From Bondi, Sydney to Austin, Texas, fashion entrepreneur Jennifer Kassell has called Austin, the capital state of Texas, home since 2014. After stints of living and working in both New York City and Los Angeles, the designer behind Understated Leather shares her insider’s knowledge of Austin, known for its formidable country, blues and rock music scene.
Describe life in Austin in three words.
Hot, creative and effortless.
What compelled the move?
Austin did not happen right away. I first moved to New York to run a boutique showroom while also buying US brands for the Australian market. Then to Los Angeles to work as fashion director for a Californian company before moving to Austin, Texas to marry my boyfriend and start fresh on my own terms! Every time I visited my husband in Austin, I felt like I was home. The city was a refreshing change after living and working in such compacted places. People are inspired by creativity and diversity here [in Austin], there is no home for an ego and I love that about it.
What hotels (or areas) would you recommend staying in for the ultimate Texan experience?
Hotel St Cecilia is my favorite Hotel in Austin, it’s a very private and boutique experience. Walking distance to South Congress which is a main street with great restaurants, shops and bars with live music.
What are your favourite cafes and restaurants for lunch and dinner?
Josephine House – one of our favorite breakfast spots. It’s an intimate cottage tucked away in a beautiful neighbourhood with a chic marble bar and shady patio lounges. Try the secret green juice (not on the menu), it has a kick to it that is perfect to start the day.
Uchi – Located in a refurbished South Austin bungalow, award winning chef Tyson Cole’s signature non-traditional Japanese food is renowned. You will need to make a booking in advance here. I suggest the tasting menu for a fun evening or delicious surprises.
Justine’s Brasserie – French cuisine with dreamscape lighting and a picturesque courtyard strewn with tiny lights, this is a place to go later at night and enjoy the full evening. A nightclub for adults, if you will, this place is lots of fun and expect to run into a few celebrities enjoying a glass of vino on a bench. Advise to book here, as late as possible. A fun place for a group.
Lamberts – My favorite version of the Texas BBQ experience. The food is rich and traditional. Enjoy fancy BBQ (smoked not grilled) in a refurbished general store with an upstairs bar. Booking may be necessary on a weekend.
Elizabeth Street Café – A neighbourhood Vietnamese cafe and French bakery in South Austin with sunny dining rooms and a shady garden patio. We eat breakfast here every week without fail and indulge in a Vietnamese coffee and pastry (or two). The menu is interesting and delicious. No booking necessary.
What are your favourite bars and nightlife activities in Austin?
Of course, it depends on what you are into but generally people love to hear live music when they visit Austin and there is certainly no shortage of that. Some fun suggestions are Antone’s and The Continental Club. I suggest hopping online to see who is performing around town because there is ALWAYS someone to see at a small event, Austin360 is a great source.
What must-do activities do you recommend to visitors travelling to the state of Texas?
Marfa is a special place, stay at El Cosmico which is a bohemian motel strewn with refurbished airstreams to stay in, it’s a very unique experience and home to many artists.
Hamilton Pool is absolutely magical and worth the effort to dip in the natural pool that is thousands of years old.
Barton Springs is Austin’s answer to Sydney’s Icebergs, it’s filled entirely with water from natural springs and resides in the Green Belt which is a large National Park in the center of the city.
It is also worth checking out some of the music festivals in Austin including SXSW (South by South West, a major music, film and tech festival), ACL (Austin City Limits, one of the biggest music festivals in the world and typically has a brilliant line up – Paul McCartney headlined this year) and Trans Pecos Festival (a small boutique music festival in Marfa).
What are your favourite art, lifestyle and cultural attractions?
Austin’s new public library has won awards for its design and innovation. The space is massive and offers a living rooftop garden and reading porches overlooking Lady Bird Lake.
The Paramount Theatre is a live venue that is also located in downtown Austin. The classical revival style structure was built in 1915 and is listed on the national register of historic places.
Umlauf Sculpture Museum is an outdoor sculpture garden.
Worth mentioning is the East Austin Studio Tour which is an annual self-guided art event cultivating artists and the contemporary arts in Austin and across Texas.
What is your go-to outfit for a day in Texas?
Most of the year it’s hot and dry in Texas so you want to keep that in mind while planning an outfit. The style of the city is classic yet casual. Austenite’s love a good hat as well as an occasional neck tie bandana/scarf. A chic take on the cowboy trend works wonders here with an ankle boot.
What about Texas has inspired you in the creation of your label, Understated Leather?
The heart of the brand is a nod to country western style fused with a little motorcycle culture. This combination is iconically Austin. Our motto is ‘understated but unforgettable’.
What is the best way to see Austin?
Horseback… just kidding. Definitely a car. It’s a very large city with not a lot of sidewalks.
What is your most coveted, ‘hidden gem’ activity or place to visit in Austin, that only locals might know about?
Mayfield Park is a quaint historic cottage and nature preserve originally built in the 1870’s that now houses more than two dozen peacocks that welcome you when you walk the grounds. It feels like a fairy tale.
What song encapsulates the vibe of Texas or evokes a fond memory of the city for you?
Whiskey River by Willie Nelson. Willie is the undisputed king of Texas and I have been lucky enough to see him perform a few times.