In the tradition of decorative rodeo tailoring, Fort Lonesome finds the perfect fit in custom embroidered westernwear.
Written by Jenn Thornton
Kathie Sever, the owner of Fort Lonesome, which produces glitzy and intricate custom-embroidered cowboy shirts, suits and stagewear in Austin, Texas, fell in love with this sort of westernwear as an art student in Northern California. Drawn to its crossover appeal, “The aesthetic seemed to resonate with so many wildly different types of folks,” says Sever, who, upon later relocating to Montana, found herself “surrounded by actual cowboys, donning similar attire to my art student pals in California.” The feeling crystallized — eventually, into some rather elaborate and charismatically embellished fashions.
For Sever, threading the needle came early. “My mother was a home economics teacher who always had a sewing project on the table,” she remembers. “She’d self-identify as non-artistic but has always been incredibly skillful at construction and the more pragmatic and mathematical side of making things.” Sever’s father, on the other hand, was a professional photographer whose work was heavily influenced by Ansel Adams and the Weston family. “Mom’s mathematical sewing skills and Dad’s creative curiosity seemed to blend into some sort of cocktail that manifested into my desire to use textiles as a platform for creative expression.”
Sever went on to art school and eventually founded Fort Lonesome, which Sever started in an attempt “to build a financial framework” for her life and “to see if that could include creative work.” How quintessentially American West of her. Which is to say, doing things her way, on her own terms. And obviously with considerable style. The Fort Lonesome look bridges classic American westernwear featuring workaday elements (yokes, chaps, large brimmed hats) with flashier, showmanship-inspired designs (the “rhinestone cowboy aesthetic,” says Sever). In navigating the pragmatic and performative, Fort Lonesome is thoroughly outlaw in a time with many tensions at play.
Sever works collaboratively and the synthesis of the collective creative energy at Fort Lonesome is, she says, “exponentially more rewarding than creating on my own.” Each piece is the result of team effort. Step one in the process is to connect with clients and define their desires. Then the brainstorming begins, design ideas are hatched, and drawings produced. A bit more back and forth and a design concept is agreed upon. “From there, our head tailor Bekah gets to work on tailoring a pattern to the client’s measurements, and cutting said pattern from their desired materials,” Sever explains. These pieces are then handed off to the designer of the garment for the embroidery process. Then it’s on to rhinestone, then back to Bekah for construction.
Fort Lonesome’s following is as glittering as its designs, attracting the likes of actor Matthew McConaughey, director Richard Linklater and country-rocker Nikki Lane. The brand is tailor-made—literally—for those who want to stand out. “The legends of Rodeo Tailoring obviously have been wildly influential,” says Sever, naming Rodeo Ben, Nudie Cohn, and Manuel [Cuevas] as references, “but we are fundamentally inspired by more esoteric elements that actually exist outside of fashion — solitude, nature, energy — and trying to capture those elusive elements aesthetically.”
Skill and craftsmanship are high priority for Fort Lonesome and there is a lot of up-leveling around the studio as a result — “an unending cycle of ooh-ing and ahh-ing at each other’s latest creation,” says Sever, adding that their approach is one of a “unilaterally agreed upon sentiment of ‘why do it if you’re not going to do it to the best of your ability?” Words that could have been spoken by a certain John Wayne. He did, after all, live by this very creed. What duds, then, would Sever design for the Duke? “I think we’d keep JW looking pretty classic,” she says. “I’d steer him towards a look not unlike the one Christina Hurt Smith designed for Charlie Crockett for Newport Folk 2019. Understated but deeply personal. Sounds like this would suit him just fine.” We’d say she sized him up perfectly.
Photographs courtesy of Fort Lonesome