By Arnold Wayne Jones – Staff Writer

Black Tie was like ‘March of the Penguins’ until Nicolas Villalba colored their world

MAKING IT WORK: Villalba, left, fits BTD co-chair Randy Ray’s teal tux while Laurie Foley models her gown. – ARNOLD WAYNE JONES/Dallas Voice

It may seem obvious now that despite being called the Black Tie Dinner, you are allowed to wear something more colorful. But it took a while for that concept to catch on.

"Five or six years ago, no co-chair would have showed up in anything but a black tux," says Randy Ray, one of two co-chairs for this year’s event. And Ray credits Dallas designer Nicolas Villalba for helping to change that.

Three years ago, organizers approached Villalba and asked if he could dress the event’s co-chairs, saying "they wanted something more youthful, more colorful," Villalba says.

They came to the right person. Before then, he was best known for his work with the DIFFA Collection. But the two events, despite their association as major fundraisers in the gay community, have always sat at opposite sides of the tonal spectrum.

"Black Tie is prestigious, traditional, serious, political," Villalba notes. "DIFFA has more whimsy."

While Villalba knew he had to show some respect for the dress code, he decided it was time to kick up the fashion factor, which he has done every year since. This year, for the fourth time, Villalba has dressed the event’s two co-chairs (Ray and Laurie Foley), working in tandem with them to come up with a style that will make a splash.

"The design flowed very naturally," says Ray, who was also a co-chair last year and has been through the routine before. Foley, in her first term, concurs that it was a breeze.

"Both are really easy to work with," Villalba says.

The process is longer and more complicated than it appears on "Project Runway." They began earlier in the summer with brainstorming sessions: Ray wanted peak lapels; Foley was dead-set against a train, but wanted the silhouette of the back to get some notice. This year’s theme was wide open, giving then wide latitude to come up with a color palette. Foley and Ray both independently selected shades of teal — a bold choice that Villalba was all-too-happy to run with.

"I’m one to push the limits, which is why people come to me," he says. "If you want traditional, rent a tux or buy it off the rack at a department store."

Villalba first crafted working models of the eveningwear in inexpensive muslin, making sure the cut was flattering on their bodies. After initial fittings, he and his team began to construct the actual garments out of the buttery peau-de-soie fabric, a satiny double-sided luxe silk with a muted sheen. Villalba plans a colorful back to Foley’s gown (he won’t be specific) and added a handmade orchid dress shirt with contrasting lavender necktie for Foley, who hates bowties.

About a week out, there was still a lot of work to do before the big night, but neither Villalba nor his clients were panicked. Indeed, they all seem pleased how smoothly everything has progressed.

Smooth as silk, even. Maybe in a teal with matching tie.

Just what Black Tie needed.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 21, 2008.

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