Written and photographed by Lais Lacher.
THE NEIGHBORHOOD at the 2nd STREET DISTRICT
Austin is known as the live music capital of the US and an emerging center for technology and film. The next frontier? Fashion!
Fashion, music, and technology leaders converged during SXSW at The Neighborhood at the 2nd Street District to participate in four days of style-focused panels, Q&A sessions, and pop-up shops. Organized by The Neighborhood founders Joah Spearman and John Patillo, the event held panels everyday at 2pm and 4pm from March 11th – March 14th, while the Bollare lounge and pop-up shops were open from 12pm to 8pm daily. Most people don’t normally associate Austin with fashion, but the event focused on the stylish individual and not the mass commercialization of style. The democratization of fashion, from traditional powerhouses to individuals using blogs or social media, was a central theme of the event and set the tone for the week.
In the panel discussion entitled “Bringing Style to the People”, David Goldberg of StyleCaster described bloggers as “The most disruptive voice currently online.” The panels included speakers from both ends of the spectrum, from blogger Leandra Medine of Man Repeller to the VP of PR at Neiman Marcus, Gabrielle de Papp. With more than 400,000 total social media followers, Man Repeller is an example of the reach and influence of blogs. The panel cited image based social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest as being the future of fashion media.
Another panel, Leveraging Partnerships Like Pros, included speakers in retail, PR, social media, and music. They examined how working together with other brands can strengthen your image and increase your reach. Alle Fister, Founder of PR company Bollare, stated that partnering with a brand with “the same spirit, but in a different space” is important to the success of the partnership. Rachel Masters, co-founder of Red Magnet Media, said that people do not trust traditional marketing and therefore partnering with influencers on social media adds credibility to your brand. The panelists agreed that authenticity was the most crucial element behind a partnership and the grouping must be believable.
In another panel, Lily Mandelbaum and Elisa Goodkind, who are co-founders of fashion website StyleLikeU reinforced the importance of authenticity. The team, who are also mother and daughter, talked about the importance of being true to your personal style and not just following trends. Elisa, a former fashion director at Glamour and Self Magazine, described how she became disillusioned with the fashion industry and in return decided to create her own site that focuses on individuals with great personal style.
The Neighborhood also highlighted independent retailers. In a session on March 12th, Refinery 29’s founders Justin Stefano and Philippe Von Borries described their site as an online fashion magazine and retailer that supports emerging artisans and artists and champions the unknown. The pop-up shops that were open all week featured independent, socially conscious start-ups, including Teysha Shoes, Espero Bags, Bedstu Shoes, Bucket Feet and Paleo Denim.
However, the most anticipated sessions of The Neighborhood were the HuffPost Style Sessions with fashion designers Billy Reid and John Varvatos. There was a mini Fashion Star reunion with mentor John Varvatos and two former contestants of the show in the audience. Varvatos, a Detroit native, also touched on the theme of authentic partnerships as he described his collaboration with Detroit-based Chrysler Motors where he designed a limited edition luxury sedan and with the rock inspired Converse shoes. He said that music both serves as an inspiration to him, but also adds to the image of his brand. His boutique is located in the space that formally housed the underground music club CBGB and he hosts his own Sirius XM show. He also included rock legends Jimmy Page and Gary Clark, Jr. in his Spring 2013 campaign.
Billy Reid also shared his passion for fashion and music. In addition to his appearance at The Neighborhood during SXSW, he also hosted the music event, The Shindig, which featured over 15 bands. He mentioned his excitement in dressing indie band Mumford and Sons for the Grammys awards this year, who went on to win album of the year. He also talked about his resurgence after closing his business following September 11th and coming back to win the 2012 CFDA Menswear designer of the year. He explained how technology allowed him to move his headquarters from New York to his home state of Alabama to run his business.
The Neighborhood reflected the indie spirit of SXSW and Austin by its focus on an integration of independent retailers, technology and music, but still managed to create a separate unique fashion-focused experience for its attendees, who left with new perspectives, strategies and connections. Although not fully as formed or well attended as some of the official SXSW events, I am certain that if they keep presenting events with the unique Austin vibe it could become a fashion magnet for the indie sect.