SIMONE BILES

Interview by Pauline Snyder-Goodwin | Photography by Jhane Hoang | Styling by Ren. Garza | Art Direction by Marc Sifuentes | Hair and Makeup by Tonya Riner

Simone’s success didn’t come easy. Her journey to becoming a decorated Artistic Gymnast contained many challenges and crossroads along the way. But her passion and determination in becoming an elite gymnast prevailed. Following a brief period in a foster home in Columbus, OH, Simone’s grandparents officially adopted her in 2003, in Spring, TX. To Simone’s surprise, she discovered there was a trampoline in the backyard of her grandparent’s house. This was just the beginning of her journey towards becoming one of America’s most decorated gymnast with a total of 19 medals won; 4 gold and 1 bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and 14 World Championship medals.

Women’s gymnastics is a dangerous sport which also has a short career span, with women reaching their gymnastic peak during their high school years. In 2012, Simone sacrificed a traditional high school education, along with the social life that comes with it, by switching to homeschool. This decision was not easy for Simone, but it allowed for more training hours to continue mastering her gymnastic skills. Eventually, Simone would achieve mastery and effortless execution of even the most difficult gymnastics skills. She has an arsenal of amazing tricks she can do, but one of the most jaw-dropping is a tumbling skill she executes on the floor exercise simply called “The Biles”. It earned the namesake because Simone was the first female gymnast to accomplish two back flips followed by a half twist in competition.

Simone released her first book; Courage to Soar: A Body In Motion, A Life In Balance, at the end of last year. It’s a tell-all book where she opens her heart and soul as she takes us on her life’s journey from her early childhood to that rainy night in Rio where she would hold an American flag twice her size at the closing ceremonies. She was the first American female gymnast to be awarded this privilege. Who knew that the tiny girl with big muscles would accomplish such a feat and become an inspiration for little girls the world over.

We had the honor to catch up with Simone to learn more about her, her life’s passion of gymnastics, and her new book. The World Champion Centre, your family’s new gymnastics facility opened May 2016 in Spring, TX. What was the inspiration behind creating this gym? The idea of a gym started when my mom was closing out her former business and decided to start a new business venture. Her vision was to build a gym and have all the equipment that I would need for training since the Olympics was my goal. It has been so great having the facility available to me and I love having that support from my family and The World Champion Centre community.

Do you ever teach any classes at The World Champion Centre?

No, I have not taught any classes yet, but maybe in the future!

How does The World Champion Centre differentiate itself from other gymnastic facilities in the Houston area?

I believe The World Champion Centre is different from other facilities in the Houston area because it is multifaceted. We offer gymnastics, Artistic Olympics for boys and girls, Acrobatics-Silk program, Tumbling & Trampoline, the Warriors Program, Recreational and Preschool, Taekwondo and dance.

We also offer schooling for our gymnasts from 3rd grade through high school, and our pro-shop and cafe lend to our goal to satisfy each customer and make them comfortable.

Please tell us about the Academy at WCC.

Our Academy is a wonderful addition to World Champions Centre! We have two teachers that are master’s prepared. They tailor the student’s lesson plan to fit their individual needs and follow NCAA guidelines to ensure easy access to the universities. Students that are currently attending The Academy range from 3rd grade to high school. The Academy is a non-profit school which depends on donations for funding.

How old were you when you took your first gymnastics class? When did you first start competing?

I was six-years-old when I started gymnastics classes and was competing only a year later at the age of 7.

Do you remember doing your first cartwheel? Who taught you?

I remember being three-years-old when my brother taught me how to do my first cartwheel. I was hooked!

What lessons can students learn from gymnastics that they can apply to their everyday life?

Students can learn balance, discipline and organization, determination, mental and physical toughness, respect for their teammates and coaches, dedication to the sport, and most of all forming strong friendships and teamwork. That’s one of the things I love about gymnastics, aside from the flipping, soaring, and jumping, the sport is about teamwork, strength, and organization.

At what moment did you realize you wanted a career in gymnastics?

I fell in love with the sport from day one!

Best advice you can give young girls wanting to become an elite gymnast.

I would tell them to set goals for themselves and to not give up, even on the bad days.

Are you involved in any youth programs in your community?

Yes, I partnered with Mattress Firm Foster Kids, a donation-driven program that has given more than 610,000 items (clothes and school supplies) to foster kids and their families.

Who’s been your life mentor? What’s the best advice they have given you?

My mother has been my life mentor and the best advice she has given me is to “be the best Simone” that I can be. Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance, is your first book.

What motivated you to write it? What do you want readers to take away from this book?

I wanted to write my book because it is important to tell my own story. There are many things written about me but my fans should hear my story from me. I hope that my readers will get a little insight into my life and maybe be inspired to work harder in whatever sport they are involved in.

Mary Lou Retton wrote the foreword to your book. Tell us about this collaboration.

I first met Mary Lou at her invitational meet in Houston and I absolutely adore her. Mary Lou is one of the pioneers of Women Gymnastics and she is an amazing and powerful gymnast.

When did you first meet Mary Lou and what was that like?

I was very young when I met Mary Lou, I was about ten-years-old and we did not speak but I was in awe of her and I remembered her telling us to always stay focused and envision the routine before you “go” for it. From that day forward, and while in Rio for the Olympic Games, I think of that advice and it has really helped me as a gymnast.

In your book you talk about a field trip you took with your daycare class on a rainy day. Please tell us about that event.

I was attending Kids R Kids summer camp and it was field trip day. The plan was to go to an oil ranch. It was raining that day so the teachers needed a backup plan and they chose Bannon’s Gymnastix gym because it was close to us. I was excited because this was my first time in a gym. All the equipment was a dream come true. I was showing off all my tricks and copying what I saw the girls in the back doing. I remember this was an amazing field trip because I was sent home with a letter from the gym inviting me to join. At the age of three you were placed in foster care until your grandparents adopted you.

