On June 14th the Museum of Fine Arts Houston opened their exhibit Habsburg Splendor: Masterpieces from Vienna’s Imperial Collections. This exhibit, which runs until September, features rare items and masterworks from the Habsburg Dynasty, a family known for their wealth, influence, and opulence. In celebration of this event opening, the museum partnered with Houston Community College’s award winning fashion program by organizing Fashion Fusion, a design competition that culminated in a fashion show featuring garments inspired by the Habsburg family.
The show drew some of the best new talent in Houston, however, the star of the night was a recent graduate of HCC’s fashion program, Christian Le. Christian submitted two looks that were inspired by the mother-daughter relationship between Maria Theresa and Marie Antoinette. Christian’s looks were awarded both first and third place in the competition.
His first place look, a black satin ball gown, was inspired by the mourning dresses Marie Theresa wore after the death of her husband, Emperor Francis I. Floral lace applique sits atop a voluminous black cloud that loomed under the model as she moved across the room. The weight of Marie Theresa’s depression in the ball gown is contrasted by the sheer vanity of Christian Le’s third place look, which interprets Marie Antoinette’s famous style for a modern audience. While the Maria Theresa gown is overwhelming, the structured and body conscious outfit inspired by queen of France brings drama. Made from a bold peacock green satin, a tailored jacket and peplum replaces the bone-crushing corset and 12 foot wide panniers that made Marie Antoinette iconic. And as opposed to the graciously swooped neckline of the first look, a high, pointed collar jets out from model’s clavicle. This feature invokes feelings of isolation as it draws attention to the model, yet separates her from the audience.
Fashion Fusion Winner Christian Le’s looks are impressive and a perfect coupling with the Museum’s exhibit. They will be displayed outside the Kinder Foundation Education Center in the Caroline Weiss Law Building until Sunday, June 28. Keep reading below for our interview with Christian Le about his perspective as an up and coming Houston designer.
SH: Your dresses are inspiring, but I know these cannot be your first pieces. What is your experience in fashion?
CL: I came [to Houston] four years ago, so I started out with my English class at HCC for, like, a semester or two and then I went straight to the HCC program. What I love about HCC is the teachers, the professors, the resourcing and the sponsoring. We have such great designers here in Houston, and the good thing is they know what they’re doing. The thing I hate about HCC is that we’re so underrated. We don’t even get into the top 50 design schools in the whole US which is really confusing because we have such great talent coming out of the school; and not just talent, we have a lot of skill too. I look forward to be working with them and have the school be more known and give back to the community college.
SH: I’m surprised sewing Is a new skill for you, I would’ve thought you’ve been sewing for a long time.
CL: No, I learned my skills here at HCC three years ago, not a really long time. I guess it’s a Vietnamese gene going on. After three years I finally learned how to sew. But before, you should ask my friends or my professors. I was a hot mess. I was scared. I was known in school for not knowing how to sew.
SH: What has been the most help to you along the way?
CL: My professors. They have been really patient. They were like, this is wrong, you need to do it again. They were very strict. I wouldn’t use the word harsh or mean but I would use the word strict. And I don’t feel defeated with all the rejection because they know what their doing.
SH: You mentioned earlier to me that you’ve submitted clothes for competitions but haven’t won, what do you think has changed?
CL: Through the process my patience has changed and my skin got thicker. It’s weird, you know, people get defeated when they meet rejection…I just feel like, you know what, I need to come back harder and stronger to get it done. Because I have parents, I need to make them proud. They accept me for a lot, you know. So I just try to do my best and make them feel a little bit better for coming all the way [to Houston], giving up their wealthiness over [in Vietnam] and starting everything over again.
SH: When you are going to design a new garment and you have a new task in front of you, what is your thought process?
CL: I don’t usually have a main source of inspiration. I believe I do have a creative, how do you put it, the well of creativity. I just tap into it and say, “what is going on today?”…I have to balance between my artistic side and the selling side of it. Every garment of mine has to my aesthetic but also sellable. So that’s a big line to balance, both of those elements.
SH: You’re talking about selling. Usually when a design talks about being sellable, he or she has a market in mind. Who is the woman you design for?
CL: My woman is around 29 to 49, which is a career woman. And she has a very successful career. She’s not really a crazy, wildly spending money woman, but she spends money on a quality garment…and she knows that that piece has the ability to mix and match with what’s in her closet. I do a lot of separates.
SH: Let’s talk about the next chapter. You just designed these two looks that are part of your collection, which was amazing. What’s next for you?
CL: I’m going to Paris for the Paris-American Academy next month to learn more about couture and then I will be dressing fashion week…after that I will come back to Houston looking for more opportunities, and I’m excited to what the future has in store for me.
SH: So you’re coming back to Houston, why?
CL: Because they speak Vietnamese over here. (Laughs) Houston is amazing and Houston is a really raw diamond…that needs more talent. I foresee in the future that Houston is going to be one of the biggest markets of fashion. Not only the US, but all over the world…I would love to make it big in Houston. I feel a strong connection for the city.
You can follow Christian Le on Instagram: christiancocole