Drivers of Style
In collaboration with Lexus, we highlight the Austinites driving our city’s conversation on style and substance.
by Hannah Morrow
Photographs by Dagny Piasecki
What do you want to communicate through your style? That’s what we asked the eminent group who comprise this year’s Drivers of Style. They agreed: Style is an extension of the self. It’s a palette that can be learned or predisposed or completely made up along the way, and there’s no wrong way to arrive at it. The following folks boast not only a good nose for style, but appetites that have driven and continue to drive Austin forward with inclusive conversations and creative ventures. Here’s a taste of our city’s finest.
Owner, Rancho PILLOW
If you’ve ever ventured to Round Top, you may have followed a yellow-brick road to the otherworldly Rancho Pillow. The 20-acre compound, where guests can stay in casitas or luxe tents (including a teepee), is saturated in style, with each structure meticulously clobbered in color and eccentricities. It’s a place where anything goes and everything belongs, a ’60s Palm Springs estate meets a curandera’s modern homestead. To have visited Rancho is to know its owner and designer, the incandescent Sheila Youngblood. “It’s only an expression of my heart,” she says of her style. “No hidden messages.” Raised in Houston, Youngblood names her maternal grandmother, Nellie, as an early influence and cultivator of artistic expression, calling her “authentic to the bone” and a great lover of life. “She invited me into a deeper place creatively at a very young age, and that has never left me,” she says. It was Nellie who used to make many of Youngblood’s clothes, building a closet of culottes and jumpsuits. Simple silhouettes have abided her, as she most often pairs caftans with a miscellany of layers and bare feet. Most of Youngblood’s accessories are vintage or custom, and all have interesting backstories — black pearls from French Polynesia, shark teeth from Japan crocheted with deer skin, a bone bird carved from antlers by an artist in Oklahoma (she’s run over it twice, she says, and glued the wings back on). She’s partial to aesthetics of Latin America, praising native artisans and the spirit of homegrown creation as her own creative musings. “By wearing these special pieces they create or those inspired by them, I celebrate their history and passion, culture and courage, pride and beauty,” she says. “Latin American art adorns all my spaces, and my body — it warms my heart and bathes us all in color.” These inspirations are apparent at her central Austin home as well as at Rancho Pillow, where folk art adorns most walls and textiles veil the floor. When she purchased Rancho in 2006 after a visit to the nearby annual antiques fair, the then-only structure on the property was a restored 1896 farmhouse, now known as the Red House. She has since added several structures, including a residential recording studio and a performance space called Pozo Hondo in 2010. “But more than anything, it’s a place to just be. To be alone or with people you love. To celebrate, laugh, be inspired, heal, rest, and grow.”
Artist and Freelance Designer
In 2016, artist Moyo Oyelola mentioned in an interview that he wanted to visit 30 countries by the age of 30. A brilliant photographer, Oyelola has documented his travels via Instagram (@moyo3k), with images traversing destinations from Marrakech to Namibia to L.A. With his 30th birthday looming, I was curious to see if he had met his ambitious goal. He laughed and shook his head. Not quite yet, he said, but you never know. “It could be the miracle at the end of the game,” says Oyelola. “In a way, it’s a little superficial, but it’s very intentional in the sense of — hey, get out there. There are places I really want to see and learn from so I can come back and bring it all here.” The first time Oyelola left a country, it was his home country of Nigeria. He was seven years old when his family’s name was drawn through the lottery system to receive a visa; they sold everything and ended up in Austin, where his uncle was living. Though he was able to get accustomed to Texas culture, the idea of home was nurtured as his passion for storytelling developed. “Regardless of whatever I do today, that place [Nigeria] has been factored into who I am,” he says. “There are layers to me. There’s all kinds of parts and pieces to everyone’s story.” His pants, he says as pinches his well-tailored trousers made of African adire textile, are local to Abeokuta, where he was born. “Style has to be very unique and individualized, especially as opposed to fashion. I think great style fits the person, whether it’s a Japanese kimono or African attire. It fits them because they’re speaking their truth.” Ancestry, in historical and contemporary terms, is a theme that carries through Oyelola’s art. Though he works as a freelance creative on commercial projects, his personal art is often multidisciplinary, spanning from videography to 3-D constructions. But passion projects dot his horizon; he mentions, in particular, an upcoming one focusing on soccer as a unifying force in communities. “Spiritually, my thing going into this year is to strip it all down. I want to let my art evolve. And that’s true for style, too.”
