Amid a new era of increasing peace and financial flourish, Colombia is firmly making its mark on the global fashion scene. Despite its reputation as a hotbed for craftsmanship and talent, the country’s troubled political and economic past had hampered its creatives. But the handful of now-established names who broke through these barriers have since been joined by a wave of new local talent, who are bringing their rich cultural influences and unique designs to the wider fashion public.
And while some Colombian designers include details that stay true to the country's tropical and exuberant roots, it's worth noting that many of the nation's creatives are flying the flag for a much broader, more avant-garde aesthetic. Here we profile five of Colombia’s top creatives, who are contributing to the country’s growing international success.
Born in Santiago de Cali in the southwest of the country, handbag designer Nancy Gonzalez (pictured above with company President and Creative Director Santiago Barberi Gonzalez) now splits her time between New York and Colombia, and it’s the natural beauty and rich culture of her homeland that continue to inspire her celebrated designs. Known for her innovative use of precious skins and distinctive color palette, the designer’s collections, which are still handcrafted in Cali by a team of local artisans, now retail worldwide. Most recently, Nancy has collaborated with New York-based artist and designer Brian Donnelly, known professionally as Kaws, to create a line of luxury bags. Featuring his signature crosses, the limited-edition collection launched at Paris concept store Colette last month. “It’s very difficult to be colorful and have a sense of humor and be from Colombia and not be tacky, and remain so refined as our brand is”, explained company president and creative director Santiago Barberi Gonzalez to WWD.com. “Kaws was great for that, because his work has a sense of humor and is colorful, but it’s so incredibly sophisticated”.
Haider Ackermann studied at the prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp before launching his eponymous collection in 2002. Now based in Paris, the designer was born in Santa Fe de Bogota, a downtown district of Colombia’s capital, and spent much of his childhood travelling with his adoptive French parents. These nomadic early years have informed Haider’s designs throughout his career, his signature bold colors, use of contrasting fabrics and elegantly draped layers have clearly been inspired by his personal experiences in exotic locations. As he told The-DVine.com, “I don’t work with themes, my work is so personal, it’s a continuation of what my life is about”.
Johanna Ortiz’s dramatic designs have defined this spring/summer season. The creator of the much talked about Tulum top has seen her off the shoulder styles and signature romantic ruffles dominate current fashion. The Cali-born designer studied in Florida before returning to her native Colombia to set up her own label. Known for her fun, feminine aesthetic, Johanna’s designs also surprise, with clever combinations of volume and proportion. “Latin American women are very sensual and feminine, and they enjoy making the most of their beauty”, she told Harpersbazaar.com, “I always have this in mind when designing; I want women to feel their best and to feel free to have fun when they wear my clothing”.
Edgardo Osorio launched his luxury footwear brand Aquazzura in 2011. Born in Cartagena, which lies on Colombia’s Caribbean coast famous for its tropical climate and colourful buildings, its perhaps not surprising that the designer always wanted to “create shoes that were positive and happy”, and his elegant creations now grace the feet of some of the world’s most fashionable women. Now based in Florence, Edgardo is an avid supporter of local craftsmanship, and not just the artisans of his adoptive Italian home. It was the women of the Wayuu tribe in Colombia who wove the neon-bright Mochila panels of a pair of espadrilles he designed for his spring/summer 2015 collection.
The youngest designer to debut at New York Fashion Week, Bogota-born Esteban Cortazar deftly combines homage to his Latin heritage with more modern contemporary elements. Awarded the Colombiano de Corazón (Colombian at Heart) for bringing a more positive image to his home country, the designer, who is now based in Paris, draws on a cacophony of influences from his childhood in Miami to Parisian couture, as well as his Colombian roots, to create his bold, progressive pieces. Described by Vogue as "the most uninhibited designer showing in Paris", Esteban is also a pioneer, implementing a strategy to shorten the time from catwalk to store back in 2014, a discussion that is dominating the fashion industry today.
Shop the designers' latest collections via the links below: