Professor closes SoCo business Blackmail Boutique to follow new goal

Joshua Guenther

Human ecology professor Gail Chovan is closing her South Congress store Blackmail Boutique, which features primarily black-colored clothing items.

The boutique opened in 1997 as a project for Chovan to feature her own designs. The closing is not only due to increased rent and construction on SoCo, but also a desire for a new project, Chovan said.

“I want to change the face of fashion exhibits,” Chovan said. “My goal is to … make fashion exhibits more experiential and more empathetic.” 

Chovan said she is currently pursuing a Master of Liberal Arts in Museum Studies through Harvard University to accomplish this goal.

“(Clothing’s) original purpose is to be worn, but when people do these huge museum exhibits, the clothing is not embodied. It is sitting there static,” Chovan said. “How can I help bridge that gap between making a piece of art and having it be worn by somebody?” 

Chovan said the store has taught her what fashion students need to know to succeed.


“I was never a business major, and (Blackmail Boutique) really threw me into the arena of having to figure out how to run a business,” Chovan said. “I tell students (to) take a few business courses. You can’t just be a creative.”

Chovan said she wanted Blackmail Boutique to be a conceptual store.

“I thought, ‘Why can’t I have a store that is all black?’ If you want to buy something black, you’d come to the black store,“ Chovan said.

Chovan and her store received about 20 of The Austin Chronicle’s annual “Best of Austin” awards, including Best Clothing Designer and Best Window Display.

Jessica Miller, store manager and buyer, said it has been a challenge to adapt the all-black theme to appeal to customers. Blackmail Boutique has grown to include apparel from a range of artists, Miller said.

“I have found being at Blackmail has been a form of self-expression as opposed to some sort of commercial exchange,” Miller said.

Amy Cooper, owner of Trove Artist Management, visits the store a couple times a year and said she is sad to hear the store is closing because there is nothing like it in Austin.

“I always come in here for fun postcards. I have gotten clothing here,” Cooper said. “Most recently, I have been really excited about the jewelry, and I found out about a lot of really cool jewelry designers from coming here.”