Former runway hunk Johnny Bechard works his stitching skills for DIFFA Dallas Collection
DIFFA Dallas Collection 2009 presents "Utopia" Hilton Anatole Hotel, Trinity Ballroom, 2201 Stemmons Frwy.
May 2 at 5:30 p.m.
Individual seats, $275.
When Johnny Bechard was only 8, he had a lot in common with Edith Bouvier Beale.
"I was making garments out of my mom’s scarves, handkerchiefs and hand-me-downs. You know, pin and glue — pin and stick," he says, remembering his childhood in Springfield, Miss.
By junior high, Bechard’s dad noticed his son’s sketches and encouraged him think about becoming a designer. And for Christmas, his parents gave him a Singer sewing machine.
After high school, Bechard migrated to North Texas to study marketing and merchandising at Bauder Fashion College, which once had a campus in Arlington. But the Dallas fashion scene took Bechard in a lot of directions: He worked as an instructor for the John Robert Powers agency — putting models through camera-ready car wash: suggesting hairstyles, styling shoots and teaching them how to walk.
While working as a scout, Bechard (who’s 6’2") also modeled.
In the mid-’90s, he donated his catwalking skills to the Dallas Collection — the Texas-sized runway fundraiser for the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS. By that time, he was a veteran on the strut-and-pose circuit.
"But The Dallas Collection shows were always amazing. Such incredible theatrics — you never knew what was coming next," he remembers.
In 2001, he moved to Manhattan. While working for Barneys New York, Bechard revived his "Grey Gardens" imagination and re-focused on design. By 2002, he produced his first mini-collection — flirty cocktail dresses, bridal wear and gowns in vivid hues.
Even with decades of fashion-biz experience, getting a line into stores doesn’t happen overnight.
"It takes a lot of money to produce a full ready-to-wear collection," he says.
So Bechard is still in the exciting launching phase of his design career. And five months ago, he moved back to Dallas to work with an investor.
After returning to Big D, he ran into Jan Strimple. Strimple has been with the Dallas Collection since its infancy. She stepped down after her completing her tenure as creative director and was given a DIFFA "legend" award from Bob Mackie. For this year’s show — "Utopia," the 20th anniversary blowout — Strimple makes a guest appearance. And she suggested that Bechard produce a jacket for the collection. All of the Dallas Collection designers rework denim jackets into "works of art," which are auctioned off to raise money.
Bechard created a silk gown and a matching "chubby," a tiny jacket.
But Bechard’s chubby is reversible. "One side is dressy. And the other is denim. The cuffs are lined with Swarovski crystals," he explains.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 1, 2009.