Any advice you would like to give to foster parents?

I knew that we were taken to stay with another family but did not quite understand why because I was young. I later learned that my mother had a substance abuse problem and had difficulty taking care of us. My short time in the foster care system was good and we were blessed to have been taken in by my grandfather and grandmother while my mother received help. My advice to foster parents is to give the child or children a chance and to love them.

Tell us about the nickname you earned in third grade.

My nickname at school was “swoldier” (classmates coined this term from the words ‘swollen’ and ‘soldier’) because I had defined muscles and was very strong. I had more muscles than any of the boys in my class, and I was very self-conscious of my body because of it.

At the 2011 Visa Nationals, you missed making the Junior National Women’s team by one spot. Please share with us this experience and the emotions running through you during this competition.

My goal and my dream was to make the National Women’s team. Missing that opportunity by one spot was devastating, but it made me even more motivated to get back in the gym and work even harder.

In your experience in women’s gymnastics, do you think there’s a significant advantage to having a woman vs. a man as a coach?

I have had both men and women coaches and I am comfortable with both. I believe it is who you are most comfortable with that will give you an advantage and who will push you and encourage you. You need a coach to teach, guide, and understand you.

Aimee Boorman was your coach since the beginning of your gymnastics career. What was the key to this successful relationship?

As a coach, Aimee knew and understood me as a person. She knew what I was capable of doing and knew that I needed a challenge to stay focused. Aimee managed to keep me motivated to push through the numerous repetitions during training.

You haven’t lost an all-around meet since 2013. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio you took four gold medals and a bronze setting an American record for most gold medals in women’s gymnastics at a single game. How do you stay humble?

I am blessed to be consistent with my performances in competitions. My mom makes sure that we pray and go to church routinely and thank God for the body and gift he gave me. Life at home is the same. I am still responsible for doing chores in the house and keeping the same routines once I am at home, which helps me stay grounded.

You chose Samba music for your floor exercise routine at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. What motivated you to make this selection?

My choreographer helped me with selecting my floor music, and because I like upbeat music, it felt like the perfect choice for that routine. We debuted the music at the Pacific Rim Championships in Everett, WA and there was such a great response from the crowd that we decided to keep it for my floor exercise in Rio.

What was it like being a part of the “Final Five” team?

Being a part of the final five was amazing and a dream come true.

Do you have any good luck rituals you do prior to competing?

I do not have any rituals prior to competing, but I do take along my turtles and my St. Sebastian pendant with me because they are my good luck charms!

What’s your favorite thing to do when not doing gymnastics?

When I am not doing gymnastics I love spending time with family and friends and watching Netflix.

Do you have any furry friends at home?

We have 4 German Shepherds: Maggie, Lily, Bella and Atlas.

Who’s on your playlist?

Right now I am listening to a lot of Justin Bieber, The Chainsmokers, Drake, and The Weeknd to name a few.

Your favorite place to go to in the world?

I love visiting Belize because it is where my mother’s family comes from. It is a true connection to family and that is just very special to me.

When you’re not training or competing what’s your favorite food you like to eat?

Oh it would have to be pizza! That is definitely my favorite cheat food.

What would Simone Biles be if she wasn’t an Artistic Gymnast?

If I did not do artistic gymnastics I would probably be a dancer or in track and field. It would have to be something creative and physically involved, but still not a far cry from artistic gymnastics! .

Stylist Assistant: Dustin Bice | Special thanks to Brie Costello, Janey Miller and Ashley Laury | World Champions Centre Gym located at 28865 Birnham Woods Dr, Spring, TX 77386

Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance by Simon Biles available at Barnes and Noble, published by Zondervan Press

IRIS MAN: TILMAN FERTITTA

Interview by Marc Sifuentes | Photography by Jhane Hoang | Art Direction by Louis Liu

iris04_tilman_web Tilman Fertitta photographed at the construction site of Landry’s new corporate office and Tilman’s mixed-use Houston tower – The Post Oak in Houston, TX.

Since childhood, Tilman Fertitta had dreams of becoming a business owner, an odd desire for a young boy; however, it was foreshadowing what his future would become. By age twelve, he was working for his father in the family restaurant, trying to send the patriarch home regularly with aspirations of running the place himself. Born in Galveston Texas, Fertitta spent his formative years working, and that passion for hard work has not died down and continues to become increasingly fiery. Work became such an integral aspect for Tilman’s life that it overshadowed his pursuit of higher education, but he viewed traditional education as a tiresome obstacle to his path towards success. Fertitta has enriched his community and given opportunity to thousands of people through his entrepreneurial and charitable endeavors. However, it is not without merit for he is a man whose natural intuition and savvy could produce corporate mergers, brilliant investments, and millions of dollars in his bank account before age thirty. Now Tilman Fertitta is the sole owner, chairman and CEO of Fertitta Entertainment, Inc., the mother company to both the restaurant empire Landry’s and the Golden Nugget Casinos. Now Tilman Fertitta has taken time to sit down with Iris and discuss his meteoric rise and estimated $3.2 billion fortune.

Let’s talk about how you started in the world of business, and what was the first venture you started on your own? How did you fund it?

It’s kind of funny because I did three scenes today for my show, and while I was having a conversation with one of the contestants, I told her you have to go get a line of credit. You know I remember in 1979 going to a bank, scared to death, to borrow $6,000. That’s how I started. A $6,000 loan, no guarantee, just me. The first business I was ever in was a women’s clothing store. I had a cousin who was in the women’s ready-to-wear business in Dallas. I would go and hang out with him, and one day I asked him what he did with all of these samples. He said we just get rid of them at the end of market, so I offered to buy them from him and start my own store. It was called the Sample Factory and it was my first store, my first business really.

