Not in the mood for coffee, Louise Black, the fashion designer who once lived in Austin and now calls it home again, drove her Honda to Little Mexico Restaurant on South First Street. The designer wanted an early afternoon margarita.
Anyone who watches reality television might recognize Black as a contestant on the sixth season of hit show "Project Runway." (A new season begins on Lifetime on July 29.)
In her company, I had to make a confession: I didn't watch her season. Turns out she didn't care.
That's because there's life after "Project Runway," and Black, 33, is moving forward with her fashion goals now that she and husband and business partner Eric Jackson have left Dallas and live here again.
"Most of our friends and family are here," Black said.
Perhaps Black will add a new layer to the city's growing fashion scene. Already she's a participant in the upcoming Austin Fashion Week as part of a Fashion Week challenge that involves teams of hairstylists, models, designers, photographers and makeup artists.
"I have lots of texture in my clothes," said Black, who admires designer Christian Lacroix. "I like mixing prints. I love huge shoes. I love making things really crazy and bizarre. I like taking old things and making them look like they can be worn 200 years from now."
Black sells her garments through Etsy.com . Her designs largely are influenced by her surroundings, and often she uses doll parts as well as antique materials and textiles.
In the past, a chunk of her sales, though, has come from her cameo corsets, which sell for $225. To focus on the next leg of her career, she has stopped selling the corsets, she said.
"I want to move onto more creative projects," said Black, sipping a watery frozen margarita as I drank Diet Coke. "I would like to hire someone to do the corsets for me, and I can move onto another line."
She is working on a new limited-edition line of women's clothing and will have a trunk show at Feathers Boutique (1700 S. Congress Ave.) on Aug. 18.
Black already has found at least one celebrity admirer: Hole singer Courtney Love.
In fall 2008, while Black was filming "Project Runway," Love began ordering accessories from Black's Etsy page. Last May, Black spent time with Love in Los Angeles. Love wanted her to make costumes and stage clothing, but their plans didn't work out, Black said.
In January, Black visited the singer at Love's New York home. Love and her band played South by Southwest in March.
"It was a fun time," Black said. "She's a character, I must say."
Her time with Love is only one of many adventures for Black, who grew up in Temple far from the Dallas gay scene that embraced her decades later. She moved to Austin in 1998.
Eventually, she attended what is now Texas State University and studied clinical lab science. Her parents, she said, didn't want her to attend art school. So Black completed her associate's degree and worked at University Medical Center Brackenridge for a time.
"I sat and fashion sketched while I was working on the night shift," she said.
Working on her bachelor's degree in the same subject, Black also continued investing in her fashion future.
"I ended up dropping out of school six months before I got my degree," she said. "I was very bored. I'm an artist at heart."
Always eager for a new adventure, Black and Jackson left Austin in 2001 and relocated to New Orleans. The Big Easy wasn't the right fit for them.
"I had read too many Anne Rice novels," Black said. "We got there and we were miserable. I think that lasted four months."
The couple moved back to Temple and bought a house.
"I'm not sure why we decided to do that," she said.
The two also started a wholesale and resale business called Eye-Spy Eclectics. There Black started a line of clothing and later a website to sell 1920s and '30s-inspired pieces.
They lasted in Temple two years and, in 2004, they left Texas for concrete jungle New York.
"I got accepted to F.I.T. (Fashion Institute of Technology)," Black said. "But I couldn't afford it. All in all, I think it was going to be $40,000 to go there."
Texan and H&M menswear designer Levi Palmer suggested that Black consider El Centro College in Dallas. So there was a brief stay with family in the Temple area before a move to Dallas in 2006.
"I got my pattern drafting degree there," she said. "The school doesn't focus so much on creativity."
In Dallas, Black started making costumes and dresses for fashion show producer and model Jan Strimple, and she also created Venetian-style masks for a Valentino show at specialty department store Stanley Korshak.
Then Strimple contacted officials for "Project Runway" about Black. Filming began in fall 2008, but the season's air date was delayed because of a lawsuit involving NBC Universal, which owns Bravo, the cable channel that once aired the show, and the Weinstein Co., which owns "Project Runway."
"It didn't air for an entire year," Black said. "A bunch of people found out I went. It was hard keeping my parents from telling people. I did it so I would get more exposure for my line. I'm not a quick and dirty designer. I didn't expect I would make it to the end. I pay a lot of attention to detail and hand sew everything."
Black said she didn't want to watch previous seasons to come up with a strategy for the weekly challenges.
"I went into the whole thing blind," she said. "As a designer, it stressed me out. I would have to watch the show and have a cocktail."
Being on the show was a bit different than watching it. She said the designers don't get much sleep, but the younger designers, the eager twentysomethings, were fine with little sleep. She was not.
"There was as much fun as there was stress," she said. "I would do it all over again."
Her run on "Project Runway" wasn't perfect. Black was eliminated during a challenge that required her to pair up with another designer to create dresses for Macy's. That's the past for her now that she's in Austin.
"I got on stage, and Michael Kors said all of this stuff about my dresses," Black said. "And I was just laughing. It's all water under the bridge anyway."