I’m not sure what to think when she opens the door. Here is this pretty woman, probably fifty, in leopard print capris, a medusa-clad Versace chiffon button-down blouse and nineties mules, with blonde wispy hair and sparkly blue eye liner, smiling at us, in a manner that could conceal she’s either sleepy or uncomfortable, I can’t tell. So far I’ve only seen the driveway and the sprawling green neighborhood we just cruised through but the magenta grand piano in the hall way and life-size flower woman statue behind her give my current visual the allure of mixed-era grandeur. I can’t decide yet if it’s tacky or genius and I consider that this shoot could either be a tremendous disaster or one of the great, mind-blowing experiences of my house-crashing life. I’ve seen Dallas, the television series – though I was a much bigger fan of Alexis Colby in Dynasty – but that’s as far as my actual knowledge of the city and its flamboyant inhabitants goes. I’ve literally been in Texas less than an hour and I’ve never met Jessica Jesse before in my life but I’m about to get served the best slice of the Southern pie.
Everything, from the wall paper to the rugs, from the flower arrangements to the chandeliers, from the frames to the books, every piece of furniture looks like it was built and arranged yesterday by a team of obsessive-compulsive, Red Bull chugging bonsai artists. The house is finished. It’s done. There’s not a thing out of place. It looks like a decorator’s wet dream. If you wanted to see every single adorning element in the house, you would spend days, if not weeks. My eyes jump around the rooms like Snow White’s on acid. I’m like a little kid who’s just learned how to walk because everything is new and fresh and comic-book unexpected. The curtains in the foyer are made of vinyl, “because everyone has these awfully heavy drapes in their windows”, the fuchsia carpet in the dining room has a trim Jessica hand painted on the floor – “I had to do it twice because we got a leak and we had to take out the floor boards just as I finished. I wanted to shoot myself!” – and every television is hidden by a wooden box or curtain that camouflages seamlessly into the wall. But the house is not stuffy or egg-shell fragile; it’s lived-in. There’s a cat named Brynn, a Shihtzu named Vodka, a teenager called Sloane, aka the Sloane Ranger, and Jessica does all the cooking, folding, pouring, driving, and growing herself. She runs this house.
So who is this woman with her non-descript accent and pink boudoir? We’ve moved to the bedroom now and bonding over vintage, jewelry, Tokyo and modeling. I can tell she’s done photo shoots before but she’s very modest about it. Instead she sends me a discrete one-page bio which affirms just how ignorant I am. This is way better than a soap opera!! Born to a Mexican mother and an Austrian Count, Jessica Bowers Von Hogenberg spent much of her childhood traveling between Europe, Mexico and the United States. She began her fashion career at fourteen as a model and walked for Hubert de Givenchy – gasp! She studied Fashion Merchandising and Textiles and held executive positions at Neiman Marcus and Saks. She worked directly with Gianni Versace, Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino and Bill Blass. Her husband Bill advises consumer goods and services companies (Design Within Reach, Wired, Peet’s and Coffee, etc.) on how to grow their business. She opened two four-star restaurants, sits on the board of a handful of non-profit organizations, launched her jewelry company, BuDhaGirl at the beginning of this year and sold five of the ten flower statues she made “because I couldn’t sleep. It was better than watching TV or drinking”.
The wonderland tour continues to flabbergast until Jessica opens the closet she’s curated for our shoot. That’s when words and vocabulary become nihil and I manage to just utter a long and exasperated whimper. Jessica’s vintage collection was handed down over generations of fabulous women. There’s the cream chiffon empire waist dress and matching beaded coat she wore at a gala when she was pregnant. “According to my godmother this was a Pauline Triggere… but there is no label,” she shrugs. And the gold scarf, “gold as in real gold, given to my godmother by HRH Prince Faisal,” she winks. “I can’t confirm this because my godmother told great stories… And this might be one of them!” And the black Galliano tuxedo dress she happily hops in the pool with. “My mother has amazing clothes,” she confirms. “She was of a generation that went to New York and Paris for actual fittings. And some amazing dealers all over the world. My favorite is Heritage in Barcelona. The owner, Edgardo is as interesting as his shop of wonders.” And then there’s the drawers upon drawers of vintage jewelry. “My business partner (in Budha Girl) is a real collector”, she beams. “She always finds amazing things!”
Jessica disappears for half an hour to pick up her daughter from school. When they return Jessica is appalled: “They made them run laps today! In this heat??” It’s 100 degrees outside, which I assumed is normal for Texas, but oh no. “I’m surprised none of the kids collapsed!” agrees Sloane. “Should I call the school and complain?” asks Jessica. She’s kind of joking but not really. Like I said, she runs this house. Sloane grabs a bag of Goldfish and an ice lolly from the freezer and hangs out. She’s a smart kid who likes to talk to adults. While Jessica pours some champagne we talk about her latest venture, BuDhaGirl. “We cater to women who show Intelligence, Curiosity, Awareness and Compassion,” she begins. “We have products that Sloane wears and that my wonderful 80-plus mother, Marina wears. When BuDhaGirl was created, it was most important to us to create a company that brought more than just another product to the world. It brings a philosophy. God know there is enough jewelry out there… ” And right then I realize I am the luckiest girl on earth, and I’m pretty sure it’s not because of the alcohol. I’ve managed to fall in love with a blue piano and an entire United State in the span of three hours. My mind is blown.