by Tobin Levy
Photographs by Wynn Myers
Style is a defining characteristic that’s nearly impossible to define. To be a style driver is to be without a synonym. “Fashionista” is reductive, “maven” too obscure. The eight Austinites featured here are unequivocal embodiments of style, each has a unique take on what, exactly, that means, and, though flattered, a few remain baffled by the designation.
Professionally and sartorially these men and women are a motley crew, and their collective answers to what constitutes style is a colorful swirl of personal and professional philosophies and designer favorites. They are some of Austin’s best dressed. However, in terms of exemplifying Austin style, the common thread has as much to do with an appreciation for clothing as it does ethos, intellect, eccentricity and relationship to the city they all call home. Click here for a peek behind the scenes at our Drivers of Style photoshoot!
Talking to Jennifer Rose Smith is a merry-go-round of imagery and cultural references: a blue magician’s cape, Patrick Swayze, “The Blue Lagoon,” Rosie O’Donnell, glittery bling, a scraggly man in a three-piece suit, a white horse, and a tragic cashmere crop top. She refers to all of these within the timespan of an hour and in a conversation about style that is far less bizarre than it sounds.
“Style can mean so many different things to so many people and, to me, Austin is a style town but not really a fashion town, and I love that,” Smith says. “I think designer names don’t mean that much here. Creativity is the currency. It’s more about who has the most unique item with the best story behind it.” For Smith, great style is also about self-expression and a host of spirited adjectives such as “playful,” “theatrical,” and “spontaneous.” Today it means an easy, understated white dress and a confident wide-brimmed hat.
“I grew up studying theater and dance, and think that dancewear has really inspired my style,” Smith explains. “I like things that I can move in and that show my form.” She has a low tolerance for clothes that aren’t comfortable and a penchant for bold accessories, such as hats, cuffs, and, less expected, a bowtie. “My relationship to accessories is very spur of the moment,” she says. “It’s about wearing something for fun, kind of like pulling something out of a costume trunk.” She is the picture of insouciance and, when it comes to style, a fan of laid back paired with something that suggests otherwise. “I think people with great style know how to create tension,” she says. “Like a girl with a satin dress and no makeup or a scraggly man with long hair in a beautiful suit.” For her it’s about contrast, the unexpected.
As a creative director at camillestyles.com and a prolific contributor to the site, Smith is admittedly more comfortable being the one asking the questions than she is answering them. Smith is far less interested in being the center of attention than she is, for example, watching “Road House” and “Dirty Dancing.” She recently hosted the double feature at her house and remains buoyed by the line, “nobody puts baby in a corner.” Her love for Patrick Swayze certainly qualifies as less than predictable, her style icons only slightly less so. In that category she lists Brooke Shields in the “The Blue Lagoon,” Lauren Hutton, and Bianca Jagger á la Studio 54. “The thing they have in common is something a little bit wild and natural,” Smith explains. “That contrast of very natural hair and makeup, unexpected outfits, and confidence. Especially that moment with Bianca on the white horse. I mean, she just created that and it was perfect!”
Smith is endlessly entertaining when it comes to the things she deems quintessential. The perfect destination wedding outerwear: a velvet, cobalt blue magician’s cape from the 1920s, which she found on Etsy. The epitome of a fashion mistake: a bright blue cashmere, dry-clean-only sweater set complete with a beaded crop top, which she treasured in college. And the perfect party theme: Smith threw a Halloween fete based on the movie “A League of Their Own,” in which everyone had to create their own Rockford Peaches uniform. For those less schooled on the 1992 classic, it’s about an all-American girls’ professional baseball league called the Rockford Peaches, starring none other than Rosie O’Donnell.
At first, Adriene Mishler seems like a conundrum. It’s not only because she’s an actor who isn’t starving, has never lived in LA, and hasn’t done serious time waiting tables, but also because while working in an industry known for competition, cattiness, and instability she has built a business, Yoga with Adriene, and a lifestyle brand, Find What Feels Good, that promotes balance and tranquility. However, for Mishler, both personally and stylistically, yoga and acting are synergistic. And being from Austin and staying in Austin makes them even more so.
“Style is about so much more than a wardrobe. It’s very personal. I want it to reflect the way I’m feeling or the way I want to feel,” Mishler says. For her, this means “either understated outfits or charming, a bit fancy, maybe even a little weird.” The artist in her celebrates fiction, costumes, and playful, temporary transformation. As a yogi, she embraces comfort, things easy to move in that don’t distract from personal truths, whether profound or profoundly human. Fashion-wise, the latter means stretchy pants and Adidas. The former, more ofen than not, means something from Kick Pleat, owned by Wendi Koletar, whose style and business acumen Mishler deeply respects.