How did it develop from there?

Well, my next business was with these people in the Shaklee Vitamin industry, and I met them and opened the Shaklee Vitamin Stores all over Houston. By the time I was twenty-one, I had won a free cadillac selling Shaklee Vitamins. Then I got into the building business, home building and then developing shopping centers, and by the time I was twenty-six I had built a hotel in Dallas. I did that for a few years then I was an investor in a restaurant and bought all of my partners out in 1986, and then I just started building restaurants. In the development business the world fell apart in Texas in 1985 because of the economic recession. From 1986 to 1993 we just built Landry Seafood restaurants in Houston, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Louisiana and a few other cities. I went public in August of 1993, and by the next morning I was worth one-hundred-million dollars. It was a crazy stock market, and the rest is history. The hardest thing to do is make the first one-hundred-million, I know it sounds easy but it isn’t! (laughs)

Sounds like you took a risk with the economy tanking in 1985, would you say that a lot of your success is based on risk taking?

Absolutely! You cannot be scared. If you want to be an entrepreneur and make big money you cannot be scared. It is a different world today, so many young people are working in tech and happen to work at the right companies at the right time, and they’re worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but to do it by sticks and bricks…you can’t have any fear.

Well, going back again to your childhood, your father owned a restaurant and you used to work there as a child, did you ever feel like you didn’t want to get into the restaurant business because of that?

I never really thought about it. I was always working there, I even tried to send him home so I could run it. I was twelve. (laughs) I have always loved working. I remember growing up in Galveston in my early years, working at my dad’s restaurant and then working at the pier as a lifeguard, which I now own and renamed Pleasure Pier. I have always worked. I had done every job that there was to do in Galveston by the time I graduated high school. It didn’t bother me to work. People ask me, why are you always working, and I say, “What else am I going to do? Sit on an island?”

You have four children, will any of them be taking over the family business?

I’ve got one whose last day of college is today, and he will be here tomorrow. All four of my kids love the business, it’s all they’ve ever known. They grew up with it. 48 Hours did a piece on the family about thirteen to fourteen years ago about how the kids had an influence on the business. They all want to be involved in the company.

We want to talk about the show you are now hosting and starring in, Billion Dollar Buyer, how did that start?

I had always guest hosted on CNBC, and they started a primetime a few years ago and asked if I would be interested in having a show but I just never thought it was the right time. But when CNBC contacted me about this and told me it would be a business type show and I could have some fun and be myself and it would be educational for people I felt that it was the right time for me to get into it. It is really amazing, you know, I was having dinner last night and this waiter came up to me and he was talking to me about his business and he told me “I learned so much from your show.” That’s what I wanted it to be, fun but educational.

Have you learned anything yourself from doing the show?

You know what’s good about it? I just got back from shooting in New York and I did three boardroom scenes, and you just have to always be on, so mentally you’re just whipped at the end. The world is changing and I have to stay up with it. We have to keep up with all of these young companies, and the show is keeping me on the cusp of what is really going on in the entrepreneurial world. For me, it’s about seeing all of these small companies, and seeing what is next and what is cutting edge.

You seem to have had a very fast rise in the entrepreneurial world. When your company started taking off, were you ever overwhelmed by the seemingly “overnight” success?

No. I never thought it was growing too fast. Have there been ups and downs? Absolutely. We’ve just been lucky enough to have more ups than downs (laughs), and the ups were big ups and the downs were little downs. I was very fortunate with my business decisions and it panned out very well for me. I never try to bite off more than I can chew.

As a busy entrepreneur, with a new TV show, buildings always going up, and the daunting task of managing all of these properties, you still manage to add more and more to your plate. What new and exciting concepts can we expect from you in the future?

Well, I am building a bunch of new concepts out here in Houston, and it will be just unbelievable. Downtown we’re building a new Grotto, and it will be nothing like the current one. It’s a real popular restaurant, but I am doing it with a twist and want to cater to the younger people. I am always building. I am building a couple of other unique restaurants inside of the hotel properties. I am always very excited about what is new and cutting edge, and it is really my mission to bring those ideas to Houston.

How does your team come up with a concept and how do you know that that’s the direction you want to take?

Everything usually comes out of my head, and I have a wonderful team that’s been with me forever. Like the Aquarium restaurant downtown, that used to be a fire station. When the city said that they wanted to get rid of it, I walked in there and I knew I wanted to do a big public aquarium on the ground floor, and a huge restaurant with a large tank on the second floor which would help draw people in, third floor I’d do a private dining room, and the fourth would be support. Outside I’d build a few amusements and make it fun. Then they said we also have this old waterworks building and that I couldn’t tear it down, but that I could do something in it. That’s when I came up with the idea to put a giant shark tank inside and have a train that goes through it. I am very fortunate that I have a wild imagination. (laughs)

What would you say is the most important characteristic a business person should have?

Well, we’re all business people. What has made me successful is my drive, and number two I understand the operational side of the business, but yet I know how to create. I can build from my imagination, and then I can operate it. Usually a developer is a developer, and they get tenants to maintain the property. Nowhere else in America is someone able to maintain the restaurants, hotels, entertainment, etc. in one property development.

You’re a contributor to several charities, do you have any that you hold close?

