The man behind the island’s biggest fashion event of the year
When Lenny Matuszewski needs to feel grounded, he heads for the skies.
Matuszewski is a former model and a highly sought-after fashion event producer, orchestrating events for Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Tootsies.
On the island, he’s especially known for producing the elegant, high-energy Holiday Style Fashion Show & Luncheon, which helps raise scholarship money for the University of Texas Medical Branch School of Nursing Honors Program. The runway fashion show is Nov. 14.
But Matuszewski, 60, also keeps his job as a flight attendant with United Airlines — not because he needs to, but because it’s a counterbalance to the fast-paced world of fashion, he said.
He’s particular about where he flies — after 38 years as a flight attendant, he can be. He flies one or two “turn” trips a month, preferring Central American flights, not so much for the destinations, but for the people he meets. And he’ll work only in coach, where most passengers, some very poor, will never see the couture or the shows he produces.
“The people are very kind; we talk about sports and our maladies,” Matuszewski said from his Sea Isle weekend home on Galveston’s West End he shares with partner, Michael Bickham. “It’s a reminder; you have to find balance.”
If flying to get grounded seems counterintuitive, so does Matuszewski’s kindness in an industry that isn’t always known for being nice and sometimes seems far removed from most people’s daily realities. But Matuszewski, with chiseled features and intensely blue eyes, believes in being nice.
“I learned that pretty can get you in the door, but if you’re not a kind person, you won’t be invited back.”
Matuszewski, whose company is Matuszewski Productions, works with business partner and best friend Tamara Klosz Bonar to produce the highly anticipated Holiday Style Fashion Show & Luncheon. And he always gets invited back to Galveston. The show he orchestrates is among the most popular island fundraising events of the year, with more than 500 attending.
“He is a creative stylistic genius,” said Pamela Watson, who retired in September as dean of the School of Nursing. Watson and members of a committee had the idea for the show, which began six years ago.
“In my view, the style show is so popular largely because of Lenny and his behind-the-scenes partner, Tamara,” Watson said. “The majority of men and women in the luncheon audience marvel at the grace and beauty of the models and the elegance of the evening dresses and gowns they wear to the shows.”
On the runway, models wear gowns and apparel from the famous Tootsies, which operates a full-line specialty store in the heart of Houston’s well-to-do River Oaks neighborhood. A Tootsies pop-up boutique is a popular feature of the fashion show and luncheon.
Matuszewski is known nationally for his work. On average, he produces about 60 fashion events, fundraisers and charity galas a year. He especially enjoys events that are community and charity driven, he said.
His success came from hard work and a determined study of his craft.
Matuszewski was born in Abilene. His family traveled with his father’s oil industry job, moving to Houston for the first time in the early 1960s and returning to that city in 1968. Matuszewski attended Stratford High School in Spring Branch and was in the first graduating class in 1975.
During high school, he began working for Space City Travel Agency delivering tickets to clients and stayed on after graduating. He enrolled in University of Houston-Downtown, attending night school with a plan to study psychology. Although he did well in school, he caught the travel bug. He got a job with regional carrier Texas International Airlines, which later merged with Continental Airlines, which in 2010 merged with United Airlines.
People often asked him whether he ever considered modeling and he decided to give it a try. Modeling agents Page Parkes and Neal Hamil were influential in his career, he said.
“When I started flying, I also started modeling, both in 1979,” he said. “In the early ‘80s, I went back to school, but soon realized how well I was doing working in the fashion industry and flying. Both careers fulfilled my interests.”
Modeling work sent Matuszewski traveling throughout the United States and Europe, working for such fashion designers as Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Hugo Boss, Missoni and others.
Although he enjoyed the work, the life wasn’t always easy and meant living out of a suitcase.
In Paris, he lived off French bread and pâté.
“Those were two things I could afford,” he said.
He also knew modeling had a shelf life, he said. Still, Matuszewski saw a future in the industry and was a keen observer.
After runway shows, he would stick around, gleaning information from people with knowledge. Why was the clothing styled in a certain way? Why was the lighting done in a particular way?
“I asked a lot of questions,” he said. “I realized I got an education of another value. All my friends were in college. I was doing something unusual.”
He met a lot of people through modeling. In 1987, El Matha Wilder, who owned Houston boutique Étui, approached him to produce a fashion show to raise money for a police substation that had opened in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood. Matuszewski was a bit intimidated at first.
“I had a little talk with myself,” he said. “I realized that if this woman believed in me, it was time to believe in myself.”
He chose the models, shoes, designed the set. The show was an enormous success, as has been his career ever since. But Matuszewski is quick to point out he wouldn’t be a success without the team he works with and his business partner, Bonar. They share a work ethic and vision, he said.
“She’s the girl version of me,” he said. “We bring out the best of each of ourselves.”
And he encourages the models he works with to continue their education, to show up on time for work and to be kind.
Matuszewski and others in September were working to help people affected by Hurricane Harvey.
“Like many Texans who were blessed to have made it through the storm and floods with minimal damage, the fashion community and myself are helping those who suffered and lost much,” he said.
Model Alyssa Pasek, who walks in most of Matuszewski’s shows, lost her brother when he was electrocuted checking on her home, which she had evacuated.
“Alyssa’s loss is twofold,” Matuszewski said. “She lost her brother and she lost her home. Our fashion family has rolled up its sleeve with sweat equity to assist in the demo and repair of her home, plus creating fundraising efforts so Alyssa can heal and start anew in her home as she rebuilds.”
Many of Tootsies’ employees also lost their homes, he said.
“Tootsies, one of my most special and longtime clients, had many employees that lost their homes and/or their cars,” he said. “Tootsies is a family to me. The store created a ‘Tootsies Family Fundraiser’ to assist these employees who are also my friends.”
Because of Hurricane Harvey, Matuszewski had rescheduled many events in September. He and Bonar in early September were working to create something within the fashion community as a fundraising effort for people hurt by Harvey. Most of the shows he produces are vehicles to raise important dollars for a cause, such as the Holiday Style Fashion Show & Luncheon in Galveston.
Much works goes into the Holiday Style Fashion Show & Luncheon. Matuszewski likes the holiday theme and the gowns. Islanders get ideas for parties and even Mardi Gras galas at the show.
What Matuszewski likes most about the Holiday Style Fashion Show & Luncheon is that it supports a worthy cause of helping to pay nursing school tuitions for students.
“It’s got heart in it, there’s purpose,” he said.
Matuszewski didn’t tip his hand about any surprises at this year’s fashion show. But anyone who’s ever been knows to expect great things.
“He is a showman,” Watson said. “I love his quest for perfection and his intolerance of mediocrity.”
The Holiday Style Fashion Show & Luncheon is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 14 at the Galveston Island Convention Center at the San Luis Resort and Spa, 5600 Seawall Blvd. in Galveston.
The event includes a runway show offering the latest styles from popular clothing store Tootsies, along with a pop-up boutique and silent auctions.
Proceeds from the event helps pay for full scholarship support for the University of Texas Medical Branch School of Nursing Honors Program.
For ticket information visit: https://nursing.utmb.edu/holiday-style/