Latin American Designers, A Profile

Globally, Latinos have been known for a lot of things. Being 'fiery', telenovelas, and not to mention, at times, dominating the worlds of music and dance. But when considering the contribution of Latin Americans, it's also worth taking a look at some of the quieter arts - such as design. Whether based in their home countries, the US, or Europe, Latinos, with their inherently varied cultural influences, bring a unique sense of creativity to fashion, accessories and jewelry. Here's an introduction to some of the most relevant names today... 

ESTEBAN CORTAZAR

latin american designers

Described by Vogue as "the most uninhibited designer showing in Paris", Esteban Cortazar deftly combines homage to his Latin heritage with more modern contemporary elements. The Bogatá-born designer draws on a multitude of influences from his childhood in Miami to Parisian couture, as well as his Colombian roots, to create his bold, progressive pieces, and it’s the diversity of each collection that appeals to the multi-faceted tastes of his growing following.

Awarded the Colombiano de Corazón (Colombian at Heart) for bringing a more positive image to his home country, Cortazar is also something of a pioneer, implementing a strategy to shorten the time from catwalk to store back in 2014, a subject that is dominating discussions within the fashion industry today.

  Backstage at Esteban Cortazar SS17

Backstage at Esteban Cortazar SS17

JOHANNA ORTIZ

  Photo: Andrea Swarz

Photo: Andrea Swarz

The off-the-shoulder styles and romantic ruffles that define the work of Johanna Ortiz have also come to dominate current fashion. The Colombian designer, and creator of the much talked-about Tulum top, returned to her native country to set up her own label after studying in Florida, and her fun, feminine aesthetic, which plays with volume and proportion, has garnered fans across the globe.

  Johanna Ortiz AW17 / Photo: vogue.com

Johanna Ortiz AW17 / Photo: vogue.com

AQUAZZURA'S EDGARDO OSORIO

  Photo: onpedder.com

Photo: onpedder.com

Born in Cartagena, which lies on Colombia’s Caribbean coast famous for its tropical climate and colorful buildings, it's perhaps not surprising that Edgardo Osorio always wanted to “create shoes that were positive and happy.” The designer behind luxury footwear brand Aquazzura, which he founded in 2011, is now based in Florence, and his elegant creations grace the feet of some of the world’s most fashionable women.

An ardent supporter of local craftsmanship, Osorio works not only with the artisans of his adoptive Italian home, but with those based in Colombia too - the neon-bright Mochila panels that featured on a pair of espadrilles he designed for his spring/summer 2015 collection were woven by the women of the Wayuu tribe.

  Aquazzura's statement-making Wild Thing sandals have achieved cult status

Aquazzura's statement-making Wild Thing sandals have achieved cult status

HAIDER ACKERMANN

latin american designers

A student of the prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp, Colombian-born Haider Ackermann, who is now based in Paris, launched his eponymous label in 2002. Choosing not to work with ever-changing themes, childhood travels with his adoptive French parents have been a constant inspiration throughout his career, and the bold colors, contrasting fabrics and elegantly draped layers that define his work clearly reflect his early nomadic life in exotic locations.

  Haider Ackermann AW17 / Photo: vogue.com

Haider Ackermann AW17 / Photo: vogue.com

YLIANA YEPEZ

  Photo: Theresa Balderas

Photo: Theresa Balderas

Bold, vibrant colors and imaginative details are the design signatures of luxury accessories designer Yliana Yepez. The Parisian-born diplomat’s daughter and former model, who now calls New York home, was raised in Caracas. She first found success in Venezuela, where at the age of 23 she co-founded local accessories brand BLUES by kyky, but with increasing political and social unrest in her home country, Yepez decided that it was in the best interests of both her family and her business to relocate to the United States. And it was there that she launched her eponymous label in 2013. 

In creating her designs, Yepez had always taken inspiration from the designers she came into contact with during her modelling days and her extensive international travels, but as a New Yorker and no longer designing purely for a Latin market, she decided to rethink her approach. “I started designing for myself and I just start thinking ‘what do I need and what is not on the market,’” she explained. She also always works in a subtle design to include her initials, YY, and gives each of her collection themes plenty of forethought, honing on a specific concept, sub-culture or moment in history. For her Autumn/Winter '17 collection 'Impossible is Possible', she considered the golden age of television, and how much has changed since leisure hours and family life revolved around the television. The multi-colored lines in many of the designs, such as below, were inspired by the vertical bars that would show up when channels went off the air. 

  The Layla Clutch from Yliana Yepez's AW17 collection 'Impossible is Possible" (coming soon)

The Layla Clutch from Yliana Yepez's AW17 collection 'Impossible is Possible" (coming soon)

SILVIA TCHERASSI

latin american designers

The first Latin American designer to be invited by the organizers of both Milan and Paris fashion weeks to participate in their official show calendars, Silvia Tcherassi has also been awarded the title of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government for her contribution to the fashion industry.