Abby and Scott Martin
Founder, The Little Yoga House and
Designer, Joel Mozersky Design
To be comfortable — liberated from a tight waistband or a shoe with no give or an unbreathable button-up — is a high priority for Abby and Scott Martin. Both spend a fair amount of time in motion: Abby is the founder and co-owner of family yoga studio The Little Yoga House, and Scott is an avid climber (the two met at Austin Bouldering Project in 2016). It’s a quality that the couple, who wed in April, also carry into their style. “Abby has a great sense for making relatively comfortable things look chic,” says Scott. The musician, who delivers vocals and guitar for his band, Boyfrndz, jump-started his career in interior design after a chance meeting with Joel Mozersky. He’s now been with Mozersky’s firm for a little over a year. “I think my design style is a tad more adventurous,” he says. “I like a little more personality and risk in that world.” Abby, who, by the nature of instructing yoga, spends most days wrapped in a stretchy textile, says she tries to find ways to sneak a simple styling into her every day. “I put [style] into the design of the studios,” she says, in reference to Little Yoga House’s Anderson Lane location and its new preschool, set to open on Woodrow Avenue this fall. She co-designed both spaces with her business partner, An Dang, and dreams of starting her own line of children’s yoga apparel down the road. She says her personal style is set in neutrals, guided by comfort and versatility. “Being able to say, you know, I accept that is not my style, that doesn’t look good on my body,” she says. “I know what does look good. I can work with this.” Shortly after their wedding, held at Green Pastures, Abby and Scott moved into a home in Brentwood, which they’ve redesigned together. Style is in the seams for this couple, running through their careers and acting as a passion that stitches them together. And with Scott’s design career in bloom and Abby’s business under expansion, the two are getting anything but comfortable as they strive for success in Austin.
Artist and Photographer
In her rather cavernous East Austin studio, Alexandra Valenti looks particularly petite curled up on a sofa. Finally, she says, after many tiny box studios, she has room to breathe. “Now I’m able to make big shit, and it’s the most fun. Being able to put stuff on the floor and create on eight-foot canvases … I always wanted to make big pieces,” says Valenti, who stands on the lower end of five-foot-something, “but I never knew how I could physically do it.” In the two years since she moved into this studio, Valenti’s career as a photographer, artist, and art director has grown into new spaces. Last year, she became ByGeorge’s art director, leading the brand’s editorial efforts and photographing its portrait series. She’s taken on commercial projects from big names like Nordstrom and Volcom. She’s also achieved her first solo show, titled “Present Primitive,” at Austin’s Preacher Gallery. “I worked on it for eight months and made about 72 pieces, but we could only fit 59 in the gallery,” says Valenti, who also has 148 prints featured at the new LINE hotel downtown. The show, fully comprised of her organic free-form paintings, nearly sold out within three hours. So, yes, Valenti is busy. Her daily uniform — men’s jeans tailored just right to her small frame paired with feminine, often vintage blouses — allows her to bop around studios with a camera or paintbrush in hand. “That balance between masculine and feminine — I like women who wear men’s clothing,” says Valenti, who also collects vintage Gucci loafers and wide-brim hats. “I think of women artists back in the ’50s and ’60s, like Joni Mitchell or Helen Frankenthaler. It’s comfort, it’s function.” That time period is the inspiration for a line of scarves she’s releasing this fall. Based on her paintings, the line will be made in Italy but designed entirely locally. “I had Preacher design all the packaging. It’s my take on a Balenciaga box,” says Valenti. “I’ve always wanted to do [a scarf line], because I wear them a lot and I love them as art pieces. Do it, but do it well. Do it right.”
Co-Owner, Hillside Farmacy
From where he sits, Texas native Greg Mathews is at least 150 miles from the coast and probably another 50 from anything that resembles a rideable wave. But when he arrives at SHDW Studios on a July morning, he looks as though he just rolled in from a morning surf session. This look will be authentic in a few days’ time, as he leaves the following day for the Maldives. “That’s all I can think about. My wife said that when I come back I need to have it out of my system,” he laughs. It’s with his wife, Australian expat Jade Place-Mathews, that he owns East Side favorite Hillside Farmacy on East 11th Street and El Diablo Taco Truck in Brooklyn. In 2008, the same year they opened the taco truck, the Mathews bought a home in Austin in hopes of opening a bar on the East Side with partner Mickie Spencer, owner of Eastside Showroom (now Ah Sing Den). The team was approached about the insides of Jones Drugstore in Elgin, which had remained untouched since the ’70s. “They had just shut the doors. All the cabinetry, merchandise, postcards from the ’50s and ’60s, newspapers from the ’70s. It was insane,” he says. When they entered conversations regarding the 11th Street property, then Gene’s Po-Boys, owner Yvette Turner informed the Mathews about the building’s history — her father, Doc Young, was the first African-American pharmacist in Austin and operated Hillside Drugstore for decades. With chef Sonya Coté on board, the venture changed from bar to restaurant, with a focus on locally sourced food. “It was very organic,” he says, no pun intended. “It all sort of showed itself to us.” This carefree attitude allows a gentle jest — please, he begs, don’t write that he really says surfer dudeisms — but being laid-back suits him, and our city, very well. He didn’t bring a change of clothes for this shoot; what you see is what you get. “When you’re younger, you’re more image-conscious, which is totally fine, but I never liked it,” he says. “I think doing what you believe in and whatever speaks to you will always be right. Own it. Keep your word. Have as much fun as you can. Do good stuff,” he says with a well-worn smile. “Oh, and be on time.”
Conference Programming Manager, SXSW
After following Kelly Krause on Instagram (@kelljokrause) for a long while, there was a split-second concern that I was about to walk into a “don’t meet your heroes” situation. Krause is a conference programming manager at SXSW (in layman’s terms, this is called a dream job), where she created the SXstyle track, which has welcomed the likes of designer Marc Jacobs, OG #Girlboss Sophia Amoruso, and model Karlie Kloss. In 2014, the same year that her style and tech track became official, Krause wrote a viral article called “How to Change Your Life” for CamilleStyles.com recounting her 135-pound weight loss journey and newfound commitment to physical and mental health. This past April, lululemon surprised her with an ambassadorship after pitching “In the Practice of,” a bimonthly series she hosts with community leaders. Would she spill the proverbial beans and tell me how she does it all? “Pitch it. Ask for it. If it’s a no, try to negotiate something else. You’ll never get it until you ask for it,” she says warmly. “Once I hear someone’s passion about something, about why we should do something or create change, it’s a no-brainer.” This is the beauty of Kelly Krause. She weaves her life with silk, threading her vulnerabilities to her strengths and entwining others to her own success. “I’m at my most confident when I’m wearing something that I love. I feel the best when I’m taking care of myself. It goes hand in hand,” says Krause, who likes cycling classes at SoulCycle and jogs around Lady Bird Lake. “Style for me is based on telling some kind of story, and I end up telling that story a little bit better when I’m taking care of myself — physically, mentally — in all aspects of life.” The definition of wellness is flexible (though not always related to a yoga practice), and Krause hopes her lululemon series will reach an audience who keep it at the forefront in different ways. Flexible, too, is the definition of style, and it’s surely no synonym for one size or another. “We’re all in the practice of doing something, and in order to be good at what we do in business and be creative, we have to take care of ourselves. That’s the conversation I’m interested in having.”