Number one right now for me, I am Chairman of Houston Children’s Charity and have been for many years. I love it because we are a children’s charity that does not operate in a silo, only focusing on one thing. We do multiple things for the community, like buying vans for people who are mentally or physically handicapped so their family can drive them to services that they need. I love being Chairman of the Houston Police Foundation. Yesterday I approved the purchase of four hundred specialized vests for officers, so they could operate more safely. Of course, the University of Houston is also very special to me and I am Chairman of that board as well. I just gave twenty million dollars for them to build a new basketball arena. I love doing stuff for the police, children, the university.

How do you think the industry has changed over the years?

Well, the whole industry has changed everywhere. Texas is very diverse, you have to cater to a lot of different people, and the industry is always changing, but it is very easy to do business here. I love Texas, I love the uniqueness of Texas, and I love being from Texas. No matter where you go, if you say you’re from Texas it makes people raise their eyebrows.

What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?

I’ve never had that one mentor, but I have really tried to listen to a lot of other people. There is not one singular thing or piece of advice that has really struck me, but I try to learn every day. I want to wake up every morning trying to be a little smarter than the day before. A lot of young people today, who are very smart, don’t appreciate history. When you have done something a lot of times, you are just better at it.

What is your personal definition of success?

Anybody who does what they are passionate about very well, and who exceeds expectations, is successful to me. I have said this many times in speeches, “money is not a definition of success.” You can be a great artist, a great musician, you can take the engine of a car apart and put it back together –that is pretty damn talented to me. I can’t even change the oil to my car! (laughs) A lot of people make money accidentally, but I believe that it is what you do and how you do it, not what you get in return that makes you successful. 

If not business, what other career paths would you have taken?

None. (laughs) I’m not good at anything else! I think we are all born with a certain amount of talent and everyone just needs to find what they do very well. I was born to work in business, and I was blessed enough to find that out at a very early age and go with my gut to pursue it. 

What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur who wants to open a business?

If you get a partner, don’t get one that knows what you know. If you’re strong in operations get someone who knows sales, and vice versa. Whatever you think it is going to cost to stay in business, you better have a lot more capital. People usually fail because they are under capitalized. It is important to understand your flaws and weaknesses so you can compensate for them. I find the most successful entrepreneurs are people who do not believe that they can do it all.  ‡

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IRIS WOMAN: DEBORAH COLTON

Philanthropist. Art curator. Gallery Owner. Deborah Colton has become a force in the art world, and has dedicated her life’s work to sharing ground-breaking international artists with her network of collectors, gallerists, and art aficionados.

iris04_deborah_webDeborah Colton photographed in front of Untitled Diptych by Daniel Kayne from the Dividing God Series, 2008 at Deborah Colton Gallery, Houston, TX.

While living in Asia for eight years, Deborah Colton’s first emanation was a virtual gallery, starting in 1998, whose main focus was to create an awareness and appreciation for the multi-media talents of artists from Thailand, Japan, China and throughout Asia. With a background in marketing and a passion for art along with the support and encouragement of her peers and critics, Colton soon set out to look for her own gallery space. In 2000, finding a dilapidated but promising warehouse near downtown Houston, Deborah was at the forefront of initiating the gentrification framework for other artists and galleries to build out this blank space to curate their artistic visions. A few years later in 2004 she would open the Deborah Colton Gallery in a new Houston location, here she would expand her roster of artist for her now faithful international clients. While continuously supporting many art non-profits over the years, Colton shares her mission through various endeavors that help make Houston a destination city for the arts, nationally and internationally. We were lucky enough to have Deborah sit down with us to discuss her life in art.

What spurred your fascination with art? Any piece you collected that began this journey?

My fascination with art started as a young child with my mother painting on canvas in my playroom. My mother was an artist, and then later studied interior design at the New York School of Interior Design.  She has always had a wonderful sense of style and a sophisticated eye in creating our home in Essex Fells, New Jersey, which was featured in many newspapers and magazines. Living near New York, we would drive into the city to visit museums all the way through my college years. I drew and painted also, but my father wanted me to go more into business. I went that route, but always kept art as a hobby. I started to collect fine art in my mid-30’s when my husband and I moved to Tokyo, Japan and I was living a charmed international ex-pat life. By the time we moved to Bangkok, Thailand four years later, I  was supporting Asian artists and continued to acquire a fair amount of contemporary Asian art. Loving art so much and wanting to support artists and the community while trying to create cross cultural exchange are some of the reasons I have the gallery now.

Did you always know you wanted to curate and collect art? Was there another career path you had in mind before you became emerged in art?

My undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Marketing with a minor in Psychology. After college I was in corporate sales, sales management and product launching in Houston and then in New York. My heart was always pulled towards the arts and I took night courses studying art whenever I could. When we moved overseas, it was easier for me to become more emerged in the arts again since I was not working in my first career anymore.

While living in Bangkok, I became very involved supporting many of the national artists of Thailand appointed by His Majesty the King, many of whom were professors and deans at the major fine arts university there. There they gave me private lessons on art techniques and processes. I have always felt I have had a privileged art education, being mentored by excellent international curators in Asia who studied in Europe at the finest schools, then later having top art historians speak at our gallery and having learned from all outstanding artists we have exhibited over the years. It’s been an amazing journey and I am very humbled and appreciative.

How has your view on art changed since moving back from Asia sixteen years ago?

I have realized it is a full-time life commitment being involved in the arts. It was the Thai artists who inspired me to open a gallery when I moved back from Asia. They said historically in Europe, private galleries were created by art patrons who wanted to give the artists a place to exhibit and sell their art. These patrons’ friends and peers would acquire the art which would help the artists establish their full-time careers. The art patron-gallerist in Singapore, who did so much for the contemporary art scene in Singapore, including establishing their international art fair, felt I had the personal portfolio to be successful at this too. I had always been involved since college in contributing to my community, so making this contribution to the arts to help make Houston become more of an international art city seemed like something that would fully inspire me.

