From the quiet of her spare Spicewood studio, Alyson Fox dreams up all sorts of creations: textiles and wallpaper, jewelry and clothing, illustrations and sculpture. A prolific artist and photographer, the 36-year-old El Paso native is fearless in trying new media, and her fascination with shapes, colors, and geometry influences each object she fashions. So too does her remote Hill Country retreat. Three years ago, Fox and her husband, designer Derek Dollahite, fled Austin for a modern, light-filled house on a hill 25 miles outside of town. “My mind is overactive, so being surrounded by open space helps me to be less anxious,” she says. “I like seclusion. It’s probably not the best thing for me all the time, but this space helps me foster the best creative voice I can have. Plus, I love the sunsets.” Even though her childhood dream was to be an architect, Fox started out studying nutrition and fitness at Florida State University until her nana nudged her to take an art class, which changed her trajectory entirely. After completing a photography degree, she went on to earn an MFA at the University of Colorado. Now Fox collaborates with brands like West Elm, & Other Stories, Lululemon, H&M, and Chronicle Books, which have commissioned her to create everything from jewelry to rugs.
Last year, she made her first foray into apparel with her own line of minimalist clothing. Her tightly focused collection featured two dresses, three tops, a skirt, a pair of shorts, a tunic, and a pair of slacks, all of which could be mixed and matched to assemble a variety of outfits. “I’m always trying to have a uniform, so this is my attempt to create one,” Fox says. Her second collection—made up of five garments all woven, printed, and sewn by hand at a small fabric mill in India—will debut in April and will be available at Austin’s Kick Pleat, at Houston’s Myth & Symbol, and through Fox’s website. Made of either woven flax or a blue-black cotton, each piece features a print of oversized shapes, though no two designs are exactly alike. “The clothes are just sort of canvases for me to play with prints. The pieces aren’t precious; you’re meant to be on the move in them.”
A Q&A With Alyson Fox
Have you always been into crafting?
When I was about two, I started drawing in my closet with my mom’s eyeliner pencils. I was always drawing houses. I wanted to be an architect, so I was always dreaming up houses that grew into other things. I was also really into cooking and decorating and reorganizing as a youngster.
So it makes sense that you went on to design your current house with your husband. Was the whole project a family affair?
My father-in-law drew the plans and did the plumbing, and my brother-in-law was our contractor and helped with design and custom woodwork. Derek and I designed the house and worked on special projects, like cutting and sanding over two miles’ worth of wood slats to create a textured ceiling. We wanted as much glass and concrete as we could afford, and an outdoor shower.
What is your typical workday like?
I usually start by rearranging objects around the house and in my studio. And by rearranging, I also mean using things in a way that’s slightly different from how they’re intended to be used. Moving things and playing with their function informs my design practice and also calms my mind. If I’m not working on a project for a client, I’m usually trying to push myself to make personal work and get outside of my comfort zones until the next paying gig comes along.
How did you decide to start your own clothing line?
I wanted a new challenge and to play with textiles in a form other than the rugs and home goods I’ve done. I love clothes and wanted to try and simplify a wardrobe and work with fabrics like cotton, linen, and flax in tonal shades that I would wear. Typically my design work for other companies is bright, but I tend to be drawn to more-neutral colors, so that was something I set out to do with this collection.
Do you sketch garments first?
I usually use the shapes of vintage garments as inspiration and then sketch from there.
Your clothes are made in India. How did you get in touch with the small collective you work with?
I was working on another project for someone whose production was there, and they liked my prints. It’s a great collaboration, because it’s all small runs of handmade items. That’s how I’m most comfortable working. Similarly, the rugs I design are woven by a women’s co-op in Africa.
How does your design process differ when you’re designing home goods?
When I’m doing a rug, I always have a vague color story in mind when I sit down to draw. Collaborating with the women’s co-op has been really fun, because I just send my drawing and I’m not sure what I’ll get back because they can’t match my colors exactly. They go to market and buy wool in colors they feel are close. So a dark brown in my drawing may come back as a burgundy color. I love that about the collaboration, that complete control is not going to happen. I definitely hope to visit someday.
When you finish a project, are you already looking ahead to what’s next?
I always feel like I haven’t done enough, which is something I’m working on. I think when you work for yourself and are trying to meet a specific goal, you can get pretty hard on yourself. But I’m always thinking about what’s next, so there is rarely a long pause of reflection for me. I feel like it’s all one long dialogue. Everything informs the next thing.
For more information, go to alysonfox.com.