Something Shiny: Part 1

Show clothing designers weigh in on making a great outfit.

Leather, rhinestones, fabrics and fringe. Add a little creativity and fashion know-how and they combine to help you grab some extra attention in the show pen in a sea of shimmer and shine.

The women of the horse-show fashion industry make it their business to keep up with what’s hot in fashion, what will make you look your best and what works with the star of the show: your horse. The Journal asked them to tell us about their design process and what they consider when creating a show outfit worthy of a big win.

Where do you get your inspiration for an outfit?

Susan Lunenfeld: Coming out of the fashion industry, I tend to go back to where my roots are. I studied a lot of the French designers, and I studied the fit. There were two designers in particular that I loved, and I continue to get my inspiration from them, and from an Italian designer, Elsa Schiaparelli. She invented the shoulder pad and was famous for doing very shaped, embellished jackets. A lot of my inspiration comes from the 1930s and ’40s eras, because the fit then was similar to what people in the horse industry want. It’s what’s flattering on the body, the very shaped jackets.

Kay Mortensen: Inspiration for show apparel comes from a large variety of sources. Scrolling work in architecture often has interesting and unique designs. We enjoy shopping, so we often see new fabrics and collar and cuff designs from high-end designers at boutiques and high-end department stores. St. John has beautiful fabrics and flowing lines.

Suzanne Vlietstra: Anywhere and everywhere! Fabric, research, opportunity and the odd drop of wine have all been known to influence both our designs and our descriptions of them. It’s definitely a creative process that’s also improved by impending deadlines.

We once found a great swirl design on a carpet in a Las Vegas casino, and it was re-worked into an appliqué that we used on a very successful super slinky. We’ve also been inspired by some of Dr. Seuss’ fanciful drawings.

Mostly, our fabric choices suggest how they should be trimmed. Color and line combine in fabric to try to tell a story; it’s up to the designer to discover the story, then embellish it with appropriate contrasts and trims to make the story more exciting.

Babe Woods: For me, inspiration comes from some very strange places. I’ve always found interesting shapes and ideas in things like rugs, furniture, jewelry, flower pots – just your surroundings. There are many intricate ideas that get you started with an idea. I’m also fortunate to have some great women working with me. We are all very different, which helps in coming up with a variety of ideas. This certainly works well because we have such varied clients.

In a ring full of wonderfully proportioned, beautiful Quarter Horses, the slightest details can make your horse stand out as the winner. Get AQHA’s FREE Halter Horse Expression report, and learn the secrets to completing your horse’s “total look” in the halter arena.

How often do trends change, and how do you keep up with them?

Susan: I don’t know how I keep up with them. I just keep doing what I think I should be doing, and it’s the same thing I did when I was in the fashion industry. A couple of years ago, I started making short jackets, because they kind of weren’t out there, instead of just concentrating on shirts. And then I heard they were in style. I just do what I think is missing and what seems like a logical step.

The trends move much slower in the horse industry than they do in the fashion industry, where they change almost month to month. In the horse industry, each year there’s a little step into something new, but it doesn’t completely turn around.

Kay: Trends change often. Keeping up and staying ahead is something Showtime strives to do. New and different is a constant goal.

Trends change all the time and not at all. Beautifully fitted fringed black suede chaps are as timeless as a tuxedo, while some clothing trends are only viable for one show season. Some very memorable garments aren’t meant to be seen forever – they wear out their welcome – can be worn for years with accessory updating. Good taste never goes out of style.

We keep up by watching far beyond the industry, as well as within the show pen.

My mother was a stage costumer and taught me the importance of dressing for the stage. Remember that the rider is like an actress being watched from a distance. Show apparel must work from across the arena, as it’s the judge you want to impress, not your friends at the back gate.

Babe: Trends are always changing. Change is good. The fashion world dictates a lot of these changes whether we are aware of it or not. Colors and some styles flow over into our world of horses. Whether it is horse showing, ice skating, theater or dance, it is all related. These things, as well as our customers are what keep us changing.

The Ladies of Fashion

Susan Lunenfeld
Western Show Jackets
Susan Lunenfeld got her start in the mainstream fashion industry. She studied in Europe and the Middle East and has designed for actresses Cybil Shepard and Fran Dresher. Susan began designing horse-show attire in 1993 and made a full transition to the genre in 2000. She loves the creativity that show clothing allows and enjoys all things western.

Kay Mortensen and Penny Young
Showtime Show Clothing
Kay Mortensen and Penny Young started Showtime Show Clothing in 1992. They met at the National Western Livestock Show when they were 11 and have been friends ever since. Both showed horses throughout their youth careers and traveled together with Kay’s mother, Betty Sibley. They have been involved with the horse-show world in some capacity for their entire lives. Both agree horse-show people are the best people in the world.

Suzanne Vlietstra
Hobby Horse Clothing Co.
Suzanne Vlietstra started Hobby Horse Clothing Co. in her mother’s attic when she was in seventh grade. Suzanne has show hunters, reiners, trail, pleasure and driving horses. She lives with her family on a small ranch near Los Angeles.

Babe Woods
Woods Western
Woods Western got its start as a small business in 1973. In 1984, Dan and Babe Woods went to the AQHA World Championship Show and things took off from there. Babe is pleased to have found a niche in the horse industry and hopes to have helped people enjoy what they are doing. Babe and Dan live in San Marcos, California.

Find out how trends are set, and learn the differences in designing horsemanship, showmanship, rail and reining shirts in the last of this series next week.

Get AQHA's FREE Halter Horse Expression report, and learn insider tips for getting expression from your halter horse.