Why does the Deborah Colton Gallery focus on international artists rather than strictly American or even just Texan artists? Why do you find this focus important?

Every gallerist has their own personal journey and this is reflected in the art and artists they choose to exhibit.  I lived overseas for over eight years with my family.  Our perspective on the world changed, making best friends with people from all over the world and living in different countries with different cultures. We all became “citizens of the world” rather than of one place, and relationships became the most important to us since the places we lived always changed. The first exhibitions I curated in the United States were from Asia. In October of 2000 it was an exhibition of over fifty works from Thailand with Consular Forum 2000 in conjunction with the Asia Society. Next it was China, next Japan, all in conjunction with the Consul Generals of these countries is Houston and with the Asia Society.

Who are your favorite artists to feature and how do you decide who to represent?

All our artists are special in that they don’t mass produce work just to make sales. They are true, pure artists and create from their souls and their intellect. Most are trying to create awareness about issues that affect us as a global human race in this 21st century or have concepts that help make people feel “whole” and more connected. I feel that if people take the time to look and understand these artists, the quality of their lives will improve. They will become more connected with themselves, their environment, their quality of their relationships, and how we all co-exist with each other, sharing this planet together right now. Other artists like Jonas Mekas and our Houston based artist Suzanne Paul, help us understand where we come from as art communities, as a nation. Respecting the past and understanding it helps us be more present in today, and prepares us for the future.

Almost all of the artists we present are part of our mission statement, which is to use the gallery as a forum to connect Texas with national and international artists to make positive change. Visual arts are part of the humanities that we can’t lose as a modern technological, more commercially-driven society. Our mission is to preserve this and create more world wide understanding through the arts.

What is the most powerful memory that comes to your mind related to art?

I remember I took a lot of time, actually over three years coming back from Asia, deciding what type of gallery I wanted to open and where it should be, based on our programming. As I had mentioned, I had done  “Pop-ups” in various Asian countries before this, and also an exhibition that had only shown in New York which included a film at the Angelika and a “Pop-up” exhibition in conjunction with FotoFest 2002.

This took off, and I wanted to exhibit really cutting edge Asian and international art in the future too. It was all going to be different from what the city had experienced before. Thus, I needed a unique gallery space. So I decided to open a gallery in the First Ward near the railroad tracks in a dilapidated warehouse. My most amazing art experience was the opening of Deborah Colton Gallery during FotoFest of 2004. We had over eight-hundred people come. Then the next show, one of the four artist’s entire body of works went into the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. The next show over 1,200 people came. That was when a building developer decided to restore one of the other old artist studio buildings.

We supported this effort and helped him get artists to rent his studio spaces and then we worked towards making the whole area a protected First Ward Arts District. Now this First Ward Arts District is one of the largest artist studio areas in the United States and is called the Washington Arts District. It’s good for the artist; it’s a place for them to show their work and sell it and they really don’t need a commercial gallery. It brings art to more people which is a positive thing.

iris04_deborah_web3How did the idea of placing the Yoko Ono IMAGINE PEACE billboard come to fruition and what was the reaction from visitors and residents of Houston?

The planning of this show started shortly after September 11th, 2001, a day that changed the way we related and protected ourselves in the nation. Yet, many of us felt more war was not the answer.  I started to organize the 2006 WORD exhibition shortly after we opened the Deborah Colton Gallery in 2004. We had a focus on creating more world wide understanding through the arts and wanted to have a major exhibition of the most historical conceptual and fluxus artists. I believed in extending our exhibitions outside our own four walls and felt very strongly that the largest Yoko Ono IMAGINE PEACE billboard must be placed in Houston, going into downtown where thousands of people would see it each day.  When the billboard went up, the city was mesmerized by it. All of the TV stations covered it, all the newspapers and magazine press. Additionally we had hundreds of emails and phone calls with people giving testimonials of their life experiences and how important this major, harmonious billboard touched their lives each day. The billboard took on a life of its own, since the billboard company also got hundreds of phone calls. People wanted to sponsor it to keep it as a permanent installation. The city of Houston reacted
as much when it was taken down as when it went up, and the billboard also got national and international attention. For this reason I sponsored the billboard again at the same place for our 2011 “Positive Perceptions” exhibition which was the time of the 10th memorial of 9-11. The public was so pleased to have it in the city again and it showed unity in our nation to support those who lost their lives in New York. I was happy to sponsor it again.

Do you feel that being an independent gallerist gives you more freedom to take a risk on showing an artist that might not have the commercial success of a more mainstream artist or do you feel your approach is a good balance of art and commerce?

Luckily I have clients and supporters all over the world. We have artists from every world region and I am established as an international dealer. Thus, I can take risks with exhibitions that make an important social statement for positive change. I don’t judge my success by how much we sell locally from each exhibition as much as how much we contribute, and how much of an impact we make.

Why did you choose to create a social and cultural center like the Deborah Colton Gallery in Houston rather than somewhere like New York or Los Angeles?

Houston is much more exciting to me. It is open and I love the way the people are. It’s a young dynamic city that is open to new ideas and is a city of the future. The city is diverse and has great potential for growth. It’s also very diverse and international, with over ninety-five Consulate offices and so many international leaders in all professions here. The city embraces new ideas and innovation, which is what Texas is made of. I have more freedom here to do really provocative and informative, dynamic, international programming that is fresh and inspiring, like the city of Houston. There is no where else I would rather be. It’s great here!

What type of experiences do you hope visitors take away from visiting your gallery?

I hope that they will reach new levels of understanding of issues that affect us in a non-confrontational way through the beauty and essence of visual arts.

