Big City Style

4713

Sloan/Hall is the brainchild of one seriously chic couple

Shannon Hall and Marcus Sloan are seated across from each other in their spartan condominium in the River Oaks, Upper Kirby area. Their Italian greyhound, Carolina, cruises around the living room, occasionally stopping by for a dash of affection from her owners. The well-appointed Houston home is a stone’s throw from the couple’s meticulously curated gift, home and—now—clothing store, Sloan/Hall. While their decor is modern—featuring concrete floors and gallery-white walls met with neutral colors found in the simple arrangement of two chairs, strategically placed tables and a backless settee—the story of the pair’s 26-year relationship is a decidedly traditional boy-meets-boy tale.

Hall and Sloan met when the latter, then 24, came back to Texas to get his MBA in international business at the University of Dallas. The then 21-year-old Hall was earning a dual MBA and master’s in arts administration. The two were introduced by a friend and have been together ever since, building their life around a thriving family business.

Sloan/Hall began when the couple opened their first location in San Antonio’s Alamo Heights neighborhood 19 years ago. It was modeled after a friend’s store in Dallas, where the couple lived for seven years. The second location, in Houston, opened four years later. Since then, the couple has maintained dual citizenship in both cities.

During their Dallas days, Hall worked for the historic preservation nonprofit, Friends of Fair Park, and Sloan worked for InterCultura, a museum exhibitions company. It’s easy to see Sloan’s curatorial flair in the stores. “We kind of present [items] more like a museum,” Hall said. “The space here is very minimalist and looks like an art gallery.”

In February, Sloan and Hall expanded the space to add more of the fabulous fashion that, in the past, offered just enough flowy, feminine frockery to tease customers. The new collection is edited down to only one of each piece and includes to-die-for items by Balmain, Tsumori Chisato, Peter Pilotto and Prova. When it launched, the blogosphere nearly imploded with chatter from designer divas atwitter over the thought of more couture from the two tastemakers.

This artful and fashionable life, brimming with love, a passion for their shared work, fabulous fetes, friends and family is notably different from the quiet childhoods Hall and Sloan spent growing up in the small Texas towns of Jasper and San Saba (and Lampasas), respectively. Hall said that as a boy, he didn’t feel he could confide in anyone about being gay, but he reminisces fondly about Jasper and says there were many great things about it. “I remember riding with my friend Todd to the Baptist church to play piano. Going to the lake for alone time. Going to the beach.”

The soft-spoken Sloan split up his time through high school living with his mother and stepfather in San Saba and his grandparents on their ranch in Lampasas. “My early childhood was pretty much idyllic,” he said, recalling weekends and summers at the ranch mending fences, helping with the cattle and exploring the land. “When I was little, my sisters and cousins and I created a fantasy kingdom, Birchwood Forest. There weren’t birches, but that’s what we called them. We’d leave in the morning and not come back until lunch.”

In school, he said he kept his sexuality “under his hat,” and to the chagrin of his male classmates, was popular with the girls. “I didn’t want to be a ‘kicker,’” he said. “You were either a band geek, a sports stud or a kicker. Mercifully, there are no photos in existence of my personal style from my high school days. The photo fairy accidentally destroyed them all, but she can attest to the fact that, having seen all those photos, I was the epitome of stylishness. At least as much as anyone in a small Texas town could imagine themselves to be.”

He added that while he did conform to wearing jeans, he set himself apart by avoiding the boots and pearl button shirts ubiquitous to his “kicker” peers. “The irony of it all is that I now wear boots, and I think shirts with real pearl buttons are the ticket. I guess the real key to not conforming—or at least feeling like you are not—is changing, as it’s the only constant. You simply have to find that place inside you that frees you and allows you to find self-expression.”

The summer of Sloan’s senior year in college, in Indiana, was a turning point in his life. One of his favorite teachers was “flamboyantly gay,” and while he didn’t have a romantic attachment to this professor, he was drawn to his confidence and intelligence. The professor was popular among his classmates, comfortable in his skin and never hid his sexuality. From then on, Sloan knew he had nothing to be ashamed of. “That’s when I realized it was okay to be this way.”

