Guest Author - Rebecca M. Cuevas De Caissie
Many credit fashion trends to Italian and French designers. No one can deny the influence and contributions that the French and Italian designers have made in the fashion industry. But some of the most common names in the fashion scene as well as some of the most influential designers are in fact Hispanic or from Latin America. So who are the Hispanic Designers? I am sure you are familiar with the names. What are the contributions to the industry? When I mention the names I am sure you will know some of their contributions. As I go through the impressive list, I will tell a brief story of each designer and their contributions to fashion as we know it today.
Beginning our list is none other than Oscar de la Renta. Oscar de la Renta, was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. He left his native Dominican Republic at age 18 to study painting at the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. While living in Spain, he became interested in the world of design and began sketching for leading Spanish fashion houses, which soon led to an apprenticeship with Spain’s most renowned couturier, Cristóbal Balenciaga. Later, Mr. de la Renta left Spain to join Antonio Castillo as a couture assistant at the house of Lanvin in Paris. In 1963, he came to New York to design the couture collection for Elizabeth Arden. In 1965, Mr. de la Renta began his signature ready-to-wear label.
In the Dominican Republic, Oscar de la Renta has helped build two much-needed schools incorporating orphanages and day-care centers in La Romana and Punta Cana.
The 1,500 children attending these schools come from a variety of disadvantaged backgrounds. There are also special classes for the deaf and mute, as well as for the blind. Proper meals, medical and dental facilities and a loving, caring staff assure the health and well- being of the children.
For his immense contribution to fashion, the arts and other charitable causes, Mr. de la Renta has received France's highest honor, Commander in the Legion d'Honneur.
In the United States, Oscar de la Renta is a tireless patron of the arts. He serves on the boards of The Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, Thirteen/WNET and Hispanic Designers. He is also on the board of important cultural institutions such as UNICEF, the Americas Society and The Spanish Institute. In the spring of 2000, Oscar received the Gold Medal Award from the King and Queen of Spain.
Paco Rabanne was born in Spain in San Sebastian, in the Spanish Basque Country. Growing up under the constant borage of bombs, his family later took refuge in Paris fleeing their country due to their affiliation with the republican party. In Paris he studied architecture and later bridged this into fashion designing which due to his back ground had profound repercussions on the fashion industry.
Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949) was born in Granada, Spain, to a family of artists. The Fortunys lived in Paris and Spain and eventually settled in Venice, Italy, after his father's death in 1874. Inspired by his surroundings and encouraged by his family, Mariano became a painter. Fortuny's artistic interests covered a range of creative endeavors, from sculpture, photography, and interior design to stage and set design and stage lighting. His interest in dyes and chemistry led him to textile and costume design, areas for which he is best known today.
Influenced by Orientalism and neoclassicism, Fortuny created lush and decorative fabrics. Using a mixture of hand and screen painting to decorate his fabrics allowed him the freedom to experiment and design. His most famous design was the "Delphos," a classic pleated tea gown he began making around 1907 and continued until his death. He considered his dress concepts to be inventions, and in 1909 he patented the pleating process and the machine he invented, and copyrighted the design of the dress. Although his textile designs and clothing were in constant demand, he always considered himself a painter.
Antonio Del Castillo (1908-1984), born in Madrid to Spanish upper-class parents, studied architecture at the University of Madrid. In 1936, at the onset of the Spanish Civil War, he left for Paris to embark on a diplomatic career. Instead, he began designing dresses, hats, and jewelry for the fashion houses of Paquin, Piquet, and Chanel. Castillo, together with Balmain, Balenciaga, and Dior, was considered one of the most promising of the new generation of Paris designers to emerge after World War II.
From 1964 to 1969, Castillo headed his own couture house in Paris. In 1971, Antonio Castillo won the Academy Award in costume design for the film Nicholas and Alexandra. Elizabeth Arden, wanting to be the first to bring Paris fashion to New York, persuaded Castillo to work in the haute couture department of her New York salon in 1945. His first collections won rave reviews. Castillo remained with Elizabeth Arden until 1950. He also designed costumes for the Metropolitan Opera and Broadway shows.
Luis Estevez (b. 1930) was born in Havana, Cuba, to a family of sugar growers. Estevez attended prep school in the United States, returning to Havana to study architecture. A summer job at Lord & Taylor in window display led him to a career in fashion. He apprenticed at the House of Patou in Paris to learn couture. In 1955, after returning to the United States, Estevez began designing under his own name for the manufacturer Grenelle. His goal was to produce couture-like clothes at a moderate price. This was a time when American designers were being recognized and promoted by stores and magazines.
His first collection was an immediate success. In 1956, he became the youngest designer to win the Coty Award (the American Fashion Critics Award). His designs are slender and simple, with intricate revealing necklines.
In 1968, Estevez moved to California, where he designed for various firms, television, and movies. He also produced custom-made clothing for Hollywood celebrities. During the 1970s he designed clothes for First Lady Betty Ford.
Cristobal Balenciaga Eisaguirre (1895-1972) was born in Guetaria, a fishing village in the Basque region of Spain. His mother, a dressmaker, taught dressmaking to the girls of the village and to the young Balenciaga. His deftness with the needle was evident at an early age when he successfully copied a Paris-designed dress for one of his mother's wealthy clients.
After apprenticing with tailors in San Sabastian and Madrid, he opened his own shop in San Sabastian in 1919, frequently traveling to Paris to purchase couture dresses to study and to sell. Eventually he opened two more houses in Spain, naming them after his mother, Eisa. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War forced Balenciaga to leave Spain in 1937 and to establish a fashion house in Paris.
Admired for the sophisticated, timeless style and cut of his designs, he developed a large American clientele before and after World War II. Balenciaga was revered by his fellow designers. They called him "The Master" because he created some of the most powerful styles of the twentieth century. His work was both austere and extravagant, focusing on proportion and making certain that the cut of the cloth followed the lines of the body, always allowing freedom of movement. His daywear dresses, suits, and even hats were simple, practical and elegant. His evening designs allowed room for frivolity, using elaborate fabrics, heavy beading, feathers, and wide, puffy skirts.
Many of his designs were inspired by Spanish regional dress and influenced by paintings of the old Spanish masters. In 1968 Balenciaga closed down his fashion house in Paris noting that the type of lifestyle that had supported high fashion was disappearing.
This collection of stories of great designers who are of Hispanic Origins is just an introduction to the many other designers new and old who helped a society define themselves through making a fashion statement. It is my hope that this appetizer of information will prompt you to search out and find more information on great Hispanic Designers who not only work in the industry but make a mark on it as well.
Much of this information and images can be found online at the The Costume Collection at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. There is a wealth of information and images of the Hispanic Designers collection found on their web site as well as other designers not featured in this article. I hope you have enjoyed this article and I encourage you to search out the stories of each designer as well as discovering newer designers for our times. After all, knowing the influence of Hispanics on culture is always in fashion.