Four Designers Share Stunning New Looks & What Inspired Them
Rick Soto, Lika Steel, Linda Asaf and Brittany Allen give insight to their creative process
By Darcie Duttweiler
Photos by Phil Kline
Custom Suit Maker
Rick Soto’s love of suits started when he was a boy watching classic gangster movies like “Casino” and “Goodfellas.”
“Important people in those movies were always wearing suits, and they were always so confident,” Soto explains.
The 36-year-old Victoria, Texas, native got his start in the fashion industry designing and selling neckties, bowties, and flower lapels at trade shows while also working as a pharmaceutical sales rep. The hobby turned into something more when, with the help of a master tailor, he deconstructed his favorite suits and learned how to replicate the process. Soto has been creating custom suits since 2016, mostly in a tricked-out mobile truck that he purchased with severance after a drug patent fell through. At the time, the mobile truck was a novel concept and garnered attention from GQ within six months of opening.
While Soto has worked with the likes of Emmanuel Acho, Ian Rapoport, Justin Fields and Micah Parsons, he wants all of his clients to feel special in his suits. He especially enjoys helping nonbinary folks create a suit to perfectly fit their bodies.
“They finally see themselves the way they want to look, and we’re doing our best to make everyone feel happy and confident.” In a post-pandemic world, Soto is looking forward to crafting fun garments for his clients’ special events, like weddings and public speaking engagements, but currently he’s on the hunt for the perfect sneakers for his baby girl due in October.
Inspiration: “I wanted something to exemplify my brand and the relationship I have with my clients. I am a huge fan of mixing and matching different fabrics, and when I get the greenlight for creative freedom, I love creating looks and surprising clients with outfits they probably would have never picked if just looking at a pair of swatches.”
“It’s mostly classic silhouettes and designs, but with being custom, I have the opportunity to create other things that people want to see themselves in, like capes and crowns, and making our clients look like kings.”
“I love a classic design that surprises you when you walk up close to it and you see herringbone, polka dot, or pinstripe patterns. I really like the element of surprise.”
“Ralph Lauren started with neckties, and it evolved from there. We don’t necessarily have the same style, but I love his story.”
“I try to stay ahead of the game, and that inspires me to create something different and think outside of the box.”
“In my shop, I have photos of people I’ve worked with, and I have an empty frame that says, ‘Reserved for Matthew McConaughey,’ so I’m trying to will it into existence. I think he’d be fun to work with!”
HOW TO SHOP
Couture Women’s Wear
Much like how she met her husband in Tel Aviv when neither one of them spoke each other’s language, Lika Steel likes to express herself visually.
“I’m a visionary,” she says. “I like to say my message through design. You can speak without using words.”
Originally from Moldova, the 45-year-old couture designer never saw fashion as a viable career, even though she was always creating. Her mother is a doctor and her aunt a judge, and Steel was working in marketing for more than 15 years when she spotted a beautiful building that inspired her.
“It was the fashion design school, and I started classes a week later.” Upon graduating from the Tel Aviv School of Design in 2014 and moving to Texas when her husband was relocated back to the U.S., Steel started her first collection titled “Savage Rose,” which juxtaposed very sharp and gentle elements.
Unlike many designers who push themselves to mass produce, Steel creates what she calls “slow fashion” and prefers to only show one collection a year. Currently she’s working on bridal pieces after being moved by beautiful white swans while on vacation at an Austrian lake.
“I actually don’t even know who would buy it,” she laughs. “It’s white but very, very different.”
Steel views fashion as an artistic expression and is currently working on a project called “Fashion and Art” by collaborating with other Austin artists, from dancers to painters, to create a collection of art with 30 to 40 dresses. She aims to show the pieces in an art gallery next year.
“Fashion is so much more than styling. It’s a self-expression of the artist who creates it,” Steel says.
Inspiration: “This is part of my new collection, ‘Inlight,’ which symbolizes a bright future. We are still fighting the pandemic, but I want to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the collection represents the new epoch of rebirth.”
“It’s definitely a contradiction. I like the meeting of putting things together that don’t belong together. Something really beautiful comes from that.”
“Dark colors. I like black! Also, dark green and dark purple.”
“Coco Chanel because she’s very classic, and Alexander McQueen because he’s completely crazy.”
“My inspiration comes from my inner world, what I’m living, and everything around me. My language of design comes from the wisdom of strong women.”
“Meryl Streep has a lot of elegance but also a lot of spice.”
HOW TO SHOP:
Women’s Evening Wear
With more than 20 years in Austin and almost 12 years at her current showroom off of West Sixth Street, Linda Asaf has seen the capitol city’s fashion scene grow firsthand.
“When I first moved here in 1999, I had so many friends who wouldn’t go to a party unless they were wearing their Teva sandals,” Asaf laughs. “Now, we’re much more fashion focused, but it’s still very easygoing and chill.”
