De­signer ready for new project, new run­way

Austin American-Statesman - - LIFE & STYLE - By Mar­ques G. Harper

Not in the mood for cof­fee, Louise Black, the fashion de­signer who once lived in Austin and now calls it home again, drove her Honda to Lit­tle Mex­ico Res­tau­rant on South First Street. The de­signer wanted an early af­ter­noon mar­garita.

Any­one who watches re­al­ity tele­vi­sion might rec­og­nize Black as a con­tes­tant on the sixth sea­son of hit show “Project Run­way.” (A new sea­son be­gins on Life­time on July 29.) In her com­pany, I had to make a con­fes­sion: I didn’t watch her sea­son. Turns out she didn’t care.

That’s be­cause there’s life af­ter “Project Run­way,” and Black, 33, is mov­ing for­ward with her fashion goals now that she and hus­band and busi­ness part­ner Eric Jack­son have left Dal­las and live here again.

“Most of our friends and fam­ily are here,” Black said.

Per­haps Black will add a new layer to the city’s grow­ing fashion scene. Al­ready she’s a par­tic­i­pant in the up­com­ing Austin Fashion Week as part of a Fashion Week chal­lenge that in­volves teams of hair­styl­ists, mod­els, de­sign­ers, pho­tog­ra­phers and makeup artists.

“I have lots of tex­ture in my clothes,” said Black, who ad­mires de­signer Chris­tian Lacroix. “I like mix­ing prints. I love huge shoes. I love mak­ing things re­ally crazy and bizarre. I like tak­ing old things and mak­ing them look like they can be worn 200 years from now.”

Black sells her gar­ments at www.louise­ Her de­signs largely are in­flu­enced by her sur­round­ings, and of­ten she uses doll parts as well as an­tique ma­te­ri­als and tex­tiles.

In the past, a chunk of her sales, though, has come from her cameo corsets, which sell for $225. To fo­cus on the next leg of her ca­reer, she De­signer Louise Black has come and gone from Cen­tral Texas since the 1990s. Now she’s back and en­joy­ing a mar­garita at Lit­tle Mex­ico on South First Street.

Con­tin­ued from D has stopped sell­ing the corsets, she said.

“I want to move on to more cre­ative projects,” said Black, sip­ping a wa­tery frozen mar­garita as I drank Diet Coke. “I would like to hire some­one to do the corsets for me, and I can move onto an­other line.”

She is work­ing on a new limited-edi­tion line of women’s cloth­ing and will have a trunk show at Feath­ers Bou­tique (1700 S. Congress Ave.) on Aug. 18.

Black al­ready has found at least one celebrity ad­mirer: Hole singer Court­ney Love.

In fall 2008, while Black was film­ing “Project Run­way,” Love be­gan or­der­ing ac­ces­sories from Black’s Etsy page. Last May, Black spent time with Love in Los An­ge­les. Love wanted her to make cos­tumes and stage cloth­ing, but plans didn’t work out, Black said.

In Jan­uary, Black vis­ited the singer at Love’s New York home. Love and her band played South by South­west in March.

“It was a fun time,” Black said. “She’s a char­ac­ter, I must say.”

Her time with Love is one of many ad­ven­tures for Black, who grew up in Tem­ple far from the Dal­las gay scene that em­braced her decades later. She moved to Austin in 1998.

Even­tu­ally, she at­tended what is now Texas State Uni­ver­sity and stud­ied clin­i­cal lab sci­ence. Her par­ents, she said, didn’t want her to at­tend art school. So Black com­pleted her as­so­ci­ate’s de­gree and worked at Uni­ver­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter Brack­en­ridge for a time.

“I sat and fashion sketched while I was work­ing on the night shift,” she said.

Work­ing on her bach­e­lor’s de­gree in the same sub­ject, Black also con­tin­ued in­vest­ing in her fashion fu­ture.

“I ended up drop­ping out of school six months be­fore I got my de­gree,” she said. “I was very bored. I’m an artist at heart.”

Al­ways ea­ger for a new ad­ven­ture, Black and Jack­son left Austin in 2001 and re­lo­cated to New Or­leans. The Big Easy wasn’t the right fit for them.

“I had read too many Anne Rice nov­els,” Black said. “We got there and we were mis­er­able. I think that lasted four months.”

The cou­ple moved back to Tem­ple and bought a house.

“I’m not sure why we de­cided to do that,” she said.

The two also started a whole­sale and re­sale busi­ness called Eye-Spy Eclec­tics. There Black started a line of cloth­ing and later a web­site to sell 1920s and ’30s-in­spired pieces.

They lasted in Tem­ple two years and, in 2004, they left Texas for New York.

“I got ac­cepted to F.I.T. (Fashion In­sti­tute of Technology),” Black said. “But I couldn’t af­ford it. All in all, I think it was go­ing to be $40,000 to go there.”

Texan and H&M menswear de­signer Levi Palmer sug­gested that Black con­sider El Cen­tro Col­lege in Dal­las. So there was a brief stay with fam­ily in the Tem­ple area be­fore a move to Dal­las in 2006.

“I got my pat­tern draft­ing de­gree there,” she said. “The school doesn’t fo­cus so much on cre­ativ­ity.”

In Dal­las, Black started mak­ing cos­tumes and dresses for fashion show pro­ducer and model Jan Strim­ple, and she also cre­ated Vene­tian-style masks for a Valentino show at spe­cialty depart­ment store Stan­ley Kor­shak.

Then Strim­ple con­tacted of- fi­cials for “Project Run­way” about Black. Film­ing be­gan in fall 2008, but the sea­son’s air date was de­layed be­cause of a law­suit in­volv­ing NBC Uni­ver­sal, which owns Bravo, the cable chan­nel that once aired the show, and the We­in­stein Co., which owns “Project Run­way.”

“It didn’t air for an en­tire year,” Black said. “A bunch of peo­ple found out I went. It was hard keep­ing my par­ents from telling peo­ple. I did it so I would get more ex­po­sure for my line. I’m not a quick and dirty de­signer. I didn’t ex­pect I would make it to the end. I pay a lot of at­ten­tion to de­tail and hand sew ev­ery­thing.”

Black said she didn’t want to watch pre­vi­ous sea­sons to come up with a strat­egy for the weekly chal­lenges.

“I went into the whole thing blind,” she said. “As a de­signer, it stressed me out. I would have to watch the show and have a cock­tail.”

Be­ing on the show was a bit dif­fer­ent than watch­ing it. She said the de­sign­ers don’t get much sleep, but the younger de­sign­ers, the ea­ger twen­tysome­things, were fine with lit­tle sleep. She was not.

“There was as much fun as there was stress,” she said. “I would do it all over again.”

Her run on “Project Run­way” wasn’t per­fect. Black was elim­i­nated dur­ing a chal­lenge that re­quired her to pair up with an­other de­signer to cre­ate dresses for Macy’s. That’s the past for her now that she’s in Austin.

“I got on stage, and Michael Kors said all of this stuff about my dresses,” Black said. “And I was just laugh­ing. It’s all wa­ter un­der the bridge any­way.”

Mar­ques G. Harper

Eric Jack­son pho­tos

Austin cloth­ing de­signer Louise Black sells her clothes on

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