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Fashion / Shopping

Texas’ Newest Fashion Label Comes to Life in a Historic Montrose Bungalow

The Most Arty T-Shirts Ever are Even Made in Houston

BY // 07.18.19

Gallerist Franny Koelsch Jeffries’ credentials include more than two decades as a Houston art dealer at Koelsch Haus, her eponymous gallery located in a classic Montrose bungalow.

Now she rolls out her most personal project yet: Ears of Buddha, a collection of bespoke women’s shirts that promise to be in the closets of every “It” girl in Texas.

Koelsch Jeffries honed her aesthetic via stints at Barneys New York, Tootsies and Cotton Club. Also under her belt are dual degrees in fashion merchandising and art history from University of Texas.

With Ears of Buddha, she comes full circle, returning to her fashion beginnings, with the addition of an art component: The shirts are hand-embroidered bearing symbols imbued with meaning —  Buddhas, peacock feathers, sunrises, elephants and other hand-details.

And Ears of Buddha shirts are created in small batches at a local atelier in Koelsch Jeffries’ hometown — so in other words, handmade in Houston.

Fabric choices speak to the authentic. EoB shirts are made from Egyptian Pima cotton or linen, in six styles inspired by strong, iconic femmes.

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Ava (à la Ava Gardner) is all satin and lace, while Chrissy (an ode to tennis great Chris Evert) features sporty stripes. The linen-and-lace Lizzy nods to Marfa and Elizabeth Taylor in Giant, while Franky is the design most like Koelsch herself, informed by plaid and a touch of whimsy.

The collection’s name was inspired by the title of her late father’s autobiography, which Koelsch Jeffries hopes to publish: Ears of Buddha: Mystical Powers — the story of World War II-era Admiral Philip C. Koelsch and his exotic, far-flung travels.

“While serving in the South Pacific, an elder native woman told Admiral Koelsch that he had Ears of Buddha, which meant he had mystical powers,” Koelsch says of her father.

Much of the branding, including the hang tags for the new collection, reference the hand-typed pages of Admiral Koeslch’s memoir.

Cool Koelsch Haus HQ

Franny Koelsch Jeffries’ Ears of Buddha collection at Koeslch Haus, Houston (Photo by CDA)
Franny Koelsch Jeffries’ Ears of Buddha collection at Koeslch Haus, Houston (Photo by CDA)

Just as Ears of Buddha revels in the handmade and a family narrative, the Texas HQ for the new shirt collection is not in an expected department store or boutique retailer.

Koeslch Jeffries brought it back home instead.

Now a rolling rack of crisp Ears of Buddha shirts hold pride of place in the latest edition of her Koeslch Haus.

The gallerist’s sixth and what she proclaims as her final location is a polished white bungalow, circa 1920s, amidst the heart of Houston’s diverse, historic Montrose neighborhood — an area  home to both the Menil and the city’s gay rights movement, and long an enclave for artists and the art community.

Enter through its chartreuse door, and visitors discover a space the gallerist has carved out where outsider and insider art merges — no surprise perhaps for a dealer who’s long been involved with the Orange Show, where she’s a current board member.

The gallery’s exhibition program, informed by a touch of craft and jewelry, feels connected to community.

Now Koelsch Haus adds fashion to the equation, within its uniquely curated 1,800 square-feet interiors.

For the handsome, hand-sewn, and artistic Ears of Buddha shirts hold court alongside outsider sculpture by the late great Mr. Imagination, naive-style paintings and drawings by Austin-based W. Tucker; an epic mixed-media work by Dallas collage master Ellen Frances Tuchman formed from retro equestrian ephemera; and Houston artist Claire Cusack’s refined take on assemblage from found objects layered with history.

In the mix is also a selection of home design and art books, via a collaboration with River Oaks Bookstore.

All are in very good company with Ears of Buddha shirts — which function as a beautiful amalgamation of fashion and wearable art. (Watch for the collection to appear during the upcoming Texas Contemporary Art Fair, October 10 to 13 in Houston, worn by some savvy collector-type femmes.)

Koelsch Haus, 1020 Peden, Houston, 713.862.5744, koelschgallery.com.

Ears of Buddha shirts $360, through Koelsch Haus, dreems.nyc, earsofbuddha.com.

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