Two proposed bills filed by State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, would strengthen current drug laws to facilitate the battle against dangerous synthetic drugs known as K2 and 25I. 

K2 and 25I are referred to as “designer drugs” due to their chemical compositions, which can be modified by street chemists to skirt drug laws and avoid criminal prosecution for sales and consumption. K2 is considered a synthetic cannabinoid, while 25I is a hallucinogenic substance that mimics the effects of psychoactive drugs like LSD and ecstasy. 

“Designer drugs are a growing threat to health and public safety that have already harmed many families and individuals — a significant number of whom are young people,” Huffman said in a press release. 

According to the press release, Texas Poison Control centers received 470 exposure calls for K2 in 2012. 25I was blamed for the deaths of two young Houston residents last year, 21-year-old Kevin Schoolmeyer and a 15-year-old female who died a month after him. 

The first bill would criminalize new compounds of synthetic cannabinoids produced since the original bill banning K2 was passed during the last legislative session. The bill calls for a widening of legal parameters to enable law enforcement to crack down on street chemists with increased efficiency and effectiveness. 

“They’re trying to clean up the language to encompass all substances that may be a synthetic cannabinoid,” said Houston Police Department officer Mike Baccus after testifying in support of the bill at a public hearing Tuesday. 

“If it’s not in the law, we can’t enforce it,” Baccus said.

The second bill would criminalize the distribution, possession and manufacturing of 25I. The drug is currently sold unregulated online as a research chemical.

“Many young people in Texas mistakenly believe designer drugs are safe because they’re sold in stores and on the Internet,” Huffman said. “In fact, there is no beneficial or legitimate use for these products and they can cause life-threatening symptoms or death to those
who use them.”

Lt. Gray Smith of the Narcotics Division of the Houston Police Department expressed his support for the bills, citing the designer drug problem plaguing his city and the surrounding area. 

“Houston and the surrounding Gulf Coast Region have seen significant production, distribution and consumer sales of these substances which have caused so much harm nationally,” Smith said. “These bills will allow for the closer coordination between the police, crime labs and the courts and aid in bringing criminal prosecutions regarding these substances to a successful conclusion.”

Ross Bennet, Designer of the Grid Girls uniform for Austin’s Formula One, spoke to senior undergrads in UT’s Fashion Design program. He spoke of his time at the universtity as well the inspirations behind his latest collections.

Photo Credit: Aaron Berecka | Daily Texan Staff

Ross Bennett came to UT with the intention to become the next Bennett at his father’s law firm, but redesigned his future after taking a course in fashion design.

Ross Bennett, a local Austin designer and textiles and apparel senior, began his design career at UT in 2002. He left UT in 2006 and returned in 2008, but after entering his designs in the Dallas Career Fair he was sought by the Texas State Fair to design an organic eco-friendly line. Opportunities in the fashion design profession led him to become a contestant on Fashion Star, an NBC fashion design reality TV show. This put his name into the industry and he was asked to design the grid girl uniform for the Circuit of Americas Formula One Race in November.

Bennett creates custom garments using fabrics made from natural fibers. He said his clientele consists mainly socialites that want an original dress.

“When they can say it was made for me, they feel special,” Bennett said. “It’s all about having this individuality, custom piece, one of a kind experience that’s what I deal with.”

He showcased his designs in the textile and apparel independent studies course Thursday evening. He said the most important thing for a designer is to stay true to their brand when they design their collections. He has a tattoo of a needle with red thread on his left hand ring finger as a reminder. He said the red thread means consistency throughout the brand.

“Identify your style and stick to it. It might change a little. Adapt, but stay with it because that is your identity,” Bennett said.

Ockhee Bego, Bennett’s fashion design lecturer, said it gives her great pleasure to teach Bennett because they communicate well.

“He and I understand very well the business aspect, to the artistic aspect, to the technical things,” Bego said.

English junior Ali Bass, Bennett’s assistant, said the job entails something new and different every day.

“[Bennett] is a ball of energy, and he has a million ideas and he’s all over the place, yet somehow he is so driven that he gets it all done,” Bass said.

