Decades ago, fresh from the catwalks of Europe and the runways of the nation’s top designers, then-fashion models Lenny Matuszewski and Tamara Klosz Bonar independently opted to step away from the front of the house preferring to orchestrate the productions that were designed to showcase the fashions of the moment. In 2000, after Bonar had landed in his home base of Houston, they joined forces as Matuszewski Productions in a partnership that has created many of city’s most memorable fashion show moments.
Take, for example, the Tootsies fashion show they organized for Becca Cason Thrash’s “On the Edge” evening held in a warehouse event space. It was Matuszewski and Bonar’s first major show together and they were tasked with filling Cason Thrash’s wishes for an over-the-top production.
“We had several boa snakes wrapped as necklaces on models,” Matuszewski recalls. “We ended the show with the models in sleek, fabulous all-black leather and satin escorting wiry black greyhounds down the runway.”
From there the creativity flourished with such ingenious elements as a Frida Khalo impersonator crossing the catwalk in a floating bed at the Latin Women’s Initiative annual luncheon and the fluttering butterflies that were released by models at the River Oaks tennis tournament luncheon.
As Matuszewski and Bonar celebrate two decades of fashion show production, they reminisce over the hundreds of shows they have created, most of which were for the many nonprofits that utilize fashion presentations as an important fundraising tool.
Matuszewski runs the numbers on their busy 20 years: 800 fashion shows; 8,000 professional models; 16,000 guest models (800 per year); 40,000 runway looks selected, fitted and styled; and millions raised for charity. And the latter, in his estimation, is his greatest accomplishment of all.
“When you have a nonprofit, a charity writing your check, it brings a highlighted importance to the effort,” Matuszewski says. “That this organization believes so much in this event that they are paying for the costs of this fashion show. This is an important message for Tamara, me and anyone who works with us to be heard.”
In earlier days, department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue would cover the entire cost of the fashion show production. But as the retail industry began changing and budgets were cut, the nonprofits had to carry the expense. Today, the nonprofits budget for that expense with appreciation of the dollars that can be raised and the awareness of the mission that is featured.
Two of their most notable events are the annual River Oaks tennis tournament fashion show for Tootsies (so popular that it had to be expanded to a two-day affair) and the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary “Reflections on Style” luncheon. The former always features a surprise twist, be it a seven-foot tennis racquet, hunky men in Speedos, or a gown with an American flag train stretching the length of the runway. For the latter, the Matuszewski team puts the best designer fashions from some of Houston’s best closets in a presentation that is followed by a frantic sale of the pieces. In fact, so appealing are these fashions that a policeman stands guard at the dressing room to prevent guests from snagging merchandise before the sale.
Among their memorable productions are UNICEF‘s “Designs of Hope” evening and “Remembering Audrey Hepburn” fundraiser, Becca Cason Thrash’s “Friends of the Louvre” dinner featuring Christian Lacroix, the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market shows, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Trailblazers luncheon and the Latin Women’s Initiative luncheon.
“Grateful! This is a word that best describes my thoughts and feelings,” Bonar emails. “My entire adult life I have been a part of the fashion industry. Model to Stylist to Producer. Grateful each and every day to be able to do what I love. Grateful to be a part of helping so many charities. Looking forward to the future. . . to 2021!”