The women’s evening wear designer is most renowned for her handmade gowns with haute couture textiles and elaborate embellishments of crystals and pearls, decidedly the types of garments most didn’t wear during lockdown. Needless to say, Asaf is definitely looking forward to the possibility that we might repeat the Roaring ’20s in our post-pandemic lives. Last year, she worked with the local fashion industry to produce masks for healthcare workers when PPE was in short supply.
“If I was going to wear a mask, I was going to design something cute to wear,” Asaf says. Take Heart Masks also donated thousands of masks to the city’s homeless.
The longtime designer credits the nuns at Incarnate Word Academy in Corpus Christi for teaching her to sew, but it wasn’t until she quit her job at Citigroup to work at a women’s apparel company that Asaf was bit by the fashion bug, and she hasn’t looked back since. Asaf prides herself on making clients happy, even several years from now. She still wears one of her very first designs, a flirty sundress that receives plenty of compliments to this day.
“I don’t ever want a client to pull something out of their closet 20 years from now and say, ‘What was she thinking?’”
Inspiration: “This design is a reflection of how I’ve evolved as a designer over time. I got my start designing ready-to-wear, but now I also create luxury fashion using advanced design techniques and some of the most beautiful fabrics in the world. I enjoy the fact that my designs can bring a smile to those who appreciate creativity.”
“I create luxury fashion that accentuates the female form. It’s classic with a design edge and lots of details. I love the adventure of doing luxury fashion.”
“There are so many beautiful laces from France, Italy, and Spain. I also adore embroidered tulle. I work with so many fabulous textile shops, and the technology is evolving the industry to make so many things possible. I’m like a kid in a candy store!”
“I’m currently inspired by Iris Van Herpen, this young Dutch woman based in Amsterdam who has created a whole new category of fashion. It’s 3-D and meticulous, and she’s done a lot of collaborations with architects.”
“I always let the textiles speak to me. There are just so many different types and possibilities.”
“Kamala Harris. It’s important for young women of color to see how much you can achieve.”
HOW TO SHOP:
Visit her showroom at 1405 West Sixth St. or shop online at lindaasaf.com.
Contemporary women’s ready-to-wear, athleisure and swimsuits
The season 18 finale of “Project Runway” aired on March 12, 2020, a mere five days before Mayor Steve Adler instituted the city’s lockdown. Normally, once a season has finished, the contestants will go on press tours, be invited for speaking engagements, and hold pop-up shops for their designs. After finishing in sixth place, Austin designer Brittany Allen says she’s happy for the exposure she received from the show but was bummed she missed out on meeting her fans and clients face-to-face.
Hailing from Fort Smith, Arkansas, Allen moved to Austin in 2015 for her husband’s new job; although, she admits she was going to have to leave Arkansas eventually because her fashion aesthetic wasn’t for everyone.
“I think it’s one of those things, where, like be who you are, because if people like it, they’re going to find you,” Allen says. “I just ride out my own aesthetic, and it turns out a lot of women in Texas love it … as well as women from all over the world.”
Although she missed out on the post-“Project Runway” press blitz, Allen has had a busy pandemic career, infusing her love of prints, including her famous butterflies, into an athleisure wear line and eventually into her first foray into swimsuits. While many designers craft clothes for specific seasons, Allen plans to produce clothes year-round, and after a much-needed break, she hopes to share new designs soon.
“Now, more than ever, people need exciting things to wear. People want color and prints, and I’m here to give them fun, exciting, happy clothes.”
Inspiration: “They are very feminine but have a strong, powerful meaning, which is what I want my customers to feel when they wear one of my garments — like they are the strongest, most powerful and confident female in the room.”
“I always say that it’s kind of borderline tacky, but more refreshed, more refined. It’s definitely very print heavy, and very colorful. I am trying to redefine what sophistication means.”
“Pink is the base color of my brand. It sometimes gets a weaker rep in the world of art and design because it’s associated with femininity. But women are the superior sex — I mean we can grow a human being, for God’s sake. So, it should be considered the strongest color out there!”
“I worked with Betsy Johnson, and I loved her motivation in the industry. She fought tooth and nail for her business, and I love that about her.”
“I am very inspired by emotions. If I’m sad, I’ll put it into the clothes. If I’m happy, I’ll put it into the clothes. I really want to be an artist and use fashion as an outlet of my expression, and I want that emotion to come out very strongly when people see the clothes.”
“Kacey Musgraves! She’s very fearless, truthful and Southern — just like me. And she’s very feminine but also independent and powerful. Of course, she has that song ‘Butterflies.’ It would just be a match made in heaven.”
HOW TO SHOP:
Online at shopbrittanyallen.com.