Yesterday afternoon, the Hearst Tower in Midtown Manhattan welcomed some of the most powerful Latinx fashion designers working today: Narciso Rodriguez, Gabriela Hearst, Maria Cornejo, Willy Chavarria, and Fernando Garcia, the co-creative director of Oscar de la Renta and MONSE. They were joined by ELLE’s editor-in-chief Nina Garcia, along with curators Tanya Meléndez-Escalante and Melissa Marra-Alvarez and artist Ruben Toledo, to discuss the history and bright future of Latinx fashion for our Beauty of Latinx Design summit.
The theme of the talks spanned conversations around politics, sustainability, and craftsmanship, but a central thread was diversity. Not just of ethnicity or nationality, but diversity in thought, elegance, and perception. “Over the years I have observed how Latin creators have stopped being the exception,” Garcia said in her opening remarks. “Our Latin community is defined by diversity.”
Melissa Marra-Alvarez, Tanya Meléndez-Escalante, and Ruben Toledo.
Meléndez-Escalante and Marra-Alvarez recently worked together on an exhibition at The Museum at FIT called “!Moda Hoy!” that explored past and present Latinx designers. “There had not been a fashion exhibition that looked at Latin America comprehensively in 25 years,” Meléndez-Escalante told the audience. The exhibit, which ended in August, featured the works of many of the designers featured in the summit—along with several additional ones—and aimed to not only showcase contemporary works, but also to highlight the continuing legacy of Latin America. “Our biggest intention was that we wanted to highlight that there is not one monolithic Latin style,” Marra-Alvarez added.
That diversity of design was very apparent when looking at the works of the designers present: Chavarria’s latest runway show featured a blend of sharp suiting and deconstructed T-shirts that paid homage to Chicano culture; Cornejo’s designs are oftentimes timeless staples; Oscar de la Renta is known for regal excellence; Hearst’s sustainable ethos is evident in her lasting designs; and Narciso Rodriguez’s feminine shapes regularly set the internet aflame.
Narciso Rodriguez and Fernando Garcia.
Despite their differences, these designers have at least one thing in common: their work ethic. “I know that I was not the most talented intern, but I stayed the latest and I worked the hardest,” Garcia said, reminiscing about his early days in the industry.
A playfulness and joy is another thread bringing these trailblazers together. “When I think of Latinos in America, we’ve had to suffer oppression,” Chavarria started. “But the Latin culture has remained resilient. We come back with color and flowers and laughter. We’re part of such a vibrant culture.” This was a sentiment echoed across many of the afternoon’s talks. “If you’re not fighting for your survival, you have a duty to have a joyful experience,” Hearst said, referring to her recent runway show during Paris Fashion Week.
Carolyn Bessette Kennedy in Narciso Rodriguez for her wedding to John F. Kennedy Jr.
That passion for joy was precisely what led Rodriguez to create what may be considered one of the most iconic garments today: The wedding gown worn by his dear friend, Carolyn Bessette, for her 1996 wedding to John. F. Kennedy Jr. “I couldn’t navigate that moment,” Rodriguez said, referencing the major attention his burgeoning brand received overnight. “It would’ve been a great PR moment for a different company. But it was a great personal moment for me.”
Gabriela Hearst and Nina Garcia.
Authenticity was yet another uniting force for these designers. “I always tried to do things in an authentic way. Maybe it is rebellious, but I didn’t know another way,” said Cornejo. It was that quest for creating an authentic experience that led to Hearst’s inaugural campaign for Chloé. Photographed in Mexico, the images featured Mexican model Andi Venegas. “When I saw this massive image of a Mexican girl wearing a poncho I thought, ‘I did something right,’” Hearst said, through tears. Her latest show marked the end of her time at the helm of the European brand, but she’s confident that her legacy will continue. “For me, it was very important to show that I come from South America. I think we’re taking over. They don’t know what’s coming. Look at the landscape now. I’m really proud. It’s a beautiful culture to belong to. And we have a lot to offer.”
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Tatjana Freund is Hearst’s Fashion & Luxury Commerce Editor, covering beauty, fashion and more across multiple brands. Previously, she worked at ELLE.com and Marie Claire. She’s a fan of whiskey neat, podcasts that give her nightmares, and one time Zoë Kravitz laughed at a joke she made.