Born in Bogota: Esteban Cortazar is Fashion's Boy Wonder


Born in Bogota: Esteban Cortazar is Fashion's Boy Wonder

Model Hanne Gaby and Esteban Cortazar for the Exito lookbook
Photographed by Jaime Rubiano, courtesy of Interview Magazine

By Kimberly Reyes (@CommDuCoeur)

What were you doing when you were 13?

While some of us were learning how to skateboard, getting braces, or hanging up posters of our favorite boy band, Esteban Cortazar was on a mission that took him to New York Fashion Week and put him right in front of American designer Todd Oldham and Bloomingdale’s (now deceased) Director of Fashion Kal Ruttenstein.  What unfolded in the years that followed was the promising career of one of the industry’s youngest and most talented creatives.

This fashion fairytale begins in Bogota, Colombia, where the first and only child of jazz signer Dominique Vaughan and artist Valentino Cortazar was born on May 17, 1984.  In 1995, the Cortazar family moved stateside, immersing young Esteban in the eclectic glam of Florida’s South Beach.

“Coming to Miami was a culture shock because I was able to see drag queens, I saw designers, I saw fashionistas, I saw so many things,” Cortazar told NPR in a 2004 interview, “I was just a little boy, but that’s all I could see!”

Inspired by his new surroundings, Cortazar quickly emerged as a young fashion force.  By the time he was a pre-teen Cortezar had established himself as a local style maven and landed his first professional gig as a window dresser for a vintage boutique.

In 1997, after receiving word that Todd Oldham would be in town launching a new store, the ambitious 13-year-old visited the location and presented his sketches to Oldham.  The iconic American designer was both impressed and intrigued by Cortazar, and invited the boy to attend his New York Fashion Week show as a special guest.  Cortezar was invigorated by the experience, and even staged a Little Red Riding Hood-themed runway show for his elementary school.  Cortezar’s 30-piece debut caught the attention of Beth Sobol, coordinator of Moda Miami/Miami International Fashion Week, and she included half the collection in a group presentation.

At age 19, Cortezar finally hit it big, launching his eponymous line for the Fall/Winter 2002 season under Kal Ruttenstein’s tutelage.  A direct result of his mentor’s tremendous faith in the hard-working rookie, Cortezar’s first ready-to-wear collection was displayed in the windows of Bloomingdale’s flagship store in New York.  Cortezar had plunged head-first into the fierce world of high fashion – and hasn’t looked back since.

As Cortezar’s skills matured, so did his attitude towards being a fresh face in a sea of established designers.  Right away, Cortezar’s sensible approach to competing with the big boys shone through, as he worked to obtain the perfect balance between creative innovation and commercial appeal.  Cortezar’s vibrant color palette and affinity for drapey, flowing fabrics quickly acquired a large celebrity following; Cortezar caters to an impressive roster of A-list clientele that includes Eva Longoria, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Amber Valletta, Kim Cattrall, Beyoncé, Ashanti, and Paris Hilton.

By 2005, Miami Beach awarded Cortezar with keys to the city, and he was featured in the pages of W, Vogue, and the New York Times.

In 2007, Esteban Cortazar made headlines all over the world when House of Ungaro tapped him to be their new Creative Director.  Just a month after accepting the position, Cortezar announced that he would be parting ways with the struggling haute couture label due to a professional conflict.  The conflict’s name was Lindsay Lohan, whom Ungaro appointed as Artistic Director.  Refusing to be part of a PR stunt meant to revive the Ungaro brand, Cortazar quickly exited Ungaro’s revolving door of designers.

On July 26th of this year, Esteban Cortazar opened Colombiamoda, Colombia’s premiere fashion event.  His collaboration with local retailer Exito attempts to combine trends from the Paris and New York runways with the unique culture of his home country.  Cortazar’s comeback employed a rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic comprised of body-hugging leather and dangerously edgy cutouts.  Pops of color and busy prints that echo Cortazar’s Latin roots punctuate the outfits, while heavy layering suggests influences from Bogota’s mountain climate.

(Photos courtesy of Papayazi.)

When asked to discuss why Cortezar chose to mark his return with a collection for Colombian women, he replied:

“Women here are the epitome of what a Latin woman represents: flamboyant, sexy, feminine, curvaceous.”

Having achieved more by the age of 26 than most designers have achieved over decades, only time will tell what the future holds for the industry’s most talked-about young prodigy.


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