of life... sort of... not really

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This page contains a single entry by swanksalot published on September 4, 2007 9:30 AM.

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