You are involved in so many great charities in Texas, is there one that is particularly close to your heart?

They are all important to me. I am on several boards and advisory boards because I believe in the organizations. I must say that helping Jonas Mekas and his Anthology Films Archives in New York is very important to me because it is the largest archive of independent film in the world, and I respect Jonas and his deep convictions. In Texas, I support organizations that help the underprivileged children through the arts, like Community Artists’ Collective and City Art Works. I’ve been helping try to get our art fairs to the highest level and getting them on the same weekend so that we can establish a Houston Art Week that will highlight all the arts of the city. I spend a lot of my focus on Texas artists that did not go as far as they deserved in their lifetimes, like Bert Long, Dorothy Hood, and Suzanne Paul, who documented so much of Houston arts history since the 70s. We are establishing a project now to reveal our city’s foundations so that, as the mega international city that we are now, we have something documented and concrete to build on.

Where do you see the Deborah Colton Gallery in 10 years? What is your next step?

I don’t want to expand to other cities. Though we work with artists, curators, museums and collectors throughout the world. Houston is our home base and we only want one “white cube” exhibition space and gallery. I am open to the future.

What would you like your legacy to be?

I just get up every morning and try to contribute every day. Besides the fact that my husband and family are always the most important to me, the rest of my legacy the public can decide.  ‡

iris04_deborah_web2Deborah Colton photographed in her 2015 Maserati Gran Turismo convertible.

NICOLE WINHOFFER

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Photography by Dustin Mansyur | Styling by Marc Sifuentes | Art Direction by Louis Liu | Interview by Dustin Mansyur

With an A-list roster of clients including Madonna, Stella McCartney, and Rachel Weisz, and expanding her classes for the public at NYC hotspots like the Standard Hotel, Nicole Winhoffer has successfully built the foundation for her fitness empire. Inspired by art, dance, music, fashion, and pop culture, the fitness-lifestyle guru gives us training tips and shares healthy practices for the mind, body and spirit.

Nicole’s approach is holistic, incorporating her western knowledge of anatomy and sport science with dance and eastern practices that focus on chakras, acupuncture points, and energy work. The NW Method has played a leading role in shaping some of the best bodies in the entertainment industry, including, Madonna, Mya, Stella McCartney, Steven Klein, and Rachel Weisz. We sat down with the fitness mogul-in- the-making to inquire all things NW.

You have worked with an incredible roster of A-list clients and have steadily built your fitness empire to include classes in the New York City area so that others might also get an opportunity to train with you, how did you come to pursue fitness as a career?

I was always intrigued by the anatomy, physiology, and mind of the human body. Dancing, sports, and choreography introduced me to ways to keep myself fit and mentally clear, while doing what I love. When you feel fit, you feel strong; when you feel strong you feel beautiful. Being able to help others realize the beauty in themselves is what led me to pursue fitness as a career. Movement and music helped me to get mental, emotional, and physical results. I want to share it with the world.

The NW Method is a very interesting blend of cultural & scientific influences, how would you describe your approach to anyone interested in training with you for the first time?

My approach is self-expression through movement, cardio and sweat. It’s new, its creative, it’s a real life way to integrate art, music, fashion, and movies to tell a story with your body. My VIP clients are in the entertainment industry and it’s beautiful to collaborate with other artists that keep the world moving through the arts.

Any advice you give to a first time client before their first session with you?

Commit to change. There is ALWAYS a solution. With the right knowledge and tools you can master anything. Positivity and energy are two must haves at all of your sessions with me. Energy is everything ! Did you know your body is 75% water? Water responds to thoughts ! Everything is vibration.

What are you currently working on in New York?

I am about to open up my studio, videos and live streaming. I have new movements and classes that I am so excited about ! Roc Nation management and I are working on new projects!

Any plans for global expansion, I see your offering NW certification courses?

Yes, I encourage anyone with a passion for fitness to certify themselves and begin professionally inspiring others. There are many plans for global expansion that we are very excited about! We currently have trainers in India, London, Prague, and the Unites States. I gather my inspiration from cultures because each city brings something special and new to the world. It is beautiful and inspiring.

You have a very active schedule, aside from fitness and working out. Do you have a beauty secret or regimen you want to share?

My beauty secret is making time for myself. Making sure I get enough rest, occasional massages and healthy eating lifestyles are what keep my inner beauty glowing. Curiosity is important because it keeps the brain young. When a child is curious, they are inventing and wondering. This ignites new brain neurons and fires the so serious spirit.

Any new favorite wardrobe pieces or workout gear that you can’t live without?

I absolutely love my Adidas by Stella McCartney pieces. My Adidas hoodies and shell toe sneakers are always in my bag. I always keep a change of clothes in my bag that includes a leotard, booty shorts and a hoodie. I love the duality of showing my body and layering. It’s sexy.

Because your work relies on your teaching abilities and active engagement with clients, I imagine it is important to always be creating new or individualized routines . What inspires you to keep your work fresh and creative?

I am constantly inspired by everything around me. Sports, fashion, art, it all inspires me to create something that is reflective of “now”. When you live in the moment, you evolve with it. I get bored easily and if I am bored I know I am not expanding or growing. I look to things that run my imagination and move my brain and body.

Any places, trips, or experiences that provide you with that creative recharge when you need it?

I have a fond place in my heart for Brazil. Their culture is so beautiful and free. The people their have a welcomeness and movement that makes me feel at home.

What is your favorite thing to do to unwind or manage stress?

Music, dance and breathing. Sometimes I forget to breathe. We are in such a fast pace society and we move to that rhythm. When I play music, I get lost in the beat and I am free.

