• Rolando Santana

    2012 November 6

    Direct From Mexico City: Meet Designer Rolando Santana!

    (NEW YORK) The Daily headed south on Friday for the Mexico City edition of Moda Nextel, ringing in its 16th iteration in the Mexican capital with a showing of three Spring ’13 collections, all making their encore runway struts for the occasion: Custo Barcelona, Pepa Pombo, and Rolando Santana. Also of note? Coco Rocha as the marquee mod of the event and Mexican singer Christian Castro closing the show with some crooning (en Espanol, of course). Before the catwalk fracas commenced, The Daily sat down with New York-based Santana over tea to discuss his biz prowess, subtle influences of his Mexican heritage surfacing in his designs—and the sublime Mexican comfort food he can’t live without. A jaunt to Mexico not required, though…Santana shared his fave Gotham spot to chow down on the delish dish!
    BY ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV

    What brought you to Mexico over the weekend?
    It’s such a nice homecoming, since I’m originally from Mexico.  One of the major editors from a magazine in Mexico called me one day because she’d been following me—and wanted to know why nobody knew about me in Mexico. It was really because I’d finished growing up in New York! 

    What’s your design backstory?
    I came to New York to study business as an undergrad, then I studied fashion at FIT. I always knew I’d end up in New York, though I didn’t know how or when. But fashion has been in my life since I was born: My mom was in the fashion business in Mexico. So I’ve been around fabrics, fashion, and magazines my entire life. Now, I’m onto my seventh collection for Spring ’13.

    Does that business degree come in handy nowadays?
    It’s so important to treat fashion as a business. To me, the process is 90 percent business and 10 percent creative! I would love to have the time to make that [creative] 10 percent closer to 30 percent. But when I take off that business ‘hat’ and put on the creative one, I’ve got Neiman Marcus coming in to review the collection and I have to focus again. I’m not in this industry for the spectacle, and at the end of the day this will always be a business for me. I know I want to be in business next year…and the year after. After I design a dress, it’s more important for me to see it hung in a department store than on the runway. When a store calls because they’ve sold out of a particular dress? That’s a rush!

    Do you distribute your namesake line in Mexico?
    We do have a lot of Mexican customers, but they come to the U.S. to buy our designs. There is huge potential here, and it has to be channeled properly. We actually don’t sell in Mexico yet, so Moda Nextel was great exposure for us. It’s just about timing. Our business is slowly growing in the States, so we really want to take baby steps and make sure that when we’re ready, we’re fully ready to expand. This event is a great platform to answer a lot of questions people have about the brand, and introduce it to this audience. We also do a contemporary collection, and that will probably be perfect for Mexico. |

    What about your RTW?
    That will have to be carefully curated for sales in Mexico. Our clients from Mexico are the type that will go to Texas or New York to buy Rolando Santana at Neiman Marcus. 

    Do you cull inspiration from your Mexican heritage?
    I always want to think internationally as a designer; I never want to be cornered as just a designer from Mexico. I don’t want to do Mexican embroidery! But one of my collections, for Spring ’11, was inspired by a Mexican architect, Luis Barragan. He’s known for incredibly simple structures and the use of cement.

    How did that translate to wearable fashion?
    Beautiful, simple clothes done in bright colors! There’s a famous staircase by Barragan that was particularly inspiring for one of the dresses in the collection, for example. But it wasn’t done in a craft way—it was a sophisticated inspiration point, the dress wasn’t all about that detail, it was just incorporated into it.

    What’s happening in your 2013 collection that hit the Moda Nextel Mexico City catwalk?
    It’s all inspired by water—from Acapulco; Marseille, France; and Iceland. So, I touched upon Mexico in that collection with the Aculpuco inspiration, but it was a subtle influence.

    Who do you hope to dress in your confections one day?
    The people I envision wearing our clothes are actually our clients. Of course, I wouldn’t say no if someone who has the aesthetic and look of our brand wanted to wear Rolando Santana walked in and wanted to wear my designs. But I’d rather have someone spend $6,000 on a gown than lend that same gown to someone else who’d ruin it! Yes, the artistic part is wonderful and all—but you’ve got to pay for that.

    How would you sum up Mexican style?
    This country has changed so much. Women in Mexico are embracing fashion in a really different way than five years back. Designers in Mexico used to be so obsessed with imitating U.S. designers, and customers were crazy about logos! You still see that, but women here have more defined senses of personal style today—they’re not trying to look like someone else. 

    Who’s your Mexican style icon?
    María Félix! She was an old time actress; Mexico was such a glamorous place to be in the forties and fifties. A select group of women, sure, but they dressed incredibly! Maria was not only a style icon, and very beautiful, but she was a very strong woman and she didn’t care what anyone else thought about her or her clothing. Same with Frida [Kahlo]! 

    What do you miss most about Mexico when you’re stateside?
    The food! Chilaquiles is my absolute favorite: it’s tortilla chips soaked in green salsa made from tomatillos, with chicken and heavy crema.

    Nom nom! How do you satisfy that hankering back in NYC?
    There’s this little place on 17th Street called Suenos that makes an amazing version! Sue Torres, the chef, is incredible. I run, not walk, to that place when I feel like chilaquiles. 

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