Mishler credits Koletar for changing where and how she shops. “I pretty much exclusively go there,” Mishler says. “It’s not just about wearing the perfect outfit, it’s about the relationship with the people who work there and staying local. Mishler views Kick Pleat like she does her own business. They are examples of “taking responsibility for the things you love.”
While yoga pants are a staple Mishler’s life she by no means lives in them. The joy is in embracing the yin and yang, of oscillating between two disparate looks, each
paired with the signature Austin approachability that makes people want to move here and the reason Austinites who know Mishler are grateful to have her represent. “I embrace Austin as part of my storyline,” says Mishler, for whom down to earth is a natural state of being. It’s an integral part of her hard-earned success story, as is her childhood, which was spent rummaging through the costume room at St. Edward’s University, where, for years, her mother was the artistic director in the theater department. She spent much of her teenage years wearing theater shirts and, thanks to her mother’s own spiritual inclinations, becoming one with Rumi. “At the time, my mom’s obsession with me learning positive affirmations and conscious imaging drove me insane,” says Mishler, admitting that now those affirmations and positive thinking remain invaluable to her work in both fields.
Mishler maintains a schedule and list of obligations that seem counterintuitive to calm. There are the yoga classes she teaches in Austin and the ones she posts on her Yoga with Adriene YouTube channel for her 2 million subscribers. Then there’s programming for Find What Feels Good’s video subscription website; a new weekly podcast; and the annual fall “Roadshow,” where Mishler takes her yoga classes cross country. When she returns, she’ll be adding an acting job to her list. She’s looking forward to the stylistic possibilities. Sharing her story is a large part of her job as a yoga instructor, and, after taking a hiatus from acting to focus on her business, she’s “craving fiction,” she laughs. “I’m craving having my costume back for a bit. I can’t be Yoga with Adriene all the time.”
When Michael Dickson was approached about appearing in the Tribeza Style issue, it took him a few seconds to put two and two together. “I actually thought I was being interviewed for this,” he laughs, pointing to the warm hues, rich fabrics, and textured walls at Native Hostel and Bar & Kitchen.
That’s not to say that Dickson, who’s co-owner of the venue, is apathetic when it comes to the fashion components of style. He’s a super fan of Billy Reid and alert to what other people are wearing. “I wish I could be the guy who wears bright red pants and crazy shoes,” says Dickson, without even a hint of sarcasm. He’s referencing Taylor Jarrett of SHDW Studios, another Driver of Style, who he met at the photoshoot. “I couldn’t do that, but I appreciate the hell out of it.” In fact, the idea for Native came out of his appreciation of stylistic differences, sartorial and otherwise.
“If I could wear one thing every single day it would be a plain white t-shirt, blue jeans and these shoes,” says Dickson, pointing down to a handsomely innocuous pair of white sneakers. In terms of clothing, he is geared toward casual and comfortable, and defines good style in those terms. But for him, clothes and style are two different conversations. The latter is far more about the experience of a space than it is about a shirt’s fabric and fit.
“I love the style of this place because you can come in, relax and sit here for hours,” he says of Native Hostel. Of course, he is proud of the design elements, but, for him, the beauty is equally reliant upon the laissez-faire
feel and lack of pretension. Great style is in the fact that there are young well-heeled businesswomen conducting a meeting on one couch, a scruffy college student playing with his phone on another, and, on a third, a guy whose general mien screams gun rack. This is exactly the vibe Dickson was going for.
Though an Austin native who “remembers when,” his nostalgia generally settles on things like Hypercolor shirts and a guy who used to spray paint galaxies on downtown sidewalks. Native was his solution to the one thing from “old Austin” that he bemoaned: “My friends and I all used to hang out at the same place,” he says. “It didn’t matter if you were a football player or a singer-songwriter. Now there’s a certain type of person who goes to Rainey Street, a certain type of person who hangs out in East Austin and another type who goes to West Sixth.” Though the comparison goes unspoken, Dickson wanted to revitalize a famously Austin ethos, one memorialized in country songs about friendships between rednecks and hippies.
The business plan caters to an eclectic demographic. The modish lodging appeals largely to out of towners, usually twenty-somethings with a limited budget who are looking forward to food trucks, will spend their days exploring the city and don’t mind sharing a room. The food and bar attracts a local crowd. Business plan aside, Dickson attributes the success to style. Even awash in color, like a white t-shirt, the décor is comfortable, malleable, democratic, and easily transformed into something everyone can love.
