A few of weeks ago, a couple of hundred fashionistas packed themselves into what was once probably a warehouse, in the now fashionable area of Chelsea, New York City. Rolando Santana’s Spring/Summer 2013 collection, shown as part of NY Fashion Week, had drawn them there. Santana is one of the USA’s young rising stars of fashion. Inspired by the ocean, this, his seventh collection, focused on elegant, wearable silhouettes — which Santana describes as having an “effortless” feel — combined with highly embellished fabrics. The result: dresses that flowed and sparkled like the waves – some calm, some dynamic, some daring. I watched the show that evening, and caught up with Santana a few days later in his studio, to find out more about who he is, what inspires him, and how he sees his work.
PoS: Your from Mexico originally. Did you come to the US to study fashion?
RS: It was actually to study at high school. I always knew that I wanted to come to New York City. So, later, I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology right here in the city.
PoS: To do women’s wear?
RS: Yeah, I did fashion design, specializing in eveningwear. But, before that I got my bachelors in international business.
PoS: And you got an MA after that. What year was that?
PoS: And did you work for any other designers?
RS: Yes, I worked for three companies before I opened my own. My first job was as an assistant designer in the area of sportswear. Six months after that I was promoted to dress designer. I spent eight years with that company. And, it was probably the dream job for someone graduating out of school. It was really amazing.
PoS: And, so, how long have you been doing your own collection?
RS: Three years. Since 2009. We just had our show for the seventh collection. My first collection was Spring 2010, and we just launched Spring 2013.
PoS: And, are you expanding rapidly? Or slowly? Or?
RS: I wanted it to be slower, because, we’re really lucky to capture the attention of a lot of stores, but also having that many stores is a huge responsibility. You have to be able to produce in a timely manner, to really build a relationship with the stores, and having them know that you’re consistent, and that you’re able to deliver. That’s the most important part. You can have a show and a great collection, but if you’re not able to manufacture or deliver it that’s shooting yourself in the foot.
PoS: Do you sell just in the US? Or in Europe?
RS: We have a couple of stores outside the United States, in London and Hong Kong. And we’re launching in Canada for Spring 13.
PoS: In Toronto?
RS: It’s going to be throughout the country. It’s something brand new, and we’re ironing out all the details.
PoS: Your latest collection, Spring 2013, was inspired by the sea.
RS: By water, yeah. I had traveled quite a bit before, when I was just gathering all my thoughts. I happened to be in Mexico a few times, Acapulco, and also in Marseille, and in Iceland, so it seemed that everywhere I ended up I was surrounded by water, so that was the main inspiration for it.
PoS: Most people would go somewhere and get inspired by the architecture or something, but water is more universal, and it’s also more ethereal and abstract.
RS: Yeah, I think there’s so much in terms of just the color story of the collection. You know, water… it can be crystal clear; it can be darkened with a lot of force — with the waves of the sea — and there can be texture created from it. So that’s how we play with the fabrics… all the embellishments. We took sequins, and exposed them to heat, and it changes the shape of the sequin, so it was as if they resembled seashells. And we used very special finishes on the fabrics, for example, putting a metallic coating on it… so if you’re staring at the sea, you see just this glimmery, shiny texture to it, and it’s something that you can actually recreate to put on fabric, to give that allusion.
There’s also a lot of structured fabrics in the collection, with texture, and we played around with them to make them softer and a bit more feminine. I think my collection definitely has a very feminine touch.
PoS: Do you see different types of woman as being like different types of ocean?
RS: Yeah, it can be like that: very serene, very calm, very romantic, a very soft personality. Then there’s really dark shades of blue for someone a bit stronger.
… And also, offering clothes that you can wear throughout the season, whether it’s for a morning luncheon or a cocktail party at the beach. We play with the length of the garments, so you can have something that could be worn daytime versus a cocktail dress that could be worn in the evening.
This season we didn’t want to concentrate a lot on gowns, but we do have pieces that could be used even for a black tie event, but with a very soft, and almost a very relaxed, casual tone to it, so it’s not so tight. So, you can wear the dress for a black tie event or for dinner by the beach. We wanted the girls to look effortless… they spend a day at the beach and then put a beautiful piece on to go out to dinner. That was the feeling that we wanted to create for the collection.
PoS: Are you hand embellishing the fabrics?
RS: Yes. We actually have several pieces with heavy embroideries on them, and yet there was a lot of transparency, such as with the sweaters. Some of them are completely transparent, but they have a lot of work on them. We wanted to create a texture… under the reflection of the lights. But we also wanted it to be effortless for the wearer… almost just to create a texture on the skin. It’s almost like sunbathing. It’s radiating on your body… And, again, we wanted to play with the sequins to create that feeling of seashells, but yet there is no color to them, so it’s just a feeling of wearing something on you but it’s freeing, there’s nothing constricting about it.
PoS: [Referring to a white sweater, embellished with transparent sequins, on show in the studio.] It’s knit, right?
RS: It’s full fashion knit, and it’s made of superfine nylon yarn, so when you look at it up close it actually has all the fully fashioned marks — but there’s no color… which is really cool — and then it’s hand embellished on top.
PoS: So, how long would it actually take to hand embellish?
RS: That piece probably took ten days.
PoS: That’s quite extraordinary. One of the things I really loved in your collection — and I think got a good reaction at the show — was the peacock feather-embellished garments.
RS: Yeah, that was really beautiful. I wanted them to look relaxed in a way, even though they were luxurious. It’s just the ultimate luxury in terms of how it’s made. But in terms of the actual pieces, they’re something that you can just throw on like a tee-shirt. But, when you have it on it’s just ‘wow’! It’s just the material that is used, and the way the feathers are placed. They are actually placed upside down so it creates a bounciness.
It’s really beautiful to encounter all these different materials. You know, I sketch my ideas for the entire collection, and what it will look like, but then you start playing with the fabrics and draping them… With the feathers we could only achieve the look if we placed them upside down on the fabric, but you don’t think of it until you’re making it. Then once you see it live, and once you do the fittings on the models… it makes your ideas come alive.