Your brand embraces a very strong, body- positive attitude. What kind of advice would you give your younger self, or younger women in general?

Stay positive and visualize. What you think about yourself is how others see you. The power of the mind is our greatest tool. I think its important for women to know they are great just the way they are. All the time you spend trying to fit in only takes you further from your true self. Smile at your self in the mirror, make yourself blush, and be the woman you want to be! You have the power.

Conversely, what is the best advice that you have ever received?

Be the woman you want to be! Think like her! Act like her and dance like you.

What makes you feel powerful?

Moving to the best music. When I sweat I feel sexy.

For anyone who is striving to reach personal health and fitness goals.What is a great 15 minute routine that can be done before work in the morning?

Dance. Turn on your favorite 5 songs and dance. I wake up to music. My body feels free and clear when I move my morning to beats and set my intention for the day!

What is your go-to 5-minute meal in the morning?

I always start my day with 10 gulps of cold water. Energy is used as your body sleeps, (After you wake up) your body is working and gets dehydrated! I love black coffee and either an egg white omelette or whole grain oats for some glucose energy for my workouts!

It can be a challenge to stay dedicated to fitness for many reasons. How do you stay focused in order to reach goals in fitness or in life?

I make plans and then execute them. We all have dreams, but without a plan they are just wishes. It is a combination of intention, passion, heart, and discipline to share with the world what your imagination and intuition speaks to.

Can you share with us the music that you are currently listening to?

Rihanna – Work
Beyonce – Formation
Justin Bieber – Sorry
Nicky Minaj – Anaconda
Beyonce – Grown Woman
Outcast – The Way You Move
Cello Green – Fool For You

 

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IRIS MAN: DR. TED VOLOYIANNIS

IRIS02_IRIS_MAN_DR_TEDPhotography and Interview by Dustin Mansyur | Styling by Marc Sifuentes | Art Direction by Louis Liu | Grooming by MakeupByDiego
Dr. Ted Voloyiannis photographed at his home in Houston, TX. Jacket by Bogosse, Shirt by Hugo Boss, Pants by Gucci, Watch by Rolex Submariner, Necklace: Ancient Roman coin mint in Jerusalem.

He pioneered the creation of innovative, minimally invasive surgical techniques, which are now widely practiced within his field. In addition to these academic accomplishments, he is an active supporter of the Human Rights Campaign. We got to catch up with him to talk about his work and life.

What made you decide to get into medicine and become a surgeon?

I always wanted to help people since I was a kid, but I needed to see the practical results right away.  Also, I am very competitive. So, I decided to get into medicine when I was in middle school and to become a surgeon by my second year in medical school.  I decided to immigrate when I was 25 from Greece and pursue my surgery training in the US at one of the most competitive programs in the country at Baylor College of Medicine.

You received criticism and scrutiny for the methods you proposed in the surgical procedures that you spearheaded and discovered. Was there a time that someone told you that you couldn’t accomplish all that you have accomplished today?

Yes, a few surgeons who were close to retirement. It still frustrates me because it delayed the innovation in our field. Senior surgeons are often hesitant to adapt new ideas from their younger colleagues. I need to remember not to do the same when I get older!

You’re actually known for your personable and friendly disposition and relationship that you build with patients. How do you try to relate to or connect with your patients as a care provider? Does this practice naturally carry over into your personal life?

Don’t become a doctor if you don’t love listening to your patients. Surgery can not be successful if you can not connect with your patient’s background problems. Being more personal helps alleviate the fear, anxiety of the anticipated surgery and builds trust.
I am usually “accused” of being too nice and trying to help everybody in my personal life even if sometimes this is not feasible.

You are an avid supporter of the Human Rights Campaign, devoting your free time for surgical services which benefit the LGBT community and patients with HIV in need for the greater Houston area. Would you consider yourself an activist?

I am an activist behind the scenes as well as in the operating room; I strongly support the LGBT community’s fight for Equal Rights in our society, the same way I fight daily for excellent surgical care for all my patients regardless of sex, race, religion or sexual orientation.

You and your husband Ivan are interior design enthusiasts, what are some of your favorite pieces that you have collected?

Our favorites are The Baccarat Crystal “Marie Coquine” Floor Lamp by designer Philippe Stark over our dinning table and the Jean Paul Gautier floating master bed!

Do you have a favorite design feature in your apartment?

The master bathroom! It features a unique design that incorporates Italian “Agape” fixtures, digitally printed tile, glass, ipe wood, and infinity views of Houston’s city and skylines!

Additionally, you and Ivan are avid travelers, what are some of your favorite trips you’ve taken & what are some upcoming trips you are excited about?

Other than Greece and Mexico? Israel, Egypt and Brazil were unique trips and now we are getting ready for our first cruise ever in Mediterranean Sea, to be followed by exploring Australia!

What is something you can’t live without when you travel?

I can’t lie: lots of shoes!

What advice would you give to your younger self or to young people in general?

Set great goals early in your life and work hard for them. It will pay off! Don’t go to medical school! (joking)

Words of advice that you live by and whom was it given by?

The first day I started my surgical training, my chief resident said, “Don’t let the demanding multi-year surgery residency training change who you are!” ‡

IRIS WOMAN: MARIANA VALDES DEBES

Interview and Photography by Dustin Mansyur | Styling by Marc Sifuentes | Art Direction by Louis Liu | Hair and Makeup by MakeupByDiego

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Mariana Valdes Debes photographed with her dog at her home in Houston, TX. Dress by Helmut Lang, Shoes by Marni, Earrings by Cartier. Behind her, Painting by Rodolfo Morales and Sculpture by Javier Marín

The vivacious art dealer, collector, consultant, and philanthropist knows how to wear many hats with an effortless and sensual bravado. We sat down with her to talk about her creative process and who’s on her radar.

