Fierro, en fuego

Born in El Salvador, Oscar Fierro hopped the border with the intent to become famous. Now the designer and TV fashionista is making his mark — and he’s not shy about saying so

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

OSCAR GOWN | Designer Oscar Fierro, below, finds the perfect marriage between fashion and fundraising when his runway show also acts as a benefit for the Legal Hospice of Texas this weekend. Photo by Jirard.

DAMAS DE BLANCO
Station 4, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. Dec. 9 at 7 p.m.  $15­–$50.
DDB2010.com

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Oscar Fierro admits that modesty is not a value he subscribes to. He’s just not a humble person.

That might lead some to think he’s cocky, but really, he’s just confident … and not just because he’s a gay fashion designer with a sense of entitlement. It’s because he’s been through hell and doesn’t plan on going back.

“My journey to United States was painful and basically a miracle,” he says. “When people try to knock me down, I laugh about it. I crossed three borders [Guatemala, Mexico and Texas] and I have made a name for myself in a short time. It’s gonna take a whole army to bring me down.”

As a boy in El Salvador, he attended school barefoot and ate a meal only when he could. He emigrated to the U.S. illegally, but because El Salvador was in the middle of a civil war, he was granted asylum. He made his way to Dallas in 1990 to live with his “very straight brother and his family,” but Fierro found stability in his work as a waiter at Mercado Juarez.

“When people leave their country they say they’ll make their money [here] and go back,” he says. “But why in hell would I ever go back? Once I experienced the wonderful sense of freedom and flushable toilets, I knew this was for me. Toilets to me were the best things ever. But I also knew here, I could make my dreams come true and even help people in a way.”

On Thursday he’ll demonstrate that mission with the Damas de Blanco runway show, where he will debut his spring and summer collections. All proceeds will benefit the Legal Hospice of Texas, which provides legal services to low-income individuals with terminal illnesses or HIV.

“I think it’s the perfect marriage between fashion and charity,” he says. “When fashion can be attached to a great cause, I think it makes it better.”

Charity is crucial to Fierro. The struggles of his family and those near to him inspired Fierro to start the Oscar Fierro Foundation. In 2004, he returned to El Salvador to find that people still needed help, mostly children. His foundation helps to rebuild schools and provide for kids where it can.

Fierro’s dream has remained pretty basic: He wants to be famous. He knew from childhood that he wanted to be involved in entertainment. He began by helping make dresses for beauty pageants in El Salvador; that’s when his path to fame and to America was starting to reveal itself. But really, fashion wasn’t a passion — it was a vehicle to get to where he wants.

“I have a clear mind for logistics and I knew, whether as fashion designer, singer or whatever, I’d have to embrace myself to not make money doing it,” he says. “So I concentrated on working to pay bills and then ventured into fashion.”

He started designing in 2000, mostly because he had to create his own clothes. At 4-foot-11, finding fashionable clothing that fit him was a challenge. Figuring he’d have a niche market, he began designing for shorter bodies.

“It kept pulling me in and I loved it,” he says.

In 2008, he finally debuted his first collection — to him, a lightning-fast record. Fierro’s dreams were coming true.

“It was like an explosion when it came out. I’m not ashamed to say it, but I believe I have great talent and personality and people can relate to me. That has been the combination for me to go as fast as I can in fashion. Other designers in Dallas have been at it that same amount of time but haven’t been able to reach the level I have yet.”

As much as he loves his adopted home, he says Dallas isn’t as stylish as it pretends to be. Despite some success here, he has to work in New York to really put his designs out there. Dallas has some catching up to do.

“Dallas is not fashion-ready and you can put that in bold print,” he says. “These ladies can tell you all day long how fashion forward they are and how they support local fashion, but fashion forward for them is big hair — that’s it.”

That acerbic wit is enough to get him on television. Gabriela Natale of Telemundo tapped into Fierro’s sassy talk on fashion and celebrities as the fashion police on her Spanish-language show SuperLatina.

“Oscar is a natural,” says Natale. “He is an exquisite designer, an over-the-top diva and the fiercest fashion critic, all in one. He was born for TV.”

So: Television, in print and on the runway. All that’s left is one thing and perhaps his American dream will be fully realized.

“We’ve sent gowns to stylists for the Oscars, but I’m not aware of any red carpet where my gowns have appeared,” he says. “But one celebrity that I wouldn’t like to dress is Paula Abdul. She’s a crime for a fashion designer.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Dutton wins Bank of America ‘local hero’ award

Samaritan House head honored for work in housing people with AIDS, other chronic illnesses

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Steven Dutton, president and CEO of Samaritan House in Fort Worth, has been named a Bank of America local hero. The award is given to five people in each of 45 cities across the country.

Winners were chosen by a committee made of local leadership from Bank of America, previous grant recipients and other civic leaders, according to Mike Pavell, Fort Worth market president of the bank.

Samaritan House provides affordable, quality housing to low-income individuals and families including those affected by HIV.

“We were impressed with Steve not only because of his tireless pursuit to develop housing for persons who are homeless, ex-offenders, and those with chronic illness and disabilities,” said Pavell, “but because he speaks with residents of his program all day, showing them respect and care and enables them to become the strongest voice in their own recovery.”

Since joining the agency in 1996, the focus has shifted from hospice care to long-term support and even transitional housing. Soon after joining Samaritan House, the agency moved from the Northside into a 32-bed former nursing home southeast of downtown.

Dutton oversaw the new facility grow to 60 beds.

When the Villages at Samaritan House opened in 2006 with 66 apartments, they began serving 375 people, many affected with HIV.

In addition to providing housing, they help with finding employment opportunities for residents. Through a partnership with Z’s Café inside the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, 15 residents are employed.

“Z Café is going great,” Dutton said.

He called that project one of Samaritan House’s greatest successes because it has led to other restaurants in the area who are looking for new employees to call.

“One of our ambitions is to multiply the number of job opportunities,” he said.

He said it was a joy to see people who haven’t had a job in years after their first day at work.

“But it’s not just restaurants,” he said. “Others are working in maintenance and construction.”

The Local Heroes award comes with a $5,000 grant that Dutton directed to Samaritan House. He earmarked the money to an HIV prevention campaign.

“Every week, the number of persons contacting us increases,” he said. “Most new residents are under the age of 24.”

As part of that campaign, he has scheduled a screening of the film, And the Band Played On Sunday, Nov. 7 with the Lone Star Film Society. Bob Ray Sanders will introduce the movie. He said that with the average age of his new residents so young, most had never seen the HBO film.

Dennis Bishop, Lone Star Film Society director, was vice president of production at HBO when they made the film. He will be on hand at the screening to answer questions and talk about how difficult it was to bring this controversial movie to TV.

Dutton noted that they will hold one of their biggest fundraisers next week. On Wednesday, Nov. 10, they will present their Out of the Box fundraiser.

The luncheon will be held at the Fort Worth Sheraton and there is no cost to attend.

While the luncheon is free, reservations are required so they can plan the number of lunches to provide.

Reservations can be made by phone.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens