For many, thinking of Fort Worth conjures up images of cowboy hats, cattle and the Stockyards. The city is well known as “Cowtown.” Some jokingly refer to it as “Mootopia.”
But one Fort Worth designer is trying to break that stereotype and shine a spotlight on the city’s overlooked fashion scene. Yes, Fort Worth has a fashion scene.
Phillip Maximilian will host the launch party Saturday for his upcoming high-end fashion event: Fort Worth Fashion Week.
Who is Phillip Maximilian?
The Fort Worth resident started his own car repair business in 2012. He grew up learning the ins and outs of cars, so he thought he’d take that career path.
But his path eventually took an unexpected turn into the world of fashion when buying his first suit changed his life.
Growing up working with cars, he was used to dressing practically in sturdy, durable clothing. He didn’t have many opportunities to dress up until a wedding invitation prompted him to purchase something new.
“It wasn’t an expensive suit or anything. It was just a nice black, fitted suit. It wasn’t tailored or fitted to me. It just fit right,” Maximilian said. “When I put that suit on, I just felt different.”
He described that feeling as the “power of clothing.” The feeling intrigued him and sparked an interest in clothing he hadn’t taken before.
With his newfound passion, Maximilian started learning all about men’s suits and men’s wear. He said it was more complex than he would have thought. He had never considered things like matching colors with shoes, frequently changing ties and using accessories.
In 2013, Maximilian started taking fashion classes at Petit Atelier and learned tailoring, patternmaking, dressmaking and more. A few years later, he started his own fashion business. Leaving car repairs behind, he opened a tailoring company for custom men’s suits, Mener Grand Train Co.
When he started the company straight out of school, his suits sold for $600 to $800 each. But he said that they realistically should have gone for more like $3,000 to $5,000, given that they were completely handmade from Italian fabrics.
What is Fort Worth Fashion Week?
The event will mirror the four major fashion week events — in London, Milan, Paris and New York City — but on a local scale. A week of fashion, designers, runways and models right in Fort Worth.
The show will incorporate all genres from streetwear to high-end fashion, Maximilian said.
He wants this new event to create an imprint on Fort Worth and send a message to the rest of the world that the city isn’t just cowboy boots and cattle, despite its “Cowtown” nickname.
Fort Worth does have fashion, and it has style, he said. It just hasn’t been tapped into yet on a large scale.
How will this event shape the fashion scene?
Maximilian said he doesn’t want this event to be a one-hit wonder — he plans to radically change Fort Worth’s fashion scene.
The designer emphasized that Fort Worth Fashion Week is not a big corporation coming in to just host elaborate shows then leave. Although the fashion week itself will be held for one week, Maximilian plans to hold other fashion shows and help designers and artists come together year round.
“There’s not a platform for fashion out here,” he said. “And that’s what I want to create.”
To do so, he’s staying primarily local. When booking models, Maximilian said, he’s seeking “hidden talent” and a range of established and new models from the area. As for the actual fashion and designers, he’s working with local retailers and designers.
“Anything that incorporates fashion and involves fashion, we can put them on a runway,” he said.
When fashion photographer Greg Gutbezahl initially heard of the idea for Fashion Week, his first thought was “OK, but where is fashion in Fort Worth?” You can drive up and down Fort Worth and see small retail shops, but it’s hard to find local designers if you’re not ingrained in the scene, he said. Now Gutbezahl helps Maximilian promote the event, along with fashion illustrator Matthew Miller, AKA Sunflowerman.
From Miller’s perspective, the Fort Worth fashion scene typically focuses on high-end men’s fashion like tailored suits, shoes and hats. But even that is almost non-existent, other than rare pockets of local designers.
For many residents, Fort Worth is an H&M or Men’s Warehouse type of city, Miller said. But it has the potential to be so much more.
“The average person doesn’t know what actually happens at Fashion Week, but everybody knows it is a symbol of high culture, high art, high commerce,” he said. “So to bring that to Fort Worth is letting everybody know that maybe Fort Worth doesn’t have a ‘thriving’ scene there yet, but we’re ready. We’re ready for it.”
Why does Fort Worth need a fashion week?
When Maximilian first dove into fashion, he said, it was hard to navigate. As the fashion community was small and difficult to find, he had to branch out through social media and network with local designers to incorporate himself into the scene.
So when he finally established himself as a fashion designer, he wanted to establish a scene in the city as well.
“I said, ‘Why can’t I just create a platform for people like me who had a dream and passion for fashion?’” he said, explaining how the event came about.
He wanted to create an outlet for local artists to come together and showcase their work.
“If I can present somebody’s work on a runway and let somebody get recognized, that’s easier than what I’ve been through,” he said.
Miller said the event represents something larger.
“To have a fashion week is indicative of a culture that appreciates the arts as well as appreciates entrepreneurship,” Miller explained.
As the 12th largest and second-fastest growing city in the U.S., it’s about time Fort Worth starts keeping up with other major cities and their arts, he said. He hopes the event establishes the city as a major contender in the fashion world.
“If nothing else, it’s telling the world ‘you should pay attention to Fort Worth. Things are happening here,’’’ Miller said.
Gutbezahl expressed a similar opinion, saying that Fort Worth is consistently overshadowed by Dallas. As a DFW-based freelancer in the arts and culture world, he said almost all his assignments are in Dallas, not Fort Worth.
It’s not that Fort Worth doesn’t have a slew of artists and designers wanting attention; it’s that the public’s attention is focused elsewhere, he said.
“Individual people and collectives are seeing Fort Worth as far from a blank canvas, rather an opportunity that has been screaming to be heard,” Gutbezahl said.
Yes, Fort Worth is commonly known as Cowtown, he said. There’s a certain base of people who love to think of itself that way and tout the Stockyards as the basis of the city, but there are others who want more.
This Fashion Week is an opportunity to step out of Dallas’ shadow and leave Cowtown behind, Gutbezahl said.
Although an average person may not think of Fort Worth as a fashion hub, Maximilian said, he received a flood of support and positive feedback when he started reaching out about the event.
The event details
Maximilian said he has yet to set a public date for the fashion week but anticipates it happening early next year. His goal is for Fort Worth Fashion week to coincide with the Milan, London and Paris fashion weeks usually held in February. And, he said, there will be another Fort Worth Fashion Week in September.
The dates will be released at least a month before the showcase, he said. For now, everything is still in the works.
The week-long event will be in different Fort Worth areas, such as the Arts District, Stockyards and downtown area. Each day, the runways will move to a different location.
In regard to the ongoing pandemic, Maximilian said he plans to ensure safety precautions but wouldn’t want to delay the event again after it already got postponed once due to COVID-19.
“As long as we do it in a well organized way, I think everything will be fine,” he said.
In the meantime, he’s looking forward to finally spreading the word through his upcoming launch party.
Gutbezahl said the launch party is an opportunity for people to discover that this event is not just happening, but it’s happening on a large scale.
Fort Worth Fashion Week will be quite a surprise for many because it will debut people who have been working hard privately and quietly but doing significant things. Now they’ll be able to show off their work a bit.
Miller said he’s excited to see some runways in Fort Worth. It’s not a common sight, and he’s looking forward to seeing and feeling the energy that comes with a fashion event a bit more locally.
“Right now, I can go to a boutique, I can talk to individuals like [Maximilian], and I can get the sense of fashion in the city,” he said. “But to really feel it come alive through a fashion week — that’s what I’m excited for.”
Fort Worth Report fellow Cecilia Lenzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.