Who are your favorite up-and-coming artists on your radar at the moment?

I would say the Mexican multidisciplinary artist, Nacho Rodriguez Bach, and the international critically-acclaimed Danish artist, Olafur Eliasson. Rodriguez Bach is an artist I have been promoting and representing for several years.  He is always reinventing himself. 

What kind of art are you drawn to?

I am most drawn to art that is congruent within a historical context. The art that shows me other possibilities of reality, of feeling, of thinking, or being.

For you, is it an emotional / intuitive process or is it a more objective approach when you are deciding artists to collect?

Both. I am first attracted and seduced by an art piece or a body of work, then possessed by it. Before I make a final decision, I get to know the artist and establish a relationship with him or her. I believe this is the most important. By doing this, I get to understand the artists’ body of work from another perspective, and allow myself to make a connection with it.

Do you have a favorite piece that you have collected?

Yes, I acquired a painting 10 years ago called La Romeria by the Mexican artist Alfredo Gisholt. Like every painting, it has a beautiful story behind it. I love it because of it’s amazing power, but also because it was included in the first exhibition I curated for the opening of my gallery in Mexico City.  It tells a story from my country through the eyes of an artist who lives and works in Boston. At the same time it is a remarkable painting for the artist itself.  It’s just one of those paintings that takes your breath away!

Can you describe what your curatorial process is like when doing an exhibition? What helps you collaborate with the artist?

I always take into consideration that it needs to be eloquent within the context that we are living. Most of the time I don’t follow an established process or a rule since each project is different and is curated for a different audience. I am very spontaneous in the way that I bring up an exhibition, and at the same time I am a perfectionist in every single detail. I prepare with as much information I can obtain and then I allow myself to create a bridge between the artwork and the public for which it is being created, like an alchemist.

Are you working on any upcoming projects to look out for?

The contemporary art world has been transforming rapidly over the past decade. It has expanded its boundaries, making it almost indescribable, yet understandable. There are more collectors and art fairs, but at the same time there is a gap between the art and the its audience. This is the reason that for the last few years, I have been providing art knowledge to a select group of collectors and art enthusiasts called Sensei: “Art Promotion Through Experience”. Through thematic and curated experiences that involve all of the senses, Sensei has as its mission to establish a connection between art and the person, that promotes the development and understanding of  artistic values and self awareness.

Are you involved in any upcoming charity events or galas?

Yes, my husband and I have been involved with the gala for St Jude’s Children’s Hospital for the past several years. It is a fantastic organization with a beautiful mission.

What advice would you give to young women who are seeking a career in the arts?

To explore, investigate and renovate constantly looking for their own artistic proposal.

Would you say that it’s important to invest in the arts?

Art enriches your life. It has the unique ability to evoke so many different emotions. A painting can make you happy or sad. It can make you introspective or thoughtful. For this reason alone, I believe that it is very important for our cities and our communities to invest in art. On an individual level, one needs to know that not every artist nor every piece of art will appreciate in value. But if it brings you joy, isn’t that the best investment of all?  ‡

IRIS MAN: JOHN VARVATOS

Interview by Miguel Figueroa | Photography by Richard Phibbs @ Art Department

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Since the year 2000, John Varvatos has managed to build his eponymous lifestyle brand on his obsession with rock ‘n’ roll. We met up with the New York designer backstage at his latest runway show.

Who are you obsessed with at the moment? 

Andrew Watts. Tyler Bryant and The Shakedown. I just signed both groups to my record label.

How old were you when you decided you wanted to be a fashion designer? 

In my 20’s.

First supermodel crush?

Cindy Crawford.

What were your initial thoughts when you decided to open a store at the former CBGB night club?

Somebody has to do something here to keep music alive. We can’t let this spot become a bank or a drug store.

Who is your favorite rock star?

Iggy Pop.

When are you the happiest? 

At my lake house with family and friends.

An item of clothing you can’t live without?

A leather jacket.

If you could run into teenage John Varvatos, what would you tell him? 

Be a sponge. Learn all you can. 

What do you think is the best thing about being a man?

Women.

What about the worst?

Women.

IRIS WOMAN: DUYEN NGUYEN

Interview by Dustin Mansyur | Photography by Collin Kelly | Styling by Leslie Rivas

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Style maven, art collector,  doctor, humanitarian, wife & mother of four. We catch up with Duyen at her new home.

How would you describe your personal sense of style?

I would say my style is classic but not conservative, and absolutely feminine. Comfort and fit are essential to me also.

Which artists are you collecting at the moment?

My husband and I have collected contemporary art over the years from international artists such as Angelbert, Lalla Essaydi, Kajia Loher, Oleg Dou, Maxim Wakultshchik, as well as regional artists like Joe Mancuso and Paul Fleming, to name a few. We’ve recently just added a piece from this up-and-coming artist Joo Young Choi, who will be exhibited at the CAMH next year.

Will you be involved with any charities during the upcoming year?  Hosting any events?

I’ve been a supporter of Operation Smile, March of Dimes, and a few other charity organizations in Houston, TX. This year, I have the honor to co-chair Operation Smile’s annual fund-raising gala in April, which I am very excited to be a part of.

What’s the best advice you have ever received?

The best advice I’ve ever received was from my mother. When I was young, she would tell me I must have a career of my own so that I could create my own opportunities in life. Luckily I took her words to heart and I’m forever grateful for who I am now.

What advice would you give young women that want to become entrepreneurs like yourself?

I’d say it doesn’t matter what career you choose, you must have true passion, set your goals, and be determined. Passion plus determination will make you unstoppable.