Taylor Jarrett and Dagny Piasecki are a picture of stylistic symbiosis. A former model, Jarrett, 24, has a featured column at camillestyles.com, is a creative director, a fashion stylist and image consultant. Piasecki, 32, is a photographer and muse. You will rarely hear one name without the other. Though both are from Texas, they are otherworldly in visage with beguiling exotic cultural histories. Piasecki’s father is from Poland and her mother from El Salvador. Jarrett’s family is Panamanian and French. Together, Jarrett and Piasecki founded SHDW Studios, a photo studio and gallery in East Austin. They are quintessential fashion enthusiasts and savvy creatives with a shared and successful business endeavor — and deeply, madly in love. They are unmistakably one of Austin’s best dressed couples and, as they will tell you with enthusiasm, they are rarely apart.
What does style mean to you?
TJ: I think of it as self-expression and first impressions.
DP: I’m on the same page of style being self-expression and art at one of its highest forms. Ultimately,
it’s a way to express confidence.
How would you describe your style?
DP: My personal style is constantly evolving, but if I had to describe it I say I go for either minimal
or I completely embrace color and go crazy with a pattern, a print, or accessories.
TJ: I’m like Dagny, going either minimal or all out but in a refined way. I’m also finding myself progressing to suits and elevated menswear, and exploring colors and fabrics that way. Even though a lot of Dagny’s clothing is minimal, she takes it to the next level. And, you know, it’s been so beautiful seeing her style evolve over the time we’ve been together. Now she’s exploring not only name designers and up-and-comers and really embracing the high-low trend of wearing luxury brands with, for example, a pair of Adidas or Stan Smiths.
Rumor has it you like to pick out each other’s clothes…
DP: Oh yeah, it’s mostly Taylor dressing me. We’ve really nerded out on clothes and style. It’s a language we both speak and a topic we love to discuss. It’s led to us to convert a bedroom in our home into an entire closet. It’s become kind of our dressing room space where we can really have fun dressing each other, and have an influence on each other’s day.
TJ: When we’re together we’re always looking for style feedback.
Was there anything you begged each other to excise from your closet?
TJ: There was definitely a wardrobe clean-out on both ends. Before I moved in Dagny asked me to come and help her clean out her wardrobe like I do with my style clients. So, by the time I really moved in we already had a head start…
DP: There was one pair of shoes of yours that I was like get rid of those! They were the Alexander McQueen ones that looked like dinosaurs!
TJ: Yeah, they were an old Puma collaboration sneaker.
DP: They were green and had these weird dinosaur spikes on them. I’m sure that at one time they were super cool and coveted, but I was like what are these!
TJ: Dagny had a lot of old boho dresses.
DP: He had a lot of work to do on my closet, I will say that.
What is your most beloved piece of clothing?
DP: My kimonos are like my little babies, but I would say a pair of Gucci shoes. They are wild with pearls on the heels and I’m absolutely obsessed with them. They’re one of those things I keep in a very safe place at all times.
TJ: For me it’s definitely my ascots. Years ago, my father was co-owner of a clothing store, and the day I graduated from high school he gave me two massive boxes filled with vintage ties and ascots. I don’t wear the ties much because they are very flamboyant, ‘90s Italian man, but the ascots have been a consistent inspiration.
Were you interested in style as a kid?
DP: His dad has told me many stories, like when he introduced Taylor to designer clothing on Taylor’s first trip to New York. After that, he was like, that’s all I want from here on out.
TJ: I grew up in College Station, so up to that point the only clothes like that that I’d seen were in music videos.
How old were you?
TJ: Eight. I remember my first day at school after that trip. My style had elevated, and I looked differently, and was considered differently, and people approached me differently, and I’ve always reflected on that and tried to make my impressions on people grander through my wardrobe.
Are their any couples you consider style icons?
TJ: Rick Owens and Michele Lamy, and not just because she is older than he is. They are truly influential on each other’s style; I know the brand is his but there wouldn’t be Rick Owens without her.
Last year, Kristie Gonzales made headlines when, at 35, she was hired as the general manager at KVUE-TV. Statistically, she is an anomaly within her industry: Only 16.5% of all television general managers are women, 7.6% are minorities, and less than 4% are Hispanic at English-language TV stations. “We have a lot of room to grow when it comes to diversity in my line of work, especially in the higher ranks,” she says. “So, it’s funny, when people ask me about style icons, I say mine are
the women running the businesses. It’s about the style and grace that you bring when you are able to penetrate those glass ceilings.”
