Drawing Dallas

Cosmopolitan designer Douglas Allen is always a stranger, yet always at home

MARK STOKES  | Illustrator
mark@markdrawsfunny.com

Name and age: Douglas Allen, 48

Spotted at: Carlisle and Knight, walking his beagle, Belle

Occupation: Designer

Dallas is the landing pad for this world-traveling designer, who splits his time between the Big D, San Francisco, Chicago and London. This grey-topped quadragenarian certainly doesn’t blend in with his heavy black frames set against thick salt-and-pepper hair.

Born in Alabama, at 14 Douglas moved with his family to Saudi Arabia — the first leg of a life-long journey that has led him across the globe and back, and continues today. He speaks Arabic, French, Italian and a bit of Swedish. His trek continues next month, when he leaves for Cartagena, Colombia, where he’s designing a home interior. As soon as it gets hot, he’s off to London.

Definitely a character, for three months in London he only wore pajamas. “I threw a proper English summer jacket over them when I went out. I got some interesting looks.”

Grey hares: Inspired by Bugs Bunny, Douglas’ musical instrument of choice is a ukulele. He began playing on a whim. His favorite tunes include “Aba Daba Honeymoon” (a turn-of-the-century musical composed by Arthur Fields) and Hawaiian medleys.

Social currency: Douglas doesn’t take much of an interest in money, fancy clothes or the trappings of excess. He uses what he calls “social currency,” a value that is unquantifiable. With roots everywhere and friends scattered all over the far-flung corners of the world, Douglas says, “I’m always a stranger, yet always home.”

His philosophy: “There is only one person, one power, one life, and each of us is a finger puppet on a big hand. Don’t freak out over the journey or circumstance of your finger puppet identity because in reality you are the big hand. Accept 100 percent where you are. Don’t resist. Accept and let go. That is the only way forward and out.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Snap shots: ‘Bill Cunningham New York’ turns the camera on fashion’s most influential paparazzo

LENS ME A SHOE | The Times photographer documents foot fashion in ‘Bill Cunningham New York.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Maybe Project Runway’s to blame, maybe The Devil Wears Prada, but for the past few years there has been a surplus of documentaries about the fashion industry, with profiles of designers like Valentino (Valentino: The Last Emperor), Yves Saint-Laurent (several in fact), even young designers (Seamless) and Vogue magazine’s editor (The September Issue). (By contrast, I can only recall one fashion doc from the 1990s: Unzipped, about a young designer named Isaac Mizrahi.) Is there really that much to say about dressmaking?

Maybe not, but while Bill Cunningham New York fits broadly within the category of fashion documentaries, its subject is unusual because he eschews the trappings of haute couture even as he’s inextricably a part of it — a huge part, really.

If you don’t read the New York Times, you might not recognize Cunningham’s name, and even if you do read it, it may not have registered with you. For about, well, maybe 1,000 years, Cunningham has chronicled New York society with his candid photos of the glitterati on the Evening Hours page. At the same time, however, he has documented real fashion — how New Yorkers dress in their daily lives — with his page On the Street, where he teases out trends (from hats to men in skirts to hip-hoppers allowing their jeans to dangle around their knees). Anna Wintour may tell us what we should wear; Cunningham shows us what we do.

“We all get dressed for Bill,” Wintour observes.

What makes Cunningham such an interesting character is how impervious he seems to the responsibility he effortlessly wields. He loves fashion, yes, but he’s not a slave to it himself. He scurries around Manhattan (even in his 80s) on his bicycle (he’s had dozens; they are frequently stolen), sometimes in a nondescript tux but mostly in jeans, a ratty blue smock and duck shoes, looking more like a homeless shoeshiner than the arbiter of great fashion. He flits through the city like a pixie with his 35mm camera (film-loaded, not digital), a vacant, toothy smile peaking out behind the lens, snapping the denizens of Babylon whether they want it or not.

One of the funniest moments is when strangers shoo him away as some lunatic paparazzo, unaware how all the well-heeled doyens on the Upper East would trade a nut to have Cunningham photograph them for inclusion in the Times. Patrick McDonald, the weirdly superficial modern dandy (he competed as a wannabe designer on the flop reality series Launch My Line a few seasons back), seems to exist with the hope that Cunningham will shoot him. And shoot him he does.

Many artists are idiosyncratic, even eccentric, but Cunningham is supremely odd by any standards. He lives in a tiny studio near Carnegie Hall filled with filing cabinets cluttered with decades of film negatives on the same floor as a crazy old woman, a kind of urban variation on Grey Gardens. He knows tons of people but most of them seem to know very little about him. By the time near the end when the filmmaker, director Richard Press, finally comes out and ask him outright whether he’s gay, Cunningham arches in that prickly New England way, never really answering outright, though he says he’s never — never — had a romantic relationship. Things like that were simply not discussed by men of his generation.

In some ways, we never really know any more about Cunningham at the end than any of his friends do, and perhaps even him. Cunningham comes across as defiantly non-self-reflective. He lets his work do all the talking for him. And that work has a lot to say on its own.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

Best bets • 10.01.10

Friday 10.01

Shakira
Shakira

They are still pretty ticked off
Just when you thought you were out, Israel Luna pulls you back in. The local filmmaker screens his controversial Ticked Off Trannies With Knives for two midnight showings. If you missed all the hubbub over the film, now’s your time to catch up. And what better way to see a throwback exploitation film than late at night on the plushy sofas of the Inwood?

DEETS: Inwood Theatre, 5458 W Lovers Lane. Through Saturday. Midnight. $10.

…………………..

Friday 10.01

The hips don’t lie, but they shake
We never hear much about Shakira. Unlike many a pop star, she sidesteps the usual fame trappings and lets the music speak for her. That doesn’t mean she’s any less fabulous. Her rollerblading and motorcycle riding in her video for “Loca” is steamy, sexy and fun — just like the non-diva diva she is.

DEETS: American Airlines Center, 2500 Victory Ave. 8 p.m. $20–$160.Ticketmaster.com.

………………….

Sunday 10.03

Nothing secret about these gardens
The Rainbow Garden Club brings back its third annual Garden Tour 2010. Travel to the six gardens of members and friends of the group. Just don’t snip any flowers for yourself. Not cool.

DEETS: Various stops at residents’ homes. Noon. $10. Visit RainbowGardenClub.com for details.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens