For those in the know of Austin’s fashion scene, a familiar face is State-side again. For those new to Austin, fashion, or Austin’s fashion, a local legend walks these streets. She owns the unique shop on SoCo, Blackmail. She’s an instructor at UT’s Textile & Apparel Dept. Gail Chovan is not big on the word fashion, nor the fast-paced cycles of the global institution the fashion industry has become. She is, in her own terms, a clothing artist. That has never been more clear than now.
Chovan is an Austin original: designer, boutique owner, mother of two, wife, artist, and teacher. She wears many hats and exemplifies the artistic avant-garde spirit Austin is famous for. Her latest exhibition, "No Trace of Now Will Remain" is up for free public consumption at
Women & Their Work gallery on Lavaca St. Inspired by her daughter, Zelda, who was born blind, the poetry of the entire collection lies in
"Le noir n'est pas si noir" or "The dark is not so dark"; the definition of Zelda's experience of this modern world.
“[Zelda] may be blind but her world is so filled with beauty and sensuality and that’s what I wanted to show here, and just the remnants of things I’ve been collecting and people have given me, and the antitheses of No Trace of Now Will Remain is I hope imparted to beauty of all
these pieces that are mainly vintage,” Gail says to a crowd during the opening reception Saturday night. Gail first mentioned the inspiration for this collection last autumn. Naturally, the project morphed and evolved many times over in conception, yet the finished project leaves a feeling
of hope and cathartic release.
“I’m a clothing designer by trade, but I’ve always been interested in using remnants of clothing, especially Victoriana, which guided me for so many years; my interest in the color black, my interest in the night, the darkness, and the beauty that comes from the night. So taking all
these elements when I was accepted to this show has morphed so many times over.”
Consisting of 24 pieces, ranging in price from $300-$5,000, the dramatic use of lighting in the gallery space eloquently captures the essence of experience. On walking through the exhibit, the first piece might at first be overlooked, but upon closer inspection, wonder at how it was missed is inevitable: "Mordant ($1200)," plaster and gold teeth. Walking down a dim hall, the next piece is the line of poetry in French neon, and around the corner, in English neon. The next turn opens up the main hall.
Mirrors, human hair, Victorian & Edwardian clothing, hand-stitched kid gloves, neon lights, even bones are incorporated into these delightfully macabre pieces. Mrs. Chovan even conducted a brief Q&A session, which shed some light on her work and her experience in making this collection.
Q: How do you feel about being an independent designer now, in this time when we don’t have independent boutiques?
A: I’ve been a clothing designer for 25 years and part of that is because I’ve had my own shop for 20 years. ... I think that there’s always people that appreciate artisanal workmanship. At one point, I took a chance, thinking about production and I realized it was just never for me, and
now I teach at UT and I teach apparel design students. I know that they want to be part of the fashion system, but what I want to impart to them is the beauty of the detail and the fact that you can learn to make things with your hands, and hopefully that will always stay with them
when they go off on that trajectory of fast fashion. Its always been a part of who I am and it will never change.
Q: How did the project change from your original inspiration to demonstrate Zelda’s experience?
A: My first idea was to make clothing that used four senses except for sight. That just morphed, I found myself forcing myself to do that until I realized, “What do I love?” I love detritus and I love, you know, shattered fabrics and I love all of these little pieces and I love working by hand. All these things are stitched by hand with no pattern, free-stitching so some of the words are askew, the letters are misshapen, so it definitely morphed. Feel free to touch anything, except the neon.
Q: Does the #MeToo movement influence your future projects?
A: Yes, actually it does. Coming over here, I said to my husband, “I feel honored, this is the 40th Anniversary of Women And Their Work.” Zelda kept saying while I was working on this, “Well what about men and their work?” We actually walked the women’s march in D.C. last
Q: How do you see the fashion industry here in Austin? How do you market yourself?
A: I don’t market myself, I gave up marketing myself a very long time ago. I don’t even like the word fashion, I like apparel or clothing or even style. It all comes down to ephemera and trend and we’ve turned into this world of these visuals that disappear with a snapchat. I like things
that are, these things are 100 years old, and maybe I’m the last person who thinks about that, but I think everybody here has a bit of appreciation for the lasting pieces.
Q: Were you interested in black before Zelda?
A: Yes, I’ve been interested in black since the 80s in design school in Paris when the Japanese designers were coming to light. I’m very interested in form and shape and texture and not so much promotion of color. As for Zelda’s thoughts on the exhibition, she expressed gratitude for everyone coming out to experience her mother’s work. The pieces “are not fragile” at all and she is excited for the public to experience a piece of her world.
Questions were asked by attendees of the opening reception, including this journalist. “No Trace of Now Will Remain” is open to the public from January 20th to March 1st at Women & Their Work Gallery. According to the accompanying Artist’s Statement written by Seth Berg, the works appearing in this exhibition were created as the artist viewed Scandinavian crime dramas.
Kaitlin W. Blaylock has devoted her life to the art of the story. An avid reader, an overdeveloped sense of curiosity, and an uncurbed imagination lead her to seek truth and speak for those who are ignored, marginalized, or speechless. She started her career at the middle school newspaper and an afternoon Boys & Girls Club radio program. With a B.S. Communications and M.A. Fashion Journalism, Kaitlin filters through a lens of culture, art, and fashion. She is a Steampunk, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and obsessed with information. Kaitlin lives in Austin, TX with her boyfriend and Miss Rose, an 11 year old Yorkshire Terrier."