Back in 2011, I visited Austin for the first time to satisfy the curiosity of this place that had been put into my heart and mind as a possible city to move to. At the time, I didn’t really know much about the city, but it had been ringing in my ear for about a year so I felt I needed to go and check it out.
As with all tourists, I first found myself walking the streets of South Congress, a small microcosm of the Austin scene. It was at this time that I discovered a very unique store and atelier called Blackmail Boutique. Not your typical Austin store, it was stocked with all black goods from clothing to objects and interiors. I felt more like I was in Paris with hints of L’Eclaireur‘s gothic aesthetic and I was very intrigued and inspired by this unique perspective on fashion in this colorful and quirky small Texas town.
I soon found out the store was owned and curated by, Gail Chovan, Austin’s favorite couture designer. I didn’t meet Gail on this trip, but we soon became internet friends and I started to follow her unique journey via social media until I returned to Austin the following year. Since that time and my move to Texas, I have come to know Gail and her husband Evan Voyles as two highly respected and loved fixtures in the Austin creative community.
Since my move to Texas I’ve been wanting to visit Gail in her studio and get to know her journey in fashion a bit better. Everyone that knows Gail, knows about her love of high fashion-specifically Paris fashion-which explains her uniform of all black that was replicated in her boutique. Gail went to design school in Paris back in the late 80′s and has since made Paris her second home where she spends her summers teaching Fashion History and Design in association with the Sorbonne.
Gail’s taste level runs high and for this I have always connected with her. To no surprise she lists Rick Owens as one of her favorite designers and when in a design quandary, she asks herself “WWADD?”(What Would Ann Demeulemeester Do).
Love that. Love Gail. And not just because she loves high fashion. Gail is a badass beyond all badass’s and is counted very high on my list of badass women that I know. I love Gail because she is a “tell it like it is” kind of person. She doesn’t put up with nonsense and bullshit and she does things her own way without caring what the general population thinks about it. She’s survived breast cancer and a double mastectomy. She has a set of amazing twins that were born with congenital toxoplasmosis, Zelda and Creed, who also happen to be two of the most loved kids in town. None of these circumstances have slowed Gail down or affected her perspective on life. She’s a warrior in every sense of the word.
Gail and her husband Evan wed in ’95 in Austin and around ’99 Gail started designing and had a vision to open her all black concept store, Blackmail Boutique. She started her designs by re-purposing and re-designing vintage clothing that she found in Paris and around the world including many Victorian pieces. She sold all of her designs in her store and her fans grew quickly. In 2010, she designed her first full collection called “Reemergence” celebrating her victory beating cancer and her 10 year anniversary of her store being open.
Chovan loves working with leather (her favorite textile) and layers in techniques combining the material with wool crepe, chiffon and jersey. Although she normally designs around her favorite palette of black on black, her Spring 2014 “Aesthetic Ghosts” collection surprised her fans with a palette of mauve. Gail is known locally for the annual high concept fashion show that she puts on yearly in Austin that always brings a little bit of Paris to this small Texas town. Her most recent collection was shown in a lumberyard in East Austin while the year before that she paraded her models down a 12 foot long dinner table at a local favorite hotspot, Justine’s Brasserie.
Gail doesn’t work on anyone’s fashion calendar but her own. And she doesn’t need to. Her clients come in the day after her show and buy most of her collection straight away after seeing them on the runway. She keeps her business going working directly with her clients as well as having exposure in top stores around the country including Church Boutique, Stash Co, and Schreiner Goods.
When I ask Gail about her favorite part of the design process she talks about the days leading up to her show and the sewers that come “out of the woodwork” to come and help her get everything ready for the unveiling. She doesn’t even know where they all come from, but they show up and she puts them all to work and a small fashion community is built in her studio for a week. This to her is the most satisfying part of the process and she loves the creative community that she has built around her. She says she could never do it without all of her crew and receives all of her accolades (Austin’s Best Fashion Designer 2013) giving props to her collective.
Gail has done things her own way and for that I highly respect her. She will always call herself a mother and a wife first before a designer and shared with me that her favorite place on earth is laying in bed with each of her kids beside her. Her family is her priority, but her art is never sacrificed because of this. She just makes it all work around her desires and she says to hell with everything else. For this, and for so many reasons, I’m a fan.