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Loretta Rey

The great eccentrics of San Antonio, Vol. V

Todd Johnson
Loretta Rey modeling in the 70s.
Todd Johnson
Loretta Rey today.

 

Cynthia Wayne grew up the adored only child of a beautiful dancer mother and a handsome filmmaker father. She graduated from Jefferson High School in the late '60s, changed her name to Loretta Rey, and moved to Los Angeles during the pinnacle of West Coast, high "flower child-dom. She initially crashed in an old school bus, but things immediately started getting interesting in a very big way when she parlayed a handy talent with an antique treadle sewing machine and an abundance of fabric into By Chance, a glam sportswear line that hitched its wagon to Glitter Rock's shooting stars. Soon By Chance could be spotted on a 10-story billboard on Sunset Boulevard and Elton John's back.

Racing around the country, promoting, selling, and modeling your own rock-star sportswear line to high-end retailers, celebs, and groupies while still in your early '20s sounds like something even Neely O'Hara from Valley of the Dolls wouldn't have survived. And indeed, just as every endless West Coast wave eventually comes crashing onto the hard sand, the ride sputtered out. But the tall Texas surfer walked away undaunted. After those early heady days, Loretta moved back to San Antonio to care for her ailing mom, and now, along with her longtime partner, photographer Todd Johnson, Loretta is frequently seen out and about assimilating the multifarious San Antonio art scene.

L.A. Boheme, Loretta's beautiful, eclectic jewel of a hidden shop/gallery/museum is open noon-6 p.m. Fridays only on South Alamo in King William, causing friend and part-time employer Bettie Ward to rib her: "Loretta, you realize you've opened a shop where you're hesitant to part with anything, you're never open, and no one can find you because you don't even have a sign. It's perfect!

As we sit in L.A. Boheme, surrounded by clothing, fabrics, paintings, furniture, and an international assortment of objets d'art, Loretta recalls her meteoric L.A. career.

"In the mid-'70s New York buyers were still wary of L.A. designers. They thought we were just supposed to be about swimsuits. So a group of emerging West Coast fashion designers formed the California Guild and we all went in together and booked suites and halls in New York hotels and invited the buyers to come and take a look for themselves. Overnight, I became our line model. I'd wear a body suit and try everything on in front of the buyers. I'd been a model in San Antonio for Frost Brothers so I knew the drill.

"We had our own seamstresses and our own factory/shop in a two-story vacant ballroom in downtown Los Angeles. We had rooms where we dyed everything, overseen by an elderly chemist who hand-mixed all our colors individually. We began having our fabric woven just for us. We had an enormous overhead and the strictest quality controls and it started to eat us alive. We were artists first and business people a distant second.

"I arrived in San Antonio in August of 1989, really just planning to stay only long enough to get my mom back on her feet. I brought one suitcase. The first thing I noticed was that you couldn't get an espresso anywhere. This was before Starbucks, remember? At first I thought, 'My God, when I left San Antonio right after HemisFair things were much more progressive then when I returned 20 years later!' I just kept saying to myself, 'You grow where you're planted, Loretta.'

"My dad and a partner of his did eventually start a movie-production company right here in San Antonio. They made several feature-length films locally and one shot in 1947 starred dad and the San Antonio singing cowboy 'Red River Dave' McEnery, called Echo Ranch. I've never seen it. Apparently the film is lost to the ages, unless someone out there has the reels stashed in an attic somewhere. He died when I was only 9, so I'd love to see that legacy of his one day.

"For years San Antonio was defined by the five military bases which brought a mixture of 'everywhere types' here. Then there was the solid, working-class Joes who really didn't give a flip about espresso or the availability of raw silk by the yard. But my absolute favorite aspect of this town has always been the prevailing Latino influence. It makes us who we are. Drew Allen, one of the founders of the Liberty Bar, used to say the border with Mexico begins at Loop 410. I love the way it feels here, the proximity to Latin America; I'm a real southwesterner at heart.

"The other day I saw this young, well-groomed Mexican American guy pull up to the gas station where I was at and he got out of this neat old pickup wearing white buck shoes and peg pants I mean he had it all going on. An L.A. stylist couldn't have given him any more cool. And I said to myself this is exactly why I love this town It's like getting a bouquet from a total stranger.

"I'm constantly revising my 'silhouette.' By that I mean if you've been a clothes designer you carry different proportions in your mind about yourself, others what looks right, what's changing, what's on the horizon and it's a process of defining what that ratio is at any given moment. Are we talking tailored, high-waisted; pants, skirt; shiny, matte? What kind, what length, what fabric, what season? It probably sounds convoluted to the uninitiated, but it's an interior conversation I have all the time. My God, I watch shows like Project Runway and I am just in awe of what those kids pull off in a matter of hours with, you know, garbage bags and a glue gun. My goal now is to create one-of-a-kind things, precisely one at a time. Plus, I'd really like to be the designer of something like Crocs that one, simple, unadulterated accessory that everyone on the planet has to have right this minute. And I'm working on it, believe me, I'm working on it."

The Great Eccentrics of SA appears the second Wednesday of every month. You can find Volumes I-IV online at sacurrent.com. If you'd like to nominate someone you know for the series, email the author at wjsibley@aol.com.

See Also

Mary De Los Santos Harder : The Great Eccentrics of San Antonio, vol XII 2/10/2010

Abe Cortez : The Great Eccentrics of San Antonio, vol XI 1/13/2010

Lucky the Elephant : The Great Eccentrics of San Antonio, vol X 12/9/2009

Mabel Jingu Enkoji : The Great Eccentrics of San Antonio, Vol. IX 11/11/2009

Rosie Castro : The Great Eccentrics of San Antonio, vol. VIII 10/14/2009

Thomas Cook : The great eccentrics of San Antonio, vol. VII 9/16/2009

Betty Jean Muyres : The great eccentrics of San Antonio, vol. VI 8/12/2009

Loretta Rey : The great eccentrics of San Antonio, Vol. V 7/8/2009

Polly Lou Livingston : The great eccentrics of San Antonio, Vol. IV 6/10/2009

Jeanette Jaffe Longoria : The great eccentrics of San Antonio, Vol. III 5/13/2009

Jim Smith : The great eccentrics of San Antonio, Vol. II 4/8/2009

Karlos with a K : The great eccentrics of San Antonio, Vol. I 3/4/2009

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