When it comes to coming out, the couple said they never really had to do it because they were always surrounded by supportive friends, and also because of their philosophy. “I call it ‘constructive engagement,’” said Hall. “[It’s] where you live your life, and people learn by observing who you are, what you believe in and what you are about. We’ve always been out—in the cities we’ve lived in, our friends. With my family, it was a challenge, but it evolved.”

Hall said he and his dad never really talked about it. His mom, who died three years ago after battling ovarian cancer, was always quietly supportive. Sloan said it was pretty much the same with his family. “We’ve lived it together,” Sloan said.

Even though they never felt the need to come out, and they employ their philosophy of constructive engagement, the couple remains somewhat reserved, and to this day, they still keep many things private. “We tend to edit or withhold parts of ourselves, because of fear,” Hall said. “But at the same time, we don’t give people a chance to step up to the plate.”

“People in our age bracket didn’t talk about it,” Sloan said, referring to their reserve. “In the ’60s, it was still considered a mental illness.”

Hall said when they first opened the San Antonio location, people would sometimes ask if they were a couple, and it bothered him. “I didn’t want to be so proper or so calculated that people wouldn’t know we were a couple. It was Alamo Heights; I think it’s a different time now.”

These days, the biggest challenge the two face as a couple is balancing their work and home relationship and juggling life in two cities. “We probably end up spending three to five days together per week,” Hall said. “We have to work at putting work aside and making time together each day that isn’t work.”

One key for them has been to change their style of communication outside the store. But living in two cities has its benefits when it comes to being both life and business partners. “It’s helpful for us both to have our alone time with our dual cities,” Hall said. “For me, making choices about what to eat that night or to go to the gym or skip it. Or for Marcus, to get up at 4:30 a.m. for CrossFit and not worrying about waking me up.”

When not working, the couple travels to their favorite haunts—Mexico City, Paris, Patmos and Capri—relishing good food and drink paired with a committed workout regime. Quiet time is spent spoiling their pup, reading, being with friends and family and taking in nature in the Hill Country. Hall grew up in the conservative Church of Christ faith, but these days, the couple regularly attends services at Unity Church Houston.

They are already enjoying the fruits of their labors as it relates to changes at the San Antonio and Houston locations. “The fall has shaped up to be an interesting time at the store,” Hall said. “We moved the San Antonio location to a beautiful historic building in Alamo Heights, and we are really hitting a nice rhythm there. In Houston, we doubled the size of our space last January, so we entered our busiest season with expanded spaces in both cities.”

Sloan said their customers’ response to the new women’s section has knocked their socks off. “We had no idea how positive the response would be,” he said. “I think we got lucky and hit it at the right time. There is so much growth and interest in what’s new in both cities. We’re super lucky.” And after three years of successful pop-up stores in Austin and New Orleans, another one is in the works.

The couple puts giving back to the communities that have supported them over the years at the forefront of their endeavors. Having spent time in the nonprofit arena, Hall said he believes we are all called to serve in whatever way we feel comfortable. “Whether it’s leading, advocating or giving, it’s a great legacy each of us can leave for future generations,” he said. Hall is a former board member of Fresh Arts and Hope Stone Dance Theater, in Houston, while Sloan has served on the boards of Diverseworks, in Houston, and the WEBB Party, in San Antonio. “We have had a wonderful time co-chairing parties and galas for the Orange Show Foundation, Fresh Arts, Glasstire and the Alley Theater,” Hall said. “We are always hosting parties and fundraisers at the store. We’ve done tons of in-store events for groups like Artpace and Blue Star, in San Antonio.”

The two often work a little celebrity into their events. Author, comedienne and late-night host Chelsea Handler and Christopher Ciccone, the younger brother of pop star Madonna, have each made appearances at the San Antonio location for book signings. In Houston most recently, Sloan and Hall held events honoring Live Consortium, the Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, Citizens for Animal Protection and Hope Stone Dance Theater.

It would seem that you can take a guy out of small- town Texas and put him in a cosmopolitan city, but you can’t take away his roots; Hall and Sloan are still traditional at heart, especially when it comes to love and their relationship. “I still believed in the dream of falling in love and living happily ever after,” Hall said. “Coming to terms with being gay when I was young, I still had that dream. It’s just that now, it’s with a man.”

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