Fashion / Style

Vibrant Houston Fashion Show Spotlights Asian American Designers — Chloe Dao, Tina Zulu & Anthony Pabillano Make a Statement

The Ascend AAPI Spring Fashion Show Keeps It Colorful

BY // 06.14.23
photography Ken Jones

In a vibrant, festive demonstration of creativity and culture, the Houston Public Library and Rice University collaborated to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with the Ascend AAPI Spring Fashion Show. Attendees gathered to watch as models in an array of colorful garments made their way down the runway in Houston Public Library’s historic Julia Ideson Building downtown. 

Kimono Zulu Runway – Final Walk 3 (Photo by Ken Jones)
Kimono Zulu’s final runway walk at Ascend AAPI Spring Fashion Show (Photo by Ken Jones)

Three AAPI designers were featured in the show: Chloe Dao, Tina Zulu, and Anthony Pabillano

Chloe Dao, who first burst onto the scene as the Season 2 winner of Project Runway, is a well known Vietnamese-American designer and style expert based in Houston. Her brand is centered around trying to make every woman feel beautiful in her clothing and designs. Her latest Dao Chloe Dao Boutique can be found in the M-K-T Heights mixed-use development.

Tina Zulu, a Filipina-American designer, is the creative mind behind Kimono Zulu. She presented a collection of reimagined vintage Japanese kimonos and other garments inspired by Japanese clothing. Her work is also going to be featured in a kimono pop-up at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) from July 7 to July 9 to kick off the museum’s Summer Nights series. Zulu will be available to assist customers in kimono styling and selection. 

Anthony Pabillano is a Filipino artist based in Houston who explores weaving in the style of the Philippine bayong, a traditional bag made from dried leaves. He redefines tradition by using unexpected materials and forms in his designs. 

Many models strutted the runway wearing beautifully decorated headpieces resembling traditional rice hats. The garments drew on the heritage of the designers and the spirit of AAPI History Month with reimagined silhouettes of traditional Asian clothing like the kimono or hanfu. 

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One dress designed by Dao featured light, billowing pale pink fabric in the skirt, with a delicate purple and green bow tied over a sequined bodice. She also exhibited more structured pieces, including a bright green dress printed with multicolored flowers and double slits. 

Chloe Dao's Pink Dress modeled by Karen Yang (Photo by Ken Jones)
Chloe Dao’s Pink Dress modeled by Karen Yang (Photo by Ken Jones)

Tina Zulu’s reimagined kimonos exuded a youthful, playful, and creative energy and utilized a wide variety of colors, patterns and textures. There was the long white kimono printed with the faces of the Beatles and paired with neon yellow pants, a light blue top, and a fanny pack; a gorgeously fitted Bond Girl dress, which featured a panel of crisscrossing gold fabric and embroidered details across the front, all of it cinched together at the waist with black fabric; and much more.

All of it unique and paired with bold accessories and makeup. 

Kimono Zulu Runway – Bond Girl 2 (Photo by Ken Jones)
Bond Girl by Kimono Zulu modeled by Shannon Rodriguez (Photo by Ken Jones)

Throughout the show, models carried bags by Pabillano, sometimes filled with blooming flowers and fresh plants. The bags, woven in a variety of materials and colors to match the garments they accompanied, demonstrated Pabillano’s exploration of the bayong in a range of shapes and sizes. 

The show was the culminating event of an exhibit by Rice University’s Houston Asian American Archive (HAAA) and the Woodsen Research Center, entitled “Our Vibrant AAPI Community: Selections from the Houston Asian American Archive.” The HAAA is an initiative from the Rice University Chao Center for Asian Studies which focuses on researching, archiving and sharing the lives and experiences of Houston’s Asian and Asian American communities. 

The Ascend AAPI show and the HAAA exhibit were made possible by Houston Public Library curator Christina Wai Grubitz; Dr. Anne Chao, program manager of Rice University’s Houston Asian American Archive; Ann Shi, associate curator at Rice University’s HAAA; Duyen and Marc Nguyen; and the work of the designers, models, and creatives.

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