Despite the state of the world, the enormity of her achievements, and the fact that Gonzales’s male counterparts are rarely, if ever, questioned about style, Gonzales has no qualms when it comes talking about fashion, and she is unabashed about there being a Rubicon, a before she worked in the television industry and after. “I used to wear some crazy stuff,” she laughs. “In high school I remember having silver satin pants that I thought were the coolest thing in the world. I would wear them with a neon Scuba Polo Shirt.” In college, she majored in painting and embraced the artists’ anything goes aesthetic, which, for her meant an affinity for petticoats, a nose ring, a lip ring, and an unfortunate pixie cut — the only style decision she’s ever truly regretted.
Her wardrobe now consists solely of clothes that continue to reflect her definition of style. In that regard, the only real difference between her before and after clothes is that the latter make sense in a corporate world. “My style expresses how I feel about myself,” she says. “It confirms my confidence. And the colors represent my personality.” She’s wearing a red dress and heels, and accessories that are classic and original. She looks professional but my no means priggish. “Red is a very powerful color,” she says. “It says let’s engage, let’s have a conversation.” It also makes her stand out, which she likes.
Gonzales has worked unbelievably hard to get where she is today. “I’ve been working since I was fifteen, and I’ve never stopped. I’ve never taken time off between jobs,” she says, noting the ways fashion has been unexpectedly life affirming. “I remember the first time I bought a pair of expensive shoes,” she says. “It was a big day for me. I never thought that coming from my background that I would ever be able to afford something like that. It was a symbol of how hard I’ve worked and of the sacrifices I’ve made along the way.” Gonzales grew up in Albuquerque. Her father is Mexican-American. Her mother was orphaned at seventeen. “They came from humble beginnings.”
Last year, Gonzales was honored with the 2016 Latino Trendsetter Award. “It felt great to be recognized, but the value of that award for me was knowing that it’s not an award given to you because of your exterior it’s an award given because you’re doing things for your community and setting an example,” she says. “My motto is ‘as you climb, lift,’ and I needed to do that in my career.”
Gonzales volunteers with the SAFE Alliance and the Make-A-Wish Foundation and helps mentor young Hispanic women so that they, too, can reach their full potential. This includes discussions about style. “I just read a book about female CEOs and there’s a whole chapter devoted to how you dress,” she explains. “Because we live in a male dominated world, it’s something we have to talk about even if we don’t want to. But I like to celebrate the positive. So, yeah, if you’re female and trying to become a CEO there are going to be chapters on how to dress. But let’s not spend time on the negative. Master it and move on and do the real work of running a business.”
Zane Wilemon arrived to the Tribeza photo shoot straight from the airport, after twenty-eight hours of travel. “I feel great,” he laughs. Wilemon was in Kenya, visiting the small town of Maai Mahiu outside of Nairobi where, in 2003, he co-founded the Ubuntu Foundation and, later, Ubuntu Made.
The foundation’s mission is to empower the 60,000-person community through job opportunities and programs that allow people to pull themselves out of poverty. Ubuntu Made is a product line that includes exuberant hats, bandanas, bags, and jewelry —all inspired by the local ethnic Maasai culture and made by Kenyan women whom their company employs full time, providing benefits such as healthcare for them and their families. It is a self-sustaining model with revenue also helping fund the foundation’s special education programs and healthcare endeavors.
Wilemon, his Ubuntu colleagues, and their friends in Kenya affectionately refer to the women who make the Ubuntu Made products as “mums.” (Kenyans, like the English, pronounce and spell mom “mum.”) Their products are now sold online and globally, in the U.K., Canada, and the U.S. and distributors include Whole Foods Market, Allegro Coffee, ByGeorge, South Congress Hotel, Sunroom, and Zazzle. They are currently working on a partnership with celebrity stylist Anita Patrickson.
To Wilemon, the Maasai women epitomize style. “If you look at the precision and complexity of the patterns and bead work in everything they wear, it’s remarkable,” Wilemon says. “It’s like, wait, you live in a mud hut, you sleep on an animal skin rug, and every day you spend six hours fetching dirty water, but you look fabulous! It’s who they are. It reflects their confidence, spirit, and vibrant personalities.”
When it comes to Wilemon’s own style, he says it’s about having a uniform sense of self if not an actual uniform. One of his favorite sayings is “choose a uniform; wear it o#en; know when to change.” It’s about far more than a wardrobe staple, though he does, in fact, have one: a pair of work boots he’s had for twenty years and resoled four times. “They go with everything,” he explains. “I can wear them out to a nice dinner or to Africa or Montana,” where he and his wife, Amal, spend time in the summers. Wilemon points to his boots’ durability as another facet of style, or at least good style.
