How Miami designer Esteban Cortazar took fashion world by storm

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 December, 2014, 4:34pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 December, 2014, 4:34pm

At 30 years of age, Esteban Cortazar has achieved more than most young designers could ever dream of.

He held his first show at New York Fashion Week as a 17-year-old, then went on to become the youngest person to helm a Parisian couture house at the age of 23. But his real talent, he says, has nothing to do with the sensual creations he sends down the catwalk.

"Ever since I was little, I've been able to do amazing impersonations. I can imitate the different runway walks of every top model from Naomi [Campbell] to Linda [Evangelista]. It was my thing," he says one afternoon at his Paris showroom.

Cortazar decided he was better off pursuing a career in fashion design and ever since has taken the industry by storm.

Born in Colombia and raised in Miami, Cortazar's introduction to fashion came through the glamorous world of 1990s South Beach. He lived above the city's famed News Café and a few blocks from Gianni Versace. He'd often spy fashion glitterati such as photographer Herb Ritts and supermodel Cindy Crawford in the neighbourhood.

He later enrolled at the city's Design and Architecture Senior High School, a secondary school specialising in artistic and creative disciplines. During that time he started to build the foundations of what would later become his first collection. It wasn't long before he held his first show at Miami Fashion Week. New York quickly followed at the invitation of his mentor and fellow designer Todd Oldham. While editors were hailing him fashion's youngest prodigy, he admits that he still had a lot to learn.

"When I was 17 it was about showing that I wanted to be a designer and that I could achieve it. My designs at the time were very Miami - it was colourful, with prints and sexy as hell. I always knew I wanted to celebrate woman and make her beautiful, but I didn't know exactly what I wanted to say," he recalls.

This all changed six years later when he was offered the role of creative director at French couture house Emanuel Ungaro. The fashion world was shocked that a relatively unknown 23-year-old was picked for the job, but Cortazar took it in his stride. Two years later, however, he left the brand after a high-profile dispute with management over several issues, including the pending appointment of celebrity Lindsay Lohan as co-designer.

Although it was tempting to return to the US, Cortazar opted to stay in Paris, where he connected with his French roots (his grandmother is French), fell in love and enjoyed the city. Fate intervened when friend and Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet approached him to create an exclusive capsule collection for the online retailer in 2012.

Cortazar decided to break the mould for his comeback. Instead of following the traditional model of presenting a collection to the press and delivering it to the stores six months later, he made sure his designs were (and are still) available to buy less than a month later. He produced only one collection a year.

"The first thing I thought was how can I communicate and sell this collection in a way it speaks of how the industry will be years from now?

"With Net-a-Porter it was all about immediacy and that was the strategy we wanted to put into place."

Now in his third season, his spring-summer 2015 collection, which is inspired by his personal journey, will be distributed to retailers worldwide, including Joyce in Hong Kong, Barneys New York and The Webster in Miami, with orders arriving this month.