Bennett will debut his Fall 2013 Resort collection in January, and will travel to four cities by March to exhibit the designs. He is also working on a luggage collection that will be launched in the spring. Bennett is also looking to open a factory on the east side of Austin so he can have complete control of the production of the garments.

Printed on Friday, December 7, 2012 as: UT student breaks into fashion industry

Beth Zimmerman models an outfit from the Jason Wu Collection for Target projected onto a whiteboard. Wu’s collection, almost all of whose items are priced less than $60, sold out only hours after being debuted online.

Photo Credit: Batli Joselevitz | Daily Texan Staff

While football fans wore jerseys emblazoned with their team’s logo on Super Bowl Sunday, fashion fiends around the nation slipped into comfortable shoes and an outfit that would be easy to quickly peel on and off in the fitting rooms for the launch of designer Jason Wu’s line for Target.

Inspired by French films and an “American girl in Paris,” Wu created a 53-piece line including A-line dresses, structured handbags and a soon-to-be iconic black cat T-shirt. Although prices from Wu’s main line can easily reach thousands of dollars in high-end department stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, prices for his Target line range from $19.99 to $59.99. Target manager Kelsey Ubrich said that her store’s location at 5300 South MoPac Expressway had a line of 40 to 50 people outside its doors by around 7:30 a.m. on Sunday.

“Overall, we thought it went really well,” Ubrich said. “We weren’t sure of what the turnout would be because Jason Wu is a little lesser known than Missoni, but we thought it was a safe environment and that our customers seemed happy.”

Ubrich alluded to the infamous Missoni for Target launch this past September that not only had shoppers in a manic rush, but also crashed the Target website. Ubrich said that by Sunday afternoon, there was still about a quarter of Wu merchandise left in the store. With the nature of expected returns, a store may be sold out now but could have items in the next weeks.

Though Jason Wu may not be a household name yet, the fashion-hungry crowd has craved Wu’s signature whimsically feminine yet crisp, clean styles since he won the Fashion Group International’s Rising Star award in 2008. Wu, 29, also gained notoriety when he custom-designed first lady Michelle Obama’s inauguration gown. The one-shouldered white gown, in all its gauzy glory with dozens of delicate organza flowers, is now being preserved at the Smithsonian’s first ladies’ exhibit.

Elizabeth Allensworth, assistant public relations director for UT’s University Fashion Group, was excited about the collaboration.

“Jason Wu has an obvious soft, feminine quality with an air of sophistication as well,” Allensworth said. “The Jason Wu for Target line has a delightful nod to the ‘60s.”

The group’s public relations director Tyler Neal said the line incorporated American style refined with typical Parisian sophistication.

“Every girl dreams of going to Paris, and Jason Wu is bringing that to life in his new collection,” Neal said.

While Target has touted widely popular brand collaborations with Missoni and Zac Posen, many other retailers have undertaken similar lines. Chanel mastermind Karl Lagerfeld designed a line for Macy’s this past September, featuring pieces that ranged from $50 to $170.

Lagerfeld also designed a line for retailer H&M in 2004, and the store has since then been pumping out a steady stream of guest-designer collaborations, each one more hyped than the last. Most recently, fashion powerhouse Versace graced H&M racks with studded leather shift dresses and tropical-printed leggings.

Allensworth believes that the designer lines for lower-end retailers become crazes because of the accessibility it provides customers who may not have felt comfortable stepping into a high-end department store.

“High fashion is great, but as a consumer, consistently feeling left out or not good enough can be discouraging,” Allensworth said. “It’s one of the rare times where you can essentially have it all, the label and the affordable price.”

Textiles and apparel design sophomore Natalie Poche agreed.

“It’s like a taste of the good life,” Poche said. “Also, I love it because it makes me feel as if the designer wants everybody to be able to afford and wear their pieces.”

Most retail collaborations cleverly release a lookbook of the line’s items prior to its launch. Those images usually become viral on fashion blogs and are published in fashion magazines, creating enough buzz to predict customer turnout before the line even launches. Stores carry a limited supply of the line’s items and state that, in most cases, their stock of a guest-designed line won’t be replenished.

“The ‘craze’ part comes in when people realize how short of an amount of time they have to gather up their favorite pieces before someone else snatches it up,” Poche said.

If you couldn’t scoop up any of the Jason Wu styles from Target this past week, rest assured that there are plenty designer collaborations on the way, including Alberta Ferretti for Macy’s this April. The Italian fashion house is known for artfully twisted and tucked chiffon gowns. Also, Marni for H&M will be released this March, featuring its signature jewel tones and bohemian prints. While the fashion cult favorite retailer H&M has 2,300 stores in over 43 countries, Texas is only home to one of them in Dallas.

Designer-store collaborations have single-handedly transformed stores that most fashion worshippers had previously sworn off into cool-again meccas for discounted designer treasures that are “oh so recession-chic.”

Printed on, February 7, 2012 as:Retail, designer combines high class look with low price

Laura Del Villagio, owner of Milli Starr, arranges one of her handmade hats inside her downtown shop. Del Villagio is one of very few official Milliners, or hatters, and she makes hats both for special ocassions and for everyday use.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

Laura Del Villaggio made her first vintage purchase at the age of 8. It was a piece of 1950s luggage from a garage sale. Her mother asked if she was planning to run away, but Villaggio was simply beginning a life-long love affair of all things vintage. By age 12, vintage hats had especially captured her attention.

Villaggio is a milliner, or a hat maker. Hats sold on the racks of department stores are cranked out by impersonal machines at lightning speed. But Villaggio takes the time to measure customers’ heads, determine how wide the brim of a hat should be based on how broad their shoulders are or what type of hat would look best with their face shape.

“I think it’s a classic look and a feminine look,” said Catherine Nicole, jewelry designer and a Villaggio’s customer. “But I wasn’t wearing hats too much until I met Laura. I had just never seen such artistry in them.”

The actual process of millinery has not changed much in centuries, Villaggio said. It remains a painstaking process in which she can spend some 20 hours fitting, shaping and stitching the hat together. While millinery was never her life plan, “it’s what stuck,” she said.

“Hats, I think, are a really great extension of your personality. Not everybody will be in a hat,” Villaggio said. “I love the way you can use it to transform your personality, depending on who you want to be.”

Villaggio studied history and apparel design at UT and Colorado State and graduated from UT in 1996. She knew she wanted a more focused degree and traveled to New York City to study Museum Studies of Costume and Textiles at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She discovered that FIT offered a millinery certificate program and knew it was something she had to pursue.

“Having worn and collected hats for many a year and listening to stories of my great-grandmother who had made some hats for herself in the ’20s, I asked for permission to take the millinery program as well,” Villaggio said. “Sometimes, I would be busy writing papers and making hats, five papers and 10 hats in about 10 days. It was a very busy time, but I loved every minute of it.”

Villaggio now owns Milli Starr, custom millinery company and makes vintage-inspired hats or headpieces for weddings, European travels or everyday wear.

“I’ve lost track at this point of how many hats of mine have been sent out into the world,” Villaggio said. “I do a lot of custom work. Some people want a casual everyday hat, but more than likely, they are going to do something special. I do lots of hats that travel to be worn at weddings in Europe. So a lot of my pieces have been worn on someone’s special day.”

The craft of millinery is something that Villaggio knows is a rare skill today. There are only 41 milliners registered with the national Milliners Guild. But she’s teaching local classes and even hires interns, like Baylor student Kaylyn Smith, to learn the art of hat making.

“She basically knows everything there is to know about millinery and fashion in general. She can tell you where each feather came from, who first used it,” Smith said.

But hats are evolving just like the rest of fashion, Villaggio said, referring to designer Philip Treacy, who designed many of the hats and headpieces worn at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

“There is a really interesting thing going on right now that I find very inspiring. It’s sort of pushing the boundary of what a hat can be. You can almost combine the idea of masks or a headdress or even hair dressing to the idea [of millinery],” Villaggio said. “I feel very lucky to be a part of that, whatever millinery is going to be in the 21st century.”

While the U.S. has not been a leader among nations of hat-wearers, Villaggio has seen business pick up recently. Women who have worn hats for a long time, and some who are just becoming aware of the trend come to her for a Milli Starr design. Villaggio said it takes a special person to wear a hat but that everyone is capable of being a “hat person.”

“Berets and fascinators are really great introductions to hat wearing,” Villaggio said. “Most of the time, someone will get so many compliments when they are out wearing that piece, they will come back for more. It takes confidence to wear a hat, but it’s a confidence booster as well.”

Villaggio thinks the hat trend will continue to push boundaries, and she will continue growing Milli Starr and looking for her designs on heads around town and even at New York Fashion Week in February.

Printed on Monday, November 28, 2011: Hats off to a rising style trend

The second annual Austin Fashion Week wrapped up Saturday with the Austin Fashion Awards, as one UT alumnus took home an award for best designer.

Although Fashion Week is a new event to the city, this year’s celebration and awards brought together all aspects of Austin fashion including designers, photographers, models, stylists, bloggers and fashionistas.

“Coming from New Jersey, I was expecting something Southern but to me it looked like New York,” said Joanna Asia Tychowski, a cellular biology graduate student who attended the Austin Fashion Week Kick-Off fashion show. “It’s very up-to-date, cool and creative.”

Fashion Week not only brings exposure to the burgeoning fashion community but also offers an opportunity for many different parts of the community to come together. Retailers and boutiques from South Lamar, the Second Street District and the Domain all showcased designers, while salons and spas offered makeovers. Competing designers, photographers and models were also placed into mashup teams that combined their efforts to produce a single cohesive look that was judged as a part of the award ceremony.

“It’s meant to be a celebration of our local fashion community,” Fashion Week founder Matt Swinney said. “We have such a strong community ... so we wanted to have one major event that would bring everyone together to gain exposure for the talent we have here in Austin, locally, regionally and nationally.”

As the week progressed, various retailers, spas and salons throughout Austin showcased local designers and their own businesses with parties and fashion shows, such as Naked Sushi, Moroccan Nights and Bollywood Nights. Unconventional fashion show locations were also used, such as the state Capitol, which hosted 37 designers from across the state, and the Austin Museum of Art, which organized a recycled fashion show with dresses made entirely of brass and old wires.

The week’s concluding award ceremony was held at the Long Center for the Performing Arts and featured performances by student and local favorites, including indie band SPEAK and pop singer Zayra. Awards were given to the best retailers, salons and spas, fashion and accessory designers, photographers, hair stylists, makeup artists and mashup teams.

In addition to Austin fashion celebrities such as Linda Asaf and “Project Runway’s” Louise Black, the event brought in more nationally known designers and models such as “Project Runway’s” Chloe Dao and “America’s Next Top Model” Cycle 14 winner Krista White.

As the night wore on, the winners were announced. Although many of the designers were UT alumni, only Tracy Tenpenny was bestowed with a golden boot award for the people’s choice for best designer.

Proceeds from raffles and silent auctions during Austin Fashion Week were given back to Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization that helps disadvantaged women achieve financial independence by providing them with suits for jobs and interviews.

Event Preview: Austin Fashion Week

Saturday marks the beginning of Austin Fashion Week, a celebration of all things chic, from couture fashion and designer pasties to hair and makeup styles. A kickoff celebration will be held at GSD&M Idea City, and the Austin Fashion Awards will presented Saturday, Aug. 21.

This year’s fashion week will bring in “Project Runway” contestant and Dallas designer Louise Black, and the award ceremony will feature the show’s season-two winner Chloe Dao, New York designer Betsey Johnson and Robert Stock for Robert Graham. Tickets for both the kickoff and awards ceremony start at $100. For the typical college student, the week has more than 100 events, many of which are free.

Bollywood Nights

Whether you only know “Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire” or you’ve memorized all the songs from “Once Upon a Time in Mumbai,” you’ll find something at Bollywood Nights — a celebration of Southeast Asian fashion with music and cocktails — at José Luis Salon on Monday from 7-9 p.m.

