Amid 11 days of celebration, San Antonio fashion guru Michael Quintanilla and designer Graciela Carillo take a step back from the party and look at the colors, clothing, and fashions that brighten the city’s annual Fiesta celebration.
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures welcomes these two fashionistas for the new exhibit, “Fiesta Passion, Fiesta Fashion,” April 6 – May 5.
“Fiesta is such a fun time of year,” said ITC executive director Angelica Docog. “San Antonians express a joy and love through their clothing, with vibrant colors and over-the-top accessories from head to foot. With two of our city’s finest minds in fashion curating this exhibit with items from their own personal collections, we’re looking forward to something exceptional at the institute this Fiesta season.”
Fiesta Passion, Fiesta Fashion will showcase the dazzling clothes, hats, shoes, dresses, uniforms, purses, pins, medals, and more, that embody and express the vibrancy of the Fiesta season.
Quintanilla, an award-winning journalist and former fashion writer at the Los Angeles Times and San Antonio Express-News, is a common face on the Fiesta circuit, emceeing and attending events clad in exuberant attire, rife with sequins and rhinestones, and topped off with flamboyant hats.
Graciela, a designer and local legend, has dressed Fiesta royalty, wives of the Reyes Feos, event hosts, and presenters at the Tejano Music Awards. Her unique creations blend Western panache, the Latin flair of her Mexican heritage, and the international spirit of San Antonio.
“When I think about Fiesta I think about what I’m going to wear, which has to be memorable,” said Quintanilla, known to all as “Mr. Fiesta.” “For Fiesta, I create my own over-the-top garments, hats and shoes. After all, a party demands party clothes. For me that means bling — the more bling, the better.”
Among Quintanilla’s favorite pieces in the exhibit is his signature 1972 vintage drum major coat, a gift to him by a good friend. Quintanilla has hand-embellished the dazzling garment through the years with rhinestones, crystals and metallic fringe, adhering to his motto of “more is more.”
“But every garment, every hat, also tells a story about my culture as well as my love for pop culture and what’s happening in current events and politics, too,” he said. “The fun is in finding a colorful and hopefully, irreverent spin on all of it because it’s Fiesta.”
While Fiesta royalty celebrate the week in duchess gowns, Texas Cavalier uniforms, and Rey Feo crowns, everyday San Antonians join in the celebration with sashes of medals, decorated hats, colorful shirts and other attire that capture and display the spirit of Fiesta.
“I enjoy this so much,” Graciela said. “Working with each piece, you get to know them, to develop connections with the fabric.”
Graciela sources fabrics from across Latin America, often traveling to Mexico to find the perfect fabrics for her work. She embellishes traditional patterns and materials, creating spectacular designs for women of all shapes, sizes, and ages.
Graciela lives a “wear it now!” philosophy. “Life is too short not to wear beautiful clothes,” she says. Drawing from her more than 30 years of designs, Graciela has selected pieces that highlight some of her most iconic styles, as well as new forward-looking creations.
She recently created a Frida Kahlo-inspired floral crown with a mixture of cornhusk and silk flowers, revealing the springtime style of San Antonio. Other pieces reflect her unique blend of Tejano and Western influences.
Graciela once dressed community leader Teresa Wickham in a hand-beaded and suede-fringe poncho, and Maria Elena Torralva-Alonso in a pinstriped blazer with hand-stitched sequins and leather fringe for the Tejano Music Awards.
“Some people might wear Fiesta’s hallmark patterns and bright colors as a once-a-year costume, while others might wear these colors and patterns year-round as symbols of their heritage,” said Victoria Ingalls, curatorial researcher at the institute. “The Fiesta fashion represents San Antonio’s complex history of cultural interactions, shared heritage, and vibrant and diverse communities.”
“Ultimately, this exhibit represents a love story for a citywide party that expresses exactly what ‘Puro San Antonio’ means, and I’ve got the glue gun burns to prove it!” Quintanilla said.
The Institute of Texan Cultures is located on the UTSA Hemisfair Campus, 801 E. César E. Chávez Blvd., a short distance from the Alamo and the River Walk. Regular hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults (18-64); $8 for seniors (ages 65+) and children (6-17); children 5 and under free; free with membership, UTSA or Alamo Colleges identification. For more information, call 210-458-2300.