High Styles in Houston: Michelle Ngo

This time of year brides, bridesmaids, and other women needing gowns for formal occasions buzz around the Michelle Ngo Fashion Studio in Houston.
Cindy Riegle

A NOTE TO OUR READERS:
"High Styles in Houston" is from the March 2007 issue of "Texas Living: People & Places," a special section of Southern Living for our Texas readers.

It's wedding season, which means Michelle Ngo Design Studio on West Gray Street buzzes with activity. Future brides come and go, getting measurements, studying sketches, selecting fabrics―each fully confident that her special dress is in good hands.

"I love to use silks for wedding gowns,” says Michelle Ngo (last name pronounced "no") as she runs her hand over a silk shantung design. "The fabric catches candlelight really well."

These creative instincts have added a growing clientele to the almost-three- year-old business. Being a self-made entrepreneur, however, wasn't what this soft-spoken dynamo who used to work in information technology (IT) planned for her future.

Office Fashion Police
When coworkers started asking for advice about their wardrobes, Michelle knew she might be suited for a different line of work.

"If I even glanced at someone in the office, the person would automatically say, ‘What's wrong with my outfit?' " recalls Michelle with a laugh. "When the Christmas party rolled around, many people would ask me what they should wear."

That's because her colleagues knew that Michelle designed and made clothes for family and friends and even for her own petite 5-foot-tall frame. "The word ‘designer' was not in my dictionary," she says. "I thought if I ever broke out on my own I might own a business related to IT work." However, when a boutique owner discovered her designs and placed orders, Michelle's plans changed.

Full Force Ahead
Her decision paid off. Michelle's name has become synonymous with the Who's Who of local fashion. Boutiques in Houston and Austin sell her bridal and evening gowns along with her blouses, skirts, coats, and accessories. Local television reporters sport her vivid designs, as did a recent Miss Universe and Miss Texas. Working alongside some the city's most well-known stylists and photographers, Michelle brings a refreshing twist to Houston's runways.

"I like to have a little art in my designs," says Michelle, who often makes coats from upholstery fabric or builds an entire piece around a button or scrap of lace that inspires her.

A Moving Beginning
Her Asian heritage also serves as a major influence. As a child in South Vietnam, Michelle sewed clothes for her dolls from pieces of her mom's blouses and skirts. When the family was forced to leave the country after the fall of Saigon, her skills were truly put to the test.

"We were in a refugee camp for 18 months," recalls Michelle, the oldest of four children. "I would make clothes for me, my brother, and two sisters just so we'd have something to wear." An uncle in Houston sponsored the children in coming to America (their parents arrived later). Michelle started working in her aunt's fabric store, developing a passion for pairing the right colors with the perfect design.

Hints of Home
She imports many silk fabrics from the Far East. Even the smallest details carry remembrances of home. Customers can choose a jacket with handcrafted silver buttons from Cambodia, a gown accented with intricate hand-beading from an Asian factory, and a shirt with beads made of soft rock from a Vietnamese village.

It's the hand-stitching, however, that stands out as a Michelle Ngo signature, thanks to her talented staff―30 employees in Asia and Houston who put her designs into motion with the whir of sewing machines or the steady rhythm of needles. "In Asia, handcraft is an art," she says. "People do it every day for a living."

Despite long hours of travel between Texas and Asia and numerous client appointments, Michelle's focus remains the same―making each woman feel beautiful in her clothing. "It's easy to get sidetracked by the style of a piece," she says. "But to me the fit―where it falls on the body―is much more important. You can have a beautiful style, but if it doesn't fit right, it's not flattering. Everyone wants something that looks one of a kind."

That's a statement any bride can appreciate.

More Fashions From Michelle
Like what you've seen so far? To check out Michelle's latest designs and learn where to buy her clothing, visit www.michellengo.com, or call (713) 922-6598. Her clothing and accessories range in price from $24 to $6,000.