The Western Soul of Fashion

16 May 2024

Sue Kolbas is bringing a new fashion event to Jackson Hole that will celebrate the Western spirit

Summer/Fall 2024

Written By: Monica Fedrigo | Images: David Bowers

Sue Kolbas wakes up at 3 a.m. thinking about fashion. “I think about it 24/7, but it’s a labor of love.” Sue is referring to her current project — the inaugural Jackson Hole Fashion Fringe, an event in the works that will include three nights of fashion shows.

Sue’s excitement for the event is contagious. Runway shows each evening will anchor the celebration of fashion in the spirit of Jackson Hole. The spotlight will be squarely focused on Western fashion and sportswear, including leather, cowboy hats, fringe (of course), and “we have to honor our world-famous slopes, and ski wear is just so cool.”

The idea was an amorphous notion in Sue’s mind, until a chance run-in with an old friend, Susan Stein. Stein has been at the helm of the largest consumer fashion event on the West Coast — in Palm Desert, California, near Palm Springs — for decades, and the serendipitous run-in began a partnership, with Sue as the executive producer and Stein as creative pro- ducer/director. Sue has high praise for her co-pro- ducer. “She is so chic, she has such an eye, she will curate a show that makes your jaw drop. This isn’t her first rodeo!”

Sue views the Fashion Fringe as a fun event, but more importantly, a way to strengthen the Western spirit. “People say it is slipping away, but Jackson has a strong Western soul. I feel it every day, and I want this event to strengthen it. Fashion mirrors society — this is a way to reinvigorate Jackson’s heritage. Cowboy culture is very much alive, and we cannot let it slip away.”

Sue’s personal views on fashion have evolved throughout her eclectic lifetime. Born in Marrakesh, Morocco, much of her childhood was spent in southern California. Fashion captivated her from a young age. Sue fondly remembers spending hours perusing McCall’s and Butterick pattern catalogs with her mother, and a favorite rainbow halter sum- mer dress she handmade. “I was in junior high, and I was so proud that I got the unique front cutout just right. I wore that dress to death.”

She attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, but ended up beginning a real estate career spanning the state of California. She later transitioned into finance, earning series 7 and series 66 licenses and becoming a financial advisor.

After many visits to a dear friend in Jackson Hole, her instincts told her it was time for a new chapter in life. “I had a great ride in California, but I was in my comfort zone — that’s a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” In the Tetons, she’s found her way back to fashion. “It’s where I started, but I’m back with more wisdom and passion.”

Sue strongly believes fashion is not reserved for special occasions, but is a vital component of everyday life. “Wearing something you love gives you an energy, a glow.” She somehow manages to be striking in a subtle way. When we meet in Teton Village, she’s wearing jeans, Sorel boots, a cashmere sweater, and a bead-trimmed cowboy hat. An adorable 3-year-old boy can’t help but run to her with a huge smile on his face, and whispers to his mother. “He thinks your hat is so pretty!” she says, passing along the child’s joyful message.

Sue’s closet contains “Levi’s, Chanel and everything in between,” with a growing collection of cowboy hats and boots to keep up with her Western fashionista friends in Jackson. She points out that Western fashion began as utilitarian pieces. A cowboy hat shields eyes from the sun, and directs rain or snow away from the face, protecting the line of sight. “Fashion in Jackson Hole should be comfortable, functional and look great, too,” she says.

Sue feels strongly that this event can reinforce that fashion and function can combine beautifully to honor the culture and heritage of our town. Another result she hopes to see from the Jackson Hole Fashion Fringe? “More fabulous ski outfits on the slopes!”

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