Star-Bulletin Features

Sunday, May 6, 2001

Vanessa Simpson wears a $58 T-shirt from Arden B at Ala Moana
Center. The Stetson hat is $185, from Paniolo Trading.

All the
pretty horses

Rodeo wear puts
the fashion savvy
in the saddle


Nadine Kam


Such is the power of marketing that European designers have been able to co-opt the imagery of the Wild West and sell it back to us.

Whoa now, say what?

Storefronts are full of tank tops and T-shirts emblazoned with horse heads, hoofs and buckin' broncos, thanks in part to photographer and former Vogue editor Lisa Eisner, who came out with a glossy picture book, "Rodeo Girl," in Spring 2000.

Eisner, who grew up in Wyoming, wrote: "Teenage girls today have Britney Spears, I had rodeo queens. Those crowns on top of their hats, their big dinner plate belt buckles, big hair, long painted nails, full face of make up and red/white and blue, stars and stripes, sequined leg of mutton shirts. The first time you see a rodeo queen, you never forget it."

In spite of Eisner's romantic musings, the look still seemed more clownish than cool to the rest of us city slickers. It took a bunch of Europeans to tame and reinterpret the look for urban hombres everywhere.

Miss U.S.A. Kandace Krueger of Austin, Texas, dressed as a
glittering cowgirl in the Miss Universe costume competition
Wednesday. She lost to Miss Korea Sa-lang Kim.

Chloe designer Stella McCartney helped set the trend by sending models out prancing on Paris runways in horse prints last fall for the Spring 2001 season.

That coincided with the release of Madonna's "Music" CD and videos showcasing the punk cowgirl look of the Italian duo of Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana.

And Kid Rock added the mood music, with a little rap 'n' rock braggadocio, singing, "I'm a Cowboy, Baby," albeit one who haunts Rodeo Drive.

The combustible mix of the tomboy and diva look is proving too good for today's empowered and entitled women to pass up. All of this is welcome to Paniolo Trading owner Harumi Valenzuela, who sells Western apparel, including some of those "dinner plate" belt buckles priced from $15.95 for fashionable pewter numbers, to upward of $100 for serious silver.

She said the last time Western wear was fashionable was 20 years ago, following the release of the film "Urban Cowboy," which starred a then-trim John Travolta as a Texan trying to make it in Houston, and Debra Winger, who rode a mechanical bull into the sunset.

Jenny Wendel wears a rhinestone-studded Joomi Joolz tank
top, $88 at Rafael. The hat, $59.95, is from Paniolo Trading.

Six months ago, Valenzuela began noticing more local women coming in for cowboy hats, and manufacturers were starting to create hats just for the trendy set. Where a serious Western hat might incorporate water repellent beaver fur and run about $185, the fashion hats are more likely to cost $50 to $60 and are made with lighter weight wool felt or straw, have smaller brims and shorter crowns for maneuverability in crowds and on the dance floor, and are generally more crushable to adjust to wearers' whims. And when was the last time you saw a real cowboy in a zebra-striped hat?

Displays of horsey Ts can be spotted at Arden B, Bebe, Wet Seal and Rafael at Ala Moana Center.

The Ts work well with the concurrent denim trend, said Mari Stewart, president of Rafael, which is carrying rhinestone-studded tanks and T-shirts from L.A.'s Joomi Joolz that read "Rodeo Girls."

"Denim has been strong for 10 months. That just took off with the low-slung jeans. Everybody wants them because they're sexy," she said.

But don't knock the power of a cowboy hat. Valenzuela said a lot of customers talk about receiving special treatment when they wear their hats, such as being sent free drinks at bars, and one guy was even rewarded with a first-class airline seat simply because the crew liked his hat.

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