Award-winning fashion journalist puts his own outrageous spin on San Antonio’s Fiesta scene
Michael Quintanilla ’78, B.A. Journalism
by Mary Denny
April in San Antonio means Fiesta, and Fiesta means fun, frivolity, and fashion, the more colorful the better. Merriment reigns supreme over this celebration of Texas independence, and for eleven hectic days the city is awash with pageantry, parades, parties, street fairs, and more than 100 festive events. If anyone personifies the spirit of Fiesta, it’s Michael Quintanilla ’78, who, for the third time, will be Grand Marshall of Fiesta Fiesta, the people’s parade that kicks off the celebration in Hemisfair Park on April 18. Marching behind him will be Rey Feo, King Antonio, all the Fiesta Queens, bands, and dancers. “Even the crowd joins in because I grab them as I’m marching through the Park,” he says. “That’s what Fiesta should always be about: inclusiveness and knowing that anyone can be a King or a Queen if they want, if just for a few minutes.”
True to form, Michael will be sporting one of the outrageously flamboyant ensembles he creates annually and which have earned him the moniker “Mr. Fiesta.” “Everyone wants me to show up in something that’s razzle dazzling!” he says. “That’s actually my look this year—bling, bling, bling!”
Sensational as that will be, it’s hard to imagine anything more memorable than his confetti-shooting cascarones hat. That ingenious design featured three giant cascarones on a hat that he had engineered with a funnel and a tube, through which he blew confetti everywhere. Paired with an old Prada suit he had covered with metallic confetti, that ensemble got him banned from several hotels. (Hotels do not like confetti.) Now when they see him coming, they jokingly say, “Oh, no! It’s Mr. Fiesta!” and Michael reassures them he’s not packing confetti. “I think they get as much of a kick out it as I do,” he chuckles.
This year you’ll spot the multitalented journalist emceeing a number of Fiesta events, including Lo Bello Women’s Association Champagne and Diamonds gala, the WEBB party at the Aztec theatre benefiting the AIDS Foundation, the Southside’s 4Paws Fiesta Pet Pageant Contest, and the Women’s Club of San Antonio’s Fiesta Hat Contest and Luncheon. He’ll also be among the judges at the University of the Incarnate Word’s Cutting Edge Fiesta Fashion competition. “I love emceeing and getting a crowd excited and involved, laughing, and making them feel special and important because they are,” he explains excitedly. He will also be one of six presenters at the Fiesta edition of PechaKucha at the San Antonio Museum of Art.
Some of Michael’s past off-the-charts creations will be displayed in the “Fiesta Passions, Fiesta Fashions” exhibit at the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, which runs through May 6. While co-exhibitor Graciela Carrillo offers on-trend Fiesta fashion looks, Michael says his contribution is “pure Fiesta fantasy.” It includes his massive butterfly hat that features butterfly kite wings, and his breakfast taco hat and taco chaps (with Jesus on a tortilla) “that boldly declares San Antonio the home of the breakfast taco– definitely not Austin!” Michael says the exhibit planners and the ITC executive director chose his collection because “it represents Fiesta culture, San Antonio culture, and most important of all, it’s art.”
A native San Antonian, Michael began his career as a cub reporter for the San Antonio Express News. Moving to the Los Angeles Times as a feature and fashion writer, he covered everything from the L.A. riots to Hollywood red-carpet awards season to International Fashion Weeks in Paris and Milan. While in NYC for Fashion Week in 2001, he became the L.A. Times’ ground zero reporter in the aftermath of 9/11.
Thirteen years ago, Michael returned to his hometown and the Express News and threw himself into Fiesta. In the beginning, he debuted his annual creations before colleagues in the newsroom, who dubbed him Mr. Fiesta. The name stuck, and Michael clearly relishes playing the role. Every year he creates a new hat “based on what’s hip, hot, and happening in pop culture, trending news, and interesting things across San Antonio.” He created the Quintanilla label for the Fiesta shirts he designed, which were sewn and sold by his friend and clothier Phil Zavala. He also created original digital content during Fiesta with an S.A. “Life of the Party” video feature. In one bit called “In Bed with Mr. Fiesta,” Michael and his videographer showed up at 5 a.m. at the home of Fiesta royalty and jumped in bed with Rey Feo and his wife for an interview. “The video went viral before viral was even a thing,” he recalls with a chuckle.
Once Fiesta is over, Michael will resume performing his one-man show, “Confessions of a Disco Maniac,” which he’s presented across the country from Harvard to Hollywood and into Canada. Accompanied by disco music, he dances and tells his personal journalism story. “The majority of my stories are about women,” he explains. “I owe everything to the women who have made me the man I am today, and that’s what this one-man show is all about.”
Michael retired from the Express News almost three years ago, but his love and enthusiasm for Fiesta and his zany creations remain undiminished. “I’m already thinking about 2020 and how much fun it will be to play with those numbers.” ¡Viva Fiesta!
Michael can be contacted at Discoconfessions [at] yahoo.com.