Founder, Playa Real Premium Tequila
You will not catch Matt Davis slouching around Austin for a number of reasons. His resume includes work for online shopping site Gilt Groupe. He’s a regular at ByGeorge. Not to mention, his wife is Kendra Scott. In fewer words, style comes with the territory. “For her, it’s integrated into her everyday work. But, yes, I definitely can’t go out in a ratty T-shirt and flip-flops — not that there’s anything wrong with that,” laughs Matt Davis, founder of Playa Real Premium Tequila, which launched in January of last year. Much like Scott, who began her journey to becoming a jewelry mogul in her spare bedroom, Playa Real began as a passion project. While living in California, Davis and pals would take weekend trips to Mexico to enjoy the surf and small-town tequila. “The locals would put the tequila in big glass vats and add whatever fruit they want, and just let it naturally infuse,” says Davis. “I told my friend, we have got to bottle this up.” A few years later, after Davis had met and married Scott in 2014, Playa Real emerged as a full-blown booze business. “I was ready for my next adventure. [Scott] said that there’s never a right time to launch a brand,” says Davis, who had previously worked for Heineken for ten years, “but there are right places and Austin is the right place.” Now on shelves is Playa Real’s triple-distilled Silver tequila, a 100 percent pure agave tour de force that’s also the base for the brand’s pineapple- and mandarin-infused varieties. “All the money goes into the liquid itself. It’s a simple bottle. People want to feel the value of what they’re getting.” The quality-over-quantity mindset is also evident in Davis’ closet, where craftsmanship and clean lines take precedence. “I’m a huge Brunello Cucinelli fan. Some of it is outrageously expensive and I can’t justify the cost, but I know the quality is so good that when you purchase it, you don’t have to purchase another of the same for years,” says Davis. “Style is a way to get through different aspects of my life and my psyche. You want to be put together and look nice — look like you have your books and your business in order — but there are also times you want to get a little adventurous. By putting my own stamp on it, I hope it brings that out.”
Director, The University of Texas Community Engagement Center
With more than a hundred people moving daily to Austin metro, natives can feel few and far between. But to have been raised here, leave with no intention of returning, and then pursue a career path of social justice that leads you back to your hometown, that’s the singular exceptionality of Virginia Cumberbatch. “To me, moving back felt like what was best,” says Cumberbatch, who graduated from the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Affairs with her master’s in 2016. Shortly after, she was offered her current role as director of UT’s Community Engagement Center under the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. “I feel so blessed to be living here in this time period of Austin, which is growing like crazy and not just, like, the amount of people but the change — changes that are prosperous for some but marginalizing others. To be here and be in a certain position where I have resources at my disposal to address some of those inequalities is really special.” One of four children, Cumberbatch says her parents fostered creativity in style, empowering personal choices while incorporating more-nuanced conversations about how their style may translate in a predominantly white city (for example, she says, natural hairstyles or dreadlocks for her brothers). “My style is part of my expression; my work is defined in some very heavy topics. So the way that I celebrate on a daily basis, when I have to have a conversation about how we’re marginalizing people of color, but then I get to wear this really bright-yellow jacket,” she says, smiling, “and it’s going to make me feel okay about having it.” Cumberbatch also advocates for equality off the clock in more ways than one. She patronizes shops locally owned by women of color, like Olive and Altatudes. She co-edited “As We Saw It: The Story of Integration at the University of Texas,” a collective recount from UT’s first black students, which was published at the beginning of this year. And this fall, Cumberbatch is collaborating with civil rights attorney Meagan Harding on a platform called Rosa Rebellion. Their first project is called “Rebel + Rest.” “We’re really excited to be developing a space to empower women of color committed to creative social justice.”