Esteban Cortazar is a Paris-based designer known for his fast-tracked rise within the fashion industry. At the age of 17, Colombian-born Cortazar became the youngest designer to stage a show at New York Fashion Week. By age 22 he was a member of the CFDA, and at 23 years old, he earned the title of Chief Creative Director of French fashion house Emanuel Ungaro. In September 2012, Cortazar turned to Net-a-Porter to revive his eponymous line through an exclusive capsule collection that begged for a sequel. Last week, Cortazar picked up where his last collaboration with the luxury retailer left off with the launch of his much-anticipated second collection on Net-a-Porter – a selection of 23 structural and versatile pieces in a color palette of charcoal, black and grey.
What was it like growing up in the ’90s in Miami? What was the fashion culture like for you?
The ’90s in South Beach were magical years, and now that more than a decade has past, it makes me feel very lucky that I was there during that time. SoBe was a little art deco village full of retirement homes with some pretty eccentric characters. I lived with my father above the legendary News Cafe on Ocean Drive, where Gianni Versace had breakfast every morning when he was in town – he was one of the first introductions I had to fashion. It was a very authentic, artistic and bohemian town with incredible gay culture, night life, vintage stores, and galleries mixed in between little bodegas and the amazing Cuban culture. It was then that so many fashion people from NYC started to come down to shoot or hang out, so my playground was basically to watch the super models, photographers like the late Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, Madonna, Todd Oldham and I wanted to be part of that world. Those were the “glory” years of South Beach.
You showed your first collection at age 17 at New York Fashion Week, how scary was that experience? Would you do anything differently now
It was not scary at all! I think probably because the younger you are, the less pressure you feel. I guess I felt I did not have much to lose…and in fact those thoughts were not even in my mind. I just wanted to express myself, but in a professional way and the way that I was seeing it around me, so NY was it! There was no other way. When I look back now, I would not change anything because that is what got me where I am today and I am happy I lived some experiences at a young age that have taught me so much for what I am doing now. I do think many things happened too fast too soon, and that can be dangerous at times, but I have taken the best from those experiences and now I’m able to know exactly what I want and how to make it happen.
How did you end up in Paris working for Emanuel Ungaro coming out of design school in Miami?
That was an opportunity that came about very suddenly. I was walking down the street in NYC and my lawyer called me to talk to me about it. Next thing I knew, I was on a flight to Paris to meet with the owners and CEO. The interview process took about 2 months and I was locked in a hotel room producing sketches and ideas for weeks at a time. It was very exciting but scary at the same time. Working at Ungaro and living that whole experience really made me grow up, and it gave me a much deeper understanding to what I do.
What happened to your line during the Ungaro years? Did you think you would ever re-launch a namesake collection again?
When I was approached for the job, I knew that I had to put my line on hold for a period of time and focus on Ungaro one hundred percent. It was the smartest thing to do, otherwise it would have been way too much. I always wanted to re-launch my namesake collection at one point, but I knew that when I did do it, it had to be with the right partner and in an innovative way that spoke to the future. Then, the amazing opportunity with Net-a-Porter came about, and it not only felt like a perfect way to re-launch, but I was also so excited to work on such a global level and with such a great team of people that want to nurture and support me.
What were you working on in between leaving Ungaro in 2009 and re-launching your collection?
The project with Net-a-Porter took a good two years to come into fruition, from the beginning talks I had with Natalie to presenting them with a concrete project, idea and collection. In 2010, I worked on a big collaboration for the Latin market where for the first time I developed a collection for a mass audience and at very affordable prices. It was a perfect transitional project and it also was a good way to touch base with my Latin roots.
How instrumental was your experience at Ungaro to launching your own collection?
Very instrumental! The two years I was there felt more like 10 to me. I learned so much about so many different aspects of the business and the craft. It made me understand things at a much deeper level and around a team of incredibly talented people. When launching my own collection now, I naturally implement many of the things I learned there.
How did the revival of your namesake line with Net-a-Porter’s Natalie Massenet come together?
Net-a-Porter and I were already working together when I was at Ungaro and they were buying the collection. I felt a very natural connection with Natalie and her team and we became friends. A couple months after leaving the house, I was leaving a show during Paris fashion week and ran into Natalie, which is when she proposed I do a collection exclusive for Net-a-Porter, an idea that sounded like a dream! Then the conversation and idea became bigger and they decided to give my business a full kick start to help me re-launch my line globally.
With your new business model, how do you see your brand growing in the next five years?
I see it growing in a slow and steady way…little by little. What is amazing is that with just one partner like Net-a-Porter my brand and collection has been introduced and reintroduced to so many countries worldwide. This gives me a better understanding of which markets to develop and what next steps to take. The idea is to start expanding the business into offline stores while maintaining the online exclusivity with Net-a-Porter. I will start presenting officially again during fashion week, but that will be when the time is right.
Do you have plans to extend the collection to retailers other than Net-a-Porter in the near future?
Yes, we are already working with Maria Luisa Printemps in Paris among other boutiques.
Is stocking with one e-commerce site enough to sustain your business?
Net-a-Porter has given both the collections and me incredible support in every way, which has been way more than enough to get started. I look at them as strategic partners. Going forward, we will start expanding with the right offline stores in key cities.
Who would you name as your contemporaries in the world of emerging fashion?
I respect very much talents like Christopher Kane, JW Anderson, Anthony Vaccarello, The Row, among others. They are all very different but have created such an amazing language for themselves that have excited us all.
The exquisiteness of your designs and wearability of the shapes are a testament to this resurgence you’re having – what can you tell us about your second collection for NAP?
You put it in a very good way, because that is exactly what it is. It has been a new beginning for me and I have been focused on the shapes, lines and gestures of the clothes rather than too many colors, prints and decorations – it felt like a natural, pure and focused way to start again. The new collection is really a continuation of the first one and an exploration of these lines, curves, gestures and angles of the body. The collection also has an injection of athleticism and sportswear elements that the first one did not have.