The Barranquilla-born designer, who is now based in Miami, began her career in 1987, designing t-shirts embellished with exotic skins. But she now presides over a company with several Colombian outposts, as well as a presence in Europe and her now-native Miami, where her bold yet distinctly feminine ready to wear collections can be found.

  Silvia Tcherassi AW17

Silvia Tcherassi AW17

OSCAR DE LA RENTA

  Photo: Alberto Lowe / Reuters

Photo: Alberto Lowe / Reuters

Born in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, Óscar Arístides Renta Fiallo, known professionally as Oscar de la Renta, served as an apprentice under Cristóbal Balenciaga in Spain, worked in Paris as a couture assistant at Lanvin, and then travelled to America where he designed for Elizabeth Arden’s then haute couture clothing line, before establishing his own label in New York in 1965.

Often citing the tropical vegetation and vibrant color palettes of his native Caribbean home as the inspiration for his designs, de la Renta’s striking and exquisitely detailed occasion wear became the brand’s signature. This earned its creator a lasting reputation as one of the industry’s foremost event dressers as well as a string of awards, including in 1990 the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award.

After stepping down from the label in 2014 due to poor health, de la Renta, who sadly passed away later that year after a long battle with cancer, was succeeded by his nominated successor, Peter Copping. However, after less than two years as creative director, the British-born designer departed the label. He was succeeded by Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim of Monse, both of whom had previously worked under Oscar de la Renta, and who continue at the helm of the house today.

  Oscar at the finale of his SS15 show

Oscar at the finale of his SS15 show

CAROLINA HERRERA

latin american designers

Carolina Herrera founded her eponymous label in 1981, following a move to New York and with the encouragement of her friend and then Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland. The Venezuelan-born designer’s elegant and refined clothes, known for their traditional rather than trend-led style, are worn by First Ladies and members of the A-List alike, and her own inherent sophistication has seen the designer featured on several best-dressed lists.

Today, the Carolina Herrera brand is home to a bridal collection, fragrances and a range of accessories, as well as its signature ready-to-wear; and the designer herself is currently celebrating an impressive 35 years in fashion’s top flight. She was the first Venezuelan designer to achieve international success, and now US-based was also the first American designer to be awarded The Women’s Leadership Award at the Lincoln Center’s Corporate Fund Gala earlier this year.

  Carolina Herrera AW17 / Photo: vogue.com

Carolina Herrera AW17 / Photo: vogue.com

NARCISO RODRIGUEZ

latin american designers

The son of Cuban immigrants, Narciso Rodriguez was raised in Newark, New Jersey and studied at Parson’s School of Design in New York before embarking on a career in fashion.

He spent time at Anne Klein and Calvin Klein, followed by design director positions at TSE, Cerruti and Loewe before establishing his namesake label in New York in 2001, and became the first designer to receive consecutive Womenswear Designer of the Year awards by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2002 and 2003.

Known for his sleek, streamlined collections which eschew excess and frivolity in favor of luxurious fabrics and clean lines, his name is also familiar to many as the designer charged by Carolyn Bessette, who he met at Calvin Klein, to create the gown she wore to marry John F. Kennedy Jr. in 1996.

Narciso Rodriguez has gone on to dress many other high profile women, perhaps most notably Michelle Obama when she celebrated her husband’s historical Presidential win in 2008.

  Narciso Rodriguez AW17 / Photo: vogue.com

Narciso Rodriguez AW17 / Photo: vogue.com

PROENZA SCHOULER'S LAZARO HERNANDEZ

  Lazaro Hernandez, right, pictured with Proenza Schouler design partner Jack McCollough

Lazaro Hernandez, right, pictured with Proenza Schouler design partner Jack McCollough

Originally from Miami, Cuban American Lazaro Hernandez was attending medical school before realizing that it was a career in fashion he wanted to pursue. And it was while studying at Parsons School of Design in New York that he met Jack McCollough, who would become his design partner.

Choosing to collaborate on their 2002 graduate collection, which they created under their mother’s maiden names, Proenza Schouler, it was not only a success within the school, earning the duo that year’s Golden Thimble Award, but also caught the attention of the outside world, and bought in its entirety by Barneys New York.  

Infusing classic silhouettes with futuristic minimalism and high-octane color, and with a range of accessories that have become perennial favorites, the pairs’ instant success, both critically and commercially, has showed no signs of waning.

Awarded the inaugural CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund in 2004, Proenza Schouler was subsequently named CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year in 2007, and the label is seen as one of the leaders on the New York fashion scene.

  Proenza Schouler AW15 Campaign

Proenza Schouler AW15 Campaign

DANIELA VILLEGAS

latin american designers

Deciding to follow her heart rather than her head, Daniela Villegas quit her college business administration course in favour of pursuing a more creative career path, and after spending time designing jewelry and clothing for companies in her native Mexico, she moved to Los Angeles in 2008 where she set up on her own designing jewelry full-time.

