By David Goldberg
Photo by Traci Ling
When it comes to looking the part, Houston’s old-school society gals, bustling entrepreneurs, and even prom-queen hopefuls likely have one thing in common: that special little number they bought at Tootsies. Though the boutique has been around for decades, Tootsies has evolved over the past five years into a Texan hub for cutting-edge, fashion-forward couture, thanks in no small part to its out creative director, Fady Armanious. Known for his hyper-coordinated get-ups and pitch-perfect taste, Armanious has gracefully transitioned into the face of Tootsies since starting as store director in 2011. OutSmart spoke with Armanious about his background, style, and even his tips for first-date dressing.
David Goldberg: What is going on at Tootsies right now?
Fady Armanious: Right now, I am working on the windows. We change them monthly for visual purposes, so we’re working on finalizing a concept with the visual team. I’m also working on scheduling and getting ready for market, which involves traveling to New York, Milan, and Paris with the buyers to look at next season’s fashions.
When I think of Houston high society, I think of a wealthy, conservative type. How would you describe high-society Houston women?
I’ll describe them as feminine with an edge. They are stylish, they love fashion, they love high-end couture, and they understand the workmanship and the design that goes behind the garment, and why it’s a piece of art.
Have they been welcoming to you?
They have adapted pretty well, and they’ve completely, absolutely taken me in and accepted what I do. They’re amazing. I love Houston, and most of the people in Houston are very friendly and very welcoming. I’ve never been to a house without feeling that way. Everybody has been smiley and happy to see me, and it’s great.
What are your biggest pet peeves about the way people dress in Texas? I can tell you that mine is the burnt-orange UT color.
I relate to and accept a lot of different things, and I almost have to look behind whatever the situation is. People do things a lot of the time because it’s in their comfort zone. Almost everything has a reason. I might not understand it yet in the moment, but I know there’s a reason behind why they did it. So I try to just be open-minded about it and not let that get me all stirred up. How is that for a polite answer?
What drew you to fashion?
My mother was very stylish. She is very stylish. I remember growing up and seeing her in her dresses, with her hair and makeup, her heels matching the dress. I was always around her matching colors, and growing up it was almost in my daily routine.
When did you realize that this was your career?
It happened naturally. All of a sudden, I was in fashion and I didn’t know what had happened. It was almost very normal. It just led the way. It’s something that I said I was kind of comfortable with, but when you’re young you think about what you want to do. I loved aspects of design and appreciated different things, but all of a sudden, I was in fashion.
What drew you to Houston?
I moved here about 14 years ago. I was born ➝ and raised in Cairo, and then moved here. I did not come with my parents. I decided to come to Houston because I had an aunt who lived here. I came here first, and afterwards my parents came and joined us.
Were you out in Egypt, or did you come out in Houston?
In Houston. I was not out in Egypt, of course, at all. I don’t think it’s even an option.
Is that still the case?
I would say so. I don’t think it’s respected or talked about. It’s nothing that that culture understands or accepts yet.
When did you come out after arriving in Houston?
Probably a year or two after I moved here.
So you had just come to the states, you came out soon after, and I assume you were already pretty stylish. What was your experience like with all that going on?
It was different. Clearly, I never knew there was a world outside of that [closeted lifestyle], that people were accepted, that there were bars and stores specifically for gay people. So it was just freedom. It was like there was another life after the lie.
With the ways that queer identity and gender fluidity are becoming broader and more accepted within mainstream culture, have you seen gender, sexuality, and androgyny change or evolve on the runway?
For sure. Androgyny is the perfect way to describe it. We’ve seen a lot of styles for women that are very male-inspired: the lower shoes, the flats, the pants, the hair, the suits. Even for men last season, most everything that walked the men’s collections on the runway was very feminine. There were silk blouses, ruffles, florals, chiffon—all feminine fabrics. We saw floral jacquards and flower broaches in almost every silhouette, so it was very feminine-inspired—tons of ruffles, with the ’70s vibe in many details.
Do you think that will reverberate into mass style?
Being in Texas, it’s going to take longer. [Laughs] I can see it a teeny bit in Europe. Sometimes when it gets that extreme, it takes a while for people to catch on.
Sometimes when I dress flamboyantly, I feel vulnerable or scared of exposing myself. What is your advice for someone who may be afraid of showing their real style?
Do it. Life is too short. I treat every day as a runway. You get up and you make an effort to see how you want the world to see you today. It’s a stage that you’re about to go on and perform, and you pick it based on that. You don’t know where the day will take you. I do so much in my day: from lunch, to the store, to a trunk show, there are just so many things that I do. But I get up in the morning and [pick out] my stage outfit. Express yourself! In fashion, there is nothing that’s wrong or right. It’s just the way you feel, so just embrace it and express who you are that day.
What is your advice for a perfect first-date outfit?
I always like to play it down. However, people who know me know that I’m very out there, and a lot of my outfits are very runway, because it’s what I do. But I want the world to see me that way. However, I want [a new romantic interest] to see me first for who I am, rather than be distracted by what I’m wearing. So if you go back to all my previous dates, it’s basically a white shirt or a button-up (depending on where we’re going), jeans, and an amazing pair of shoes. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it still shows that I’m in fashion.
What is the essential thing you bring to your job at Tootsies?
I bring freshness [and] newness. I bring relationships, especially with our clients and store vendors. I believe that people shop with people. Otherwise, they can get the products anywhere. It’s a click online and they can have it delivered. It’s at Saks or Neiman’s—it’s everywhere. But if they come to us, it’s because of personal relationships and the experience that Tootsies has to offer. My job is to make sure that the [shopping] experience and customer service is over the top, and something you’ll remember. You come in and have fun, shop, talk and laugh and drink, and walk out with a dress.
At Tootsies, we’re always trying to think of different ideas to be fresh and new and relatable to 2016. We’re always on the move, there’s always going to be a surprise, there’s always going to be the next big thing. I don’t want to be flat, I don’t want to be in a place where people just expect us. We should always have the bar raised—what our next level should be, and where we’re going.
What is the key to your success?
Instincts are important. I say do what’s right and learn from it. Don’t make the same
mistake twice. But be passionate: have one thing you’re passionate about and go at it. Don’t take no for an answer. I don’t like the word “no”—it doesn’t go with me. Communication is also a key to almost anything, from work to relationships.
This interview was conducted prior to the death of Tootsies founder and owner Mickey Rosmarin. Rosmarin unexpectedly passed away on June 17 following a heart attack. He will be greatly missed by the staff of Tootsies, friends, family, and the Houston fashion community.
David Goldberg is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.