THE LIFE OF RILEY
MEET VANESSA RILEY, THE DARLING OF HOUSTON’S HIPSTER SET.
Byline: Rusty Williamson
Vanessa Riley, a forward-thinking young designer in Houston, is getting restless.
Never mind that she’s already the darling of Houston’s trendy young fashion crowd, especially street-wise clubbers and those with money and a sense of daring.
Her edgy and eccentric fashions, with diverse inspirations ranging from British dandies to disco’s glory days, are draws for some celebrities, too, including the models Roshumba Williams, Kelly Emberg and Veronica Webb. She also dressed two women for last year’s Academy Awards ceremony; both were nominees in costume or technical categories.
Riley’s designs can now only be found at her hip namesake store called Vanessa Riley London. It’s located at 3939 Montrose Boulevard in Houston, and the store houses her expansive seasonal collections and her made-to-measure business. Over 800 styles hang in the store, and new capsule groups are added monthly.
But now Riley is reaching out to new consumers with a plan to expand into wholesale. Riley, who is 31, just returned to Houston from a whirlwind trip to New York and Los Angeles, where she shopped for sales representatives to showcase her styles. While she’s still debating about where to land, there’s no doubt that her business is taking off.
“I’m ready to move on,” said Riley, a British expatriate who moved to Houston five years ago to be near her then-boyfriend. While the relationship eventually fizzled, Riley’s design career flourished.
“It didn’t take my designs long to catch on in Houston, because my customers understood my approach. My clothes aren’t mainstream and aren’t for everyone. These are women and men who might shop at Vivienne Westwood in London, SoHo in New York and Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. They’re also the type of customers who I believe I can reach at other retail venues across the U.S.”
Riley said she plans to start small and keep a tight, selective rein on her upcoming wholesale venture, which she’ll produce in-house and through contractors in south Texas. If all goes according to plan, Vanessa Riley London fashions could be in stores by year’s end.
With a successful store and sizzling couture business, why the desire to go into wholesale? And where will she find the time?
“I’ve been designing in some capacity since I was 16 years old,” explained Riley, the daughter of a former London model and a fashion photographer father. “If I allow myself to only [be] a custom designer or have a limited audience in Houston, then I can’t help but wonder if I’m reaching my full potential.
“If you only do custom work, then you’re not really a designer because you have to make so many concessions to the customer. You wind up making so many changes to the garment that they become the designer instead of you. I don’t like that.”
Riley’s fall collection is currently taking shape at her atelier, and styles include an array of white shirts, which are a signature of the label. Looks include sheer white or black blouses embellished with clear paillettes, ruched and pleated or trimmed with fringe or embellished with chenille. Kimono sleeves are important.
Pants include black or blue denim hipsters, stovepipes or floods. There are also floor-length fitted coats, long slipdresses with dragonfly patterns and short, fitted jackets. Riley’s coats, in fact, have developed a cult-like following, and women often buy several at a time.
Riley has a passion for designing custom wedding gowns, and retail prices can easily exceed $5,000. Due to the intense workmanship required for the wedding dresses, she limits herself to designing six per year.
Otherwise, retail prices are about $79 for stretch tops and jeans, $98 to $148 for blouses, pants for about $150, jackets at $400 and up and dresses that usually max out at $1,200.