Southwest Style In (Depp)th

His lips were moving, but I’m not altogether sure what Johnny Depp was saying. While he peppered me with small talk, I was busy staring past him into the vast desert of New Mexico. It was more beautiful than I had remembered. Even though I live, work and consider Miami home, I’m originally from The Land of Enchantment and I hadn’t been back in years. I was just one of those kids (turned adult) who wanted out of my one-horse town and honestly, I preferred riding off into the sunset, not looking back at it.

It would take a call from the wild (an assignment for Deco Drive) and the promise of a good Western (The Lone Ranger) to get me back in the saddle. So as fate would have it, I found myself in Santa Fe, my old stomping grounds, at Bishop’s Lodge, to interview the cast of Jerry Bruckheimer’s latest creation.

In the movie, Johnny stars as Tonto, The Lone Ranger’s mystical American Indian sidekick. The film is Tonto’s take on the daring duo’s friendship, how the masked man came to be and How The West Was Won, with their outlawish good deeds.

My eyes quickly shifted from the desert to Johnny’s chest, hands and feet. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was something different about him. During past interviews, Johnny had always exuded a restless kind of charm, but today, he seemed more content and fully present. There was something else, too. I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I sat back and drank in the moment. The landscape, the luscious movie star, the lackadaisical attitude of the day. It was intoxicating and I hadn’t even had a Margarita yet (rimmed with extra salt.) They’re the best at Coyote Cafe right off The Santa Fe Plaza.

As other members of the press buzzed around exclaiming: “I’m a HUGE FAN” and “OMG it’s Johnny!” I felt like they were missing something. Heck, I was missing something. Sure yeah, blah blah, it’s a new movie. One where he plays a strange, unique and captivating character. He always does that though. This time, during our one-on-one interview, I felt like his entire being was so, so (dramatic pause)SOUTHWEST!! That was IT! He’d been bitten by the proverbial Four Corners bug. Infected, if you will. He had officially gone Southwest Style In (Depp)th.

Most of my life, I’d successfully avoided being biten by that kind of bug. Being from America’s Great Frontier (that’s a fancy way of saying the Middle of Nowhere) was always something I’d kept on the DL. Don’t get me wrong, I loved, even adored, that quirky little side of myself, but I wasn’t sure anyone else did. So, I kept it a well-known secret.

I was so dedicated to living Southwest Style In (Depp)th free, for years, I wouldn’t be caught dead in my turquoise jewelry and cowboy boots until after my plane officially flew over the Sandia Mountains bordering the outskirts of Albuquerque. Btw, The Sandias are so close to the Albuquerque Airport, they practically scrape the bottom of the plane when you land.

Then, things changed. Thanks to my Deco Drive stylist, Shari (and believe me, I wasn’t thanking her then.) A few years back, she skeetered into my life like Wile E. Coyote trying to catch The Road Runner. Instead of making a crazy getaway though, I let her snag me, and boy, did she ever, with a hunter’s precision. I fought a lot of her wardrobe changes at first, but as they say back in the desert: “Sometimes when the sand gets in your eyes, you can finally see.”

Shari opened my eyes by leading me across the dry, dusty fashion desert, past my self-inflicted mirage of cut-out tops, flared jeans and tween stores, into the delicious, thirst-quenching well of beautiful blouses, skinny jeans and age appropriate dresses. I haven’t been the same since and neither have my credit cards. During my wardrobe adjustments, I wasn’t exactly a dead woman walking. There would be a few shootouts along the way. Starting, specifically, in 2011. That’s when Southwest Style In (Depp)th started its slow giddy-up into mainstream fashion. The following are true conversations.

Shari: “Wear this Aztec inspired top.” Me: “Nooooo!”
Two weeks later…
Me: “Did you put that poncho looking shirt in my wardrobe bag?” Shari: “Yes, it’s very in!” Me: “Nooooo!”
Six months later…
Shari: “It’s not a blanket you put on a mule, it’s a top.” Me: “It’s horrendous, I won’t wear it.”
A year later…
Me: “I’m not part of the Incan Empire! Can I please wear a sheath dress with beige shoes?” Shari: “Whatever you want, but that’s what you were wearing last year.”

Our stand-off’s would leave me reciting (with Pledge of Allegiance-like proudness,) to Shari, the one rule I refused to break: “I WILL NEVER, EVER, EVER WEAR ANYTHING THAT REMOTELY LOOKS LIKE I’M FROM THE SOUTHWEST!” There was no negotiation. No leeway. NO if’s, ands or buts about it. I’d made the promise to myself a long time ago and I wasn’t about to break it now. It was bad enough I had to give up my love of cheap, stretchy, keyhole tops. She’d have to deal with it.

Her first victory was a simple off the shoulder Southwest skull t-shirt. I wore it on assignment in Montana. It was during a ‘let’s make the press suffer and do a Western activities day before they interview the cast of Cowboys and Aliens.’ As if the movie weren’t bad enough, they put a bunch of reporters out in a field with Skeet guns. At that point, the shirt seemed harmless. I thought to myself, no one will ever see this. Later that day, a fellow journalist posted and tagged me in a picture on Facebook, in that very shirt, with a strand of wheat hanging out of my mouth. It was before you could control tagging. A loyal fan, unknowingly, immortalized the moment, by making a hard copy, framing it and sending it to me via snail mail. The Western frame was a nice touch. It’s still on the desk in my office.

Shari doesn’t think I remember the first sign of being infected by the Four Corners bug, but it’s burned into my brain like the first time I saw the Grand Canyon. Her instincts were spot on, though. Within a year, everyone would be sporting Southwest Style In (Depp)th, including Johnny.

His new look didn’t totally surprise me. Over the last two decades, Johnny has used fashion to express himself both personally and professionally. He’s gone from boy to man, husband to father, actor to major movie star, with an extraordinary sense of style and sex appeal, albeit, sometimes strange and eccentric. It all started back in the 80’s, when he effortlessly perfected the white t-shirt heartthrob look. After that, he tried everything from European grunge, homeless Bohemian, Parisisan sophistication, even Vintage couture.

In New Mexico, Johnny wore a Western inspired shirt and vest, distressed pants, swanky boots, a Native American bolo tie and skull rings, on almost every finger. He was the epitome of calm, cool and collected. His vibe was totally East meets West. Johnny complimented the desert perfectly and it, him.

That’s the key to Southwest Style In (Depp)th. You wear it, don’t let it wear you. Use pieces to enhance and compliment your wardrobe, not make you stand-out like Bozo the Clown hitchhiking down a deserted Arizona highway.

Whether it’s printed skinny jeans, a roomy top, jewelry, or a pretty pair of wedges, it’s okay to express your inner desert girl, because the style will be around for awhile (at least through Fall and Winter) and according to Shari, going fashionably forward, something leather should be your new best friend (like Tonto is to The Lone Ranger.)

For the record, I didn’t have to ride off into the sunset to realize how unique, eclectic and beautiful my hometown is – I’ve always known it – I guess I was just waiting for everyone else to figure it out, too. Open your heart, free your spirit and become one with the West with Southwest Style In (Depp)th at: www.kokoandpalenki.com www.anthropologie.com www.freepeople.com

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