The materials for Ubuntu Made products are sourced locally in Kenya, further stimulating the Kenyan economy. “We’re trying to make fewer but nicer pieces that people will keep because they are simple and beautiful and come with a story and a name. Ubuntu means ‘I am because we are.’” The translation appears on the product labels and each artisan fills in the statement on the pieces they make, signing their name, offering a potent descriptive of a personal attribute they hope to share. It is an introduction, one that personalizes product origin, and highlights human connectivity.
“An example would be ‘I am Miriam, and we are powerful,’” says Amal, who offers additional insight into the company and her husband. Together they exhibit an unassuming glamor and adoring rapport, although their relationship has not been without its complications. Amal is from a traditional Islamic background. He remains an Episcopal priest. “I’ve got my collar in the closet,” Wilemon says. “You’re chatting with a Muslim woman and Christian priest about fashion in Africa.” If they’re proselytizing, they are advocating for a way of life that stresses the importance of community.
Whether talking about books, family life or Fair Isle sweaters, Lois Kim is the epitome of eloquence. There is a reflexive thoughtfulness to the words she chooses and a confidence in the way she speaks. They are skills she must need in overseeing the literary nonprofit organization that runs the annual Texas Book Festival, which brings 300 authors and 50,000 book lovers to the State Capitol each year. Ironically, when asked how she defines style, she’s, at least temporarily, at a loss for words. “I think it’s difficult to articulate something so personal,” she says.
However, when asked about fictional fashion icons Kim is quick with an unlikely response. “As a child, I was totally obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ series, which was set in the 1870s, and with the narrator/protagonist Laura’s calico dress. It was the description of pioneer life, the way they had so little that you would really focus on how precious it was to have a dress made from fabric that they could only buy once a year. In earlier fiction, external worlds were really described in detail, and social class was written on the body in clothing,” she explains. “In today’s novels, it’s more about psychological truths. Everyone’s concerned with what’s happening inside the characters’ heads, so you don’t have that beautiful detail of Laura’s brown calico dress with the red flowers…”
Our conversation winds its way through Shakespeare, Edith Wharton, Fitzgerald, then back to the 21st century and Kim’s fashion choices. She somehow simultaneously manages erudite (Kim has a PhD in literature), earnest, and approachable.
There is a notable parallel between Kim’s relaxed persona and her stylistic sensibility. “I’m such a fan of this town’s lack of pretension around so many things, including fashion,” she says. “You can either participate in the fashion vibe or not, and no one is going to judge you either way. If you do participate, if you are invested in your personal style, it’s because it makes you feel good. And I definitely feel better when I’m making a conscious choice about what I’m wearing.”
Having had time to mull it over, Kim concludes that “style is about figuring out what your body type is, what your overall look is, and determining what looks good with who you are.” Kim is a self-described minimalist with a tendency toward understated pieces that reflect the comfort that she feels in her own skin as well as her allegiance to physical comfort. “I won’t suffer for fashion,” she laughs. Kim prefers unstructured shapes (No belts. Ever.) and four-inch heels. Her preference for the latter is a relatively new development. “I’m owning my height,” she says, “after spending most of my life trying to shave it off by telling people I’m five nine and a half when I’m really 5’10”.”
Embracing a 6’2” vantage point is not about a need to stand out, but rather a lack of concern when it comes to fitting in. She’s quick to admit that this wasn’t always the case. As a child and even as a young adult she eschewed personal style for a more chameleon existence, save for a burgundy, full three-piece suit her mother made for her when Kim was in the fifth grade. (“It was the ‘70s, and had a kind of John Travolta effect.”) Other than that, she says, “it was a lot of mimicry, depending on the environment I was in.”
Kim spent her childhood in Buffalo, New York. Lisa Birnbach’s “Official Preppy Handbook” was Kim’s bible. “You would actually call your friends and coordinate outfits, which always consisted of a turtleneck, two button downs, an Izod, and a Fair Isle sweater—usually in Kelly Greens and blues—with a matching Pappagallo purse,” she says. “I mean, the epicenter of prep was my coming of age…” Her closet still features traces of preppy—an updated button up, a modified chino. “I think I am always going to have a little bit of that—it’s part of my childhood, part of my immigrant longing to fit in then,” she says. “Maybe that’s also something about style, it’s part of your history, so it’s always going to follow you.”
Read more from the Style Issue | September 2017