Cupcakes, Cocktails, Makeovers & Fashion

Munch on some snacks from the cupcake bar while you get you get a makeover and sip on some cocktails. It’s just that simple. The event will be held at Lovely Austin Boutique on Wednesday from 4-7 p.m.

Lingerie, Jewelry and Naked Sushi

Popularized in Japan by businessmen, naked sushi is where a model lies on a table and is covered in sushi. Three models will be displaying Teddies for Bettys’ sexy and basic bridal designs with sake sangria or wine to complement the food. The festivities will take place at Teddies for Bettys all day Wednesday.

A State of Fashion

This will be one of the biggest events this year, with 37 designers across Texas showing off their designs on the south steps of the Capitol. The actual fashion show will start at 7 p.m. on Thursday, but the event officially kicks off at 6 p.m.

From the curb, Megan Summerville’s home appears to be like any other on the street. Upon looking more closely, however, small details such as a cardboard box of bra padding and clothing hangers hint at what lies behind the front door. The 14 industrial sewing machines lining her two bedrooms and the 9,000 bras stored in a shed in her backyard are all materials for Summerville’s home-based, custom lingerie business, Sew Sister.

Last year, Summerville won the title of Texas’ Next Top Designer, an award given by a nonprofit that supports up-and-coming fashion-related businesses, and this year, she will be returning to Austin Fashion Week. Summerville will also launch her new pop-up lingerie store on Third Street.

Summerville entered the fashion world while working as a Middle Eastern dance teacher, making flowing skirts and decorative hip scarves for her students. Her costume work and interest in sewing eventually led her to East Texas, where she bought a custom bra company and learned about the craft of bra making from Ethel Prater, the company’s previous owner.

Summerville’s lingerie-making style isn’t for the Victoria’s Secret audience. Holding her own 32FF stature confidently, Summerville said her customers are similar to her — women whose bodies are such that they can’t just walk into any department store and buy a bra. Summerville’s choice in fabric strays from the norm, too. She’s influenced by belly dancing fabrics and her mom’s eclectic, woven style.

Summerville said one of her most memorable requests came from a client who had one breast that was two cup sizes larger than the other. After ordering a custom bra, the woman couldn’t believe what a difference it made wearing something that was designed for her body instead of having to cope with something pulled off a rack, Summerville said.

“Having somebody tell me that I changed their life because I was able to make them a bra, that blows me away,” Summerville said.

Summerville said she thinks undergarments are probably the most important piece of clothing.

“It is going to define your shape,” she said. “Whether you wear a compression underwear or are comfortable without wearing a bra, whatever underpinning you happen to have on, if it’s of a certain caliber, you are going to hold yourself differently that day.”

And for what it does, Summerville said lingerie doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

“There’s something about the word ‘lingerie’ that turns people’s brains off where they think ‘trashy’ or ‘I can’t talk about that right now,’” Summerville said. “So, it was hard to get in front of press and buyers because they have preconceived ideas about what you’re doing and what you are about.”

Winning Texas’ Next Top Designer competition last year helped Summerville get past these barriers and into the fashion market.

Immediately after the competition was Austin’s first annual fashion week. Witnessing how local fashion was finally on the rise, Summerville was excited and just wanted to be part of it.

At that time, her collection — what she now considers to be her basics — was just beginning to take shape. Summerville said she used fashion week as a way to gather data and get a feel for what women felt was missing when they went shopping. The first Austin Fashion Week was also all about meeting people in the scene, as Summerville is often too busy working to find time for networking.

“I stay in front of my sewing machines all the time,” she said.

For this summer’s fashion week, Summerville will be showcasing her new bridal pieces and resort pieces. The inspiration for these collections was the idea of celebration, she said.

“We have been in a crappy recession and there has not been a whole lot of celebration or holiday mentality,” Summerville said. “I wanted to create an aesthetic where people could feel like, ‘Oh, well. I might not have money to go on holiday, but I can lounge in a really, really great robe and feel good.’”