This March, South by Southwest will introduce Style X (pronounced "By"), an event aimed at showcasing emerging designers from around the country. Over the last few years, SXSW participants have gotten accustomed to fashion brands having a presence in Austin during that eventful week in March. American Apparel is known for its flea market setup in Downtown Austin with bargain basement pricing not available in its retail stores. And other notable brands such as Dickie's, Levi's and Ray Ban have sponsored performances by the likes of Kanye West, The xx and Broken Bells.
Fashion designers and labels catering to musicians is nothing new. For decades, bands have been styled for magazine covers and TV performances. In recent years, hip hop, pop and rock artists such as Jay-Z, Beyonce and Travis Barker have started clothing lines and opened retail locations around the country. One could argue that musicians have just as big a profile when it comes to fashion as models these days. Sure, there are the Victoria's Secrets models that are hard to replace down a runway, but more and more brands are tapping musicians as the faces of their collections.
Needless to say, it's pretty obvious that there lies a strong connection between music and style. Considering Austin has long been regarded as one of the best cities in the world for music, especially live music when you can actually see what the musician is wearing, it seems fitting that SXSW is dipping its toe into style as well.
True, there will only be one New York Fashion Week... one U.S. event that catches the world's attention for fashion purposes. But style, unlike fashion, has never really been about mass media, red carpets and one-in-a-million beauties that walk the beaches in Brazil before walking the runway in Paris.
Style, like the best music, often starts with the individual... the lone creative. At its most basic form, style starts with a mood rather than a magazine. It's how you feel in the morning when you wake up and how your clothes speak to that mood. Style is the indie favorite while fashion is the pop hit. Style doesn't need an arena tour or an army of publicists. Style is more about creative construction than mass production. Style is much more Miles Davis than Justin Bieber.
The brands participating in the inaugural Style X aren't at arena status yet. They're playing the small local venue that your cousin's garage band played before opening for Mumford & Sons back in '07 before they made it big. Or something like that.
They're coming to Austin during SXSW to showcase their potential and talent, just like the thousands of bands that have come to Austin over the years. Tortoise and Blonde, an eyewear company based outside New York City, and Cavortress, a women's line designed by a woman out of Charleston, S.C., are just like those aforementioned big-name brands in that SXSW is a perfect opportunity to rub elbows with musicians and, possibly, get some fans out of them.
Of course, even the hidden gem gets discovered eventually and SXSW doesn't plan to hold Style X back from the more recognizable brands looking to affiliate with the 10,000 musicians in Austin during that week in March. Keds, the iconic brand that invented the first sneaker, is ahead of the fashion pack and paving the way for global labels to participate in Style X by showcasing its "Design Your Own" shoe features.
The truth is that fashion brands having a prominent presence in Austin, the "Live Music Capital of the World," during SXSW is a near no-brainer. The fact that more of them aren't already there is probably just because Austin isn't a coastal city where most fashion seems to originate.
But no one is walking down Austin's South Congress Avenue or Sixth Street wondering what season that dress is from or how much you paid for those boots. All they know is that it looks damn good... almost as good the stuff being worn by the lead singer of that band on stage. What stage? Well, during SXSW it doesn't matter. All that matters is that you're there to see the intersection between music and style with your own eyes.