Her colorful one-of-a-kind pieces, handmade in her LA workshop, are inspired by a fascination with nature and two of her childhood passions: insects (she was an avid young collector) and fairy tales. "I love their colors and simple messages, " she told the Jewellery Editor’s Rachel Garrahan. "As adults, we tend to over-complicate things."

Her first collection consisted of just seven pieces, and this ‘quality not quantity’ approach continues to inform her work today. Precious stones and luxurious metals are carefully combined with organic elements such as feathers and woods to create her distinctive bejewelled bugs.

PAULA MENDOZA

latin american designers

Originally from Bogotá, former journalist Paula Mendoza was making jewelry for friends and family as a creative past time before setting up her own business following a move to the United States.

Influenced by her Colombian roots, particularly El Dorado and the rich red-hued gold of her native country, her pieces are considered by many to be works of art – a Jewelry As Sculpture course at Washington’s Corcoran Institute has had a lasting influence on her designs.

Despite being based stateside, her family run workshop in still located in Bogotá, and all her gems are sourced from Colombia. She is also an ardent supporter of fellow Colombian designers, her jewelry recently seen adorning the models on Esteban Cortazar’s AW17 runway.

A favourite of fashion editors and stylists, her statement pieces also attract celebrity fans, including Beyoncé who can be seen wearing one of Mendoza’s serpent-like bracelets on her wrist in her XO video.

  Paula Mendoza's Mira Duma Necklace

Paula Mendoza's Mira Duma Necklace

NANCY GONZALEZ

nancy gonzalez

Known for its innovative use of precious skins and distinctive color palette, luxury accessories brand Nancy Gonzalez is rooted in both Colombia and New York. The Nancy Gonzalez brand was founded in 1998 by the designer, who was born in Santiago de Cali in the southwest of Colombia, and her son, Santi, who understood the fine line the company had to tread to blend Colombian exuberance with a sense of sophistication.

The natural beauty and rich culture of Nancy Gonzalez's native country continues to inspire her celebrated designs, which are handcrafted locally by a team of skilled artisans.“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”, Santi once explained to WWD.com. Serving most recently as company president and creative director, Santi (Santiago) Barberi Gonzalez sadly passed away earlier this year at just 40 years old.

Santi also sought to foster social change in Colombia, and was diligent about training and employing local women so that “they could have careers, not just jobs,” he said last year as part of a panel at a Times luxury conference at Versailles in France. 

  Nancy Gonzalez crocodile cross-body bags in the brand's varied, punchy palette.

Nancy Gonzalez crocodile cross-body bags in the brand's varied, punchy palette.

MOLA SASA

mola sasa

A collaboration between designers Yasmin Sabet, Ines Sainz, and the Kuna indigenous communities of Colombia and Panama, Mola Sasa’s clutches exude a particular kind of Latin jet-set. Named after the Kuna tribes' traditional molas, the graphic, layered textiles they're made from, the brand’s clutches are truly unique. Molas are made by applying cut out layers of fabric on top of each other. The more layers, the more fine the mola. Each fabric is the particular design of the artisan woman that carefully works on it. Each Mola is a representation of the Kuna culture, their beliefs and traditions. Some tell a story and depict animals, people or situations, and others are abstract designs.

Sabet is a Colombian-Egyptian who lived in Colombia until she was 12, followed by the US and London, where she studied architecture and had a career as a furniture designer.  “Growing up, aesthetics was important in our home – but never in a superficial manner. Rather, beauty was never taken for granted. We learned to appreciate how Colombia is a melting pot of ethnicities; indigenous, African and Spanish roots. An immense cultural heritage that needed to be taken to the world”, she told The House of Satori Journal.
Each bag helps support, preserve and encourage artisanal traditions. View the Resort ‘17 collection here.

  Mola Sasa's one-of-a-kind clutches

Mola Sasa's one-of-a-kind clutches

PATRICIA PADRÓN

latin american designers

Having originally trained as an architect in her native Venezuela, Patricia Padrón moved to Madrid in 2008 where she completed a degree in fashion and subsequently set up her own studio.

Known for her avant-garde aesthetic, which deftly balances color, volume and weight, and her preference for working with linen and silk, Padrón’s designs display a commitment to craftsmanship and an eye for detail. Her debut SS17 collection, which was shown at Paris Fashion Week, was based on the Golden Ratio - most of the pattern making was calculated using the golden number 1.61803, believed by many artists and architects to produce the most pleasing shape.

Despite being made and produced in her adopted Spanish home, Padrón’s work is still influenced by her time growing up in Venezuela, which, she revealed to Vogue Italia, has made her “consciously aware and sensitive about my surroundings.” Indeed, the designer routinely draws on influences from her past travels and places where she has lived which she feels has helped her grow internationally.

  Patricia Padrón AW17 / Photo: theimpression.com

Patricia Padrón AW17 / Photo: theimpression.com