Bringing Hispanic Heritage to American Fashion: Designer Stella Nolasco Showcases Puerto Rico on The Runway
Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the traditions, people and history of Latin American nations and on Sept. 16, while New York Fashion Week was in full swing, Puerto Rican designer Stella Nolasco did just that on a runway in Pier 59 Studios in Chelsea Piers. As Nolasco premiered her second NYFW collection guests got a taste of la Isla del encanto (the island of dreams).
Nolasco, a freshman in the fashion world, was only one of several Latinos showing at NYFW. Venezuelan's Angel Sanchez and Carolina Herrera, Cuban-American Narciso Rodriguez, Brazilian Francisco Costa, who presented his latest Calvin Klein collection, Mexican Gregorio Sanchez, Ecuadorians Gabriela Cadena and Christina Ruales and Lazaro Hernandez, the Cuban-American half of the duo behind Proenza Schouler, all presented new collections.
However, Puerto Rican Nolasco, in the spirit of Oscar de la Renta, who was famous for showcasing the Dominican Republic in his work, provides no better representation of Boricua culture than her Spring/Summer 2016 collection titled "POMAROSA."
Nolasco's collection of delicate fabrics like lace, tulle, and satin, decorated in floral embellishments, sequins and transparency, all pay homage to a vintage elegance and reveal hints of a modern sophistication. Her designs evoke femininity and emphasize the female body, as Latino culture often does, while focusing on detail. The looks aren't distracting, on the contrary, they require long gazes for full appreciation.
While the Aguadilla-born designer created the collection, there is one person to thank for Nolasco's vision: poet José De Diego, the father of the "Modern Puerto Rican Poetry Movement."
"On the edges of the old rivers, that carry their murmuring streams, in the hidden and shady forests, are born the Pomarosas, pale, hidden, aromosas, far from the sun like my verses" wrote De Diego in "Pomarosas," a poem that pays homage to the island's beauty and romance through detail.
When looking for inspiration for her collections, Nolasco always looks no further than the traditions and artifacts from own culture. Her previous collection, for Spring/Summer 2015, filled with bright colors and metallic embellishments, was inspired by the iconic "Santos De Palo," a collection of colorful saint statues used for religious practice in Puerto Rico since the 16th century.
"The romanticism, all the lace, designs that you see are characteristics of our heritage, our Spanish heritage," said Nolasco about her latest collection while backstage at her show. "The Latina woman is more flirty. Add that to the romantic aspects of the clothing and you have Latino culture."
However proud of her heritage, Nolasco is very aware of how incorporating history into her craft and learning from those before her helps her succeed in fashion, not just as a Latina, but as a designer, so when looking to imitate skill she turns to an Italian fashion idol.
"I love Valentino," gushed the designer. "He's the Maestro. He's classic but subliminal, not normal. He's out of the ordinary."
Like Valentino, Nolasco herself is out of the ordinary. Following the steps of famed Latin American-born designers Herrera, de la Renta and Sanchez, she is working on making a name for herself in an industry populated by Italian, French and British fashion houses.
To make it in fashion, a Latino needs to make it in the United States. The U.S., a nation of cultures, is fueled by consumerism and driven by trends.
"There has been a movement in fashion where designers are coming from different countries, that you don't associate with fashion, and selling that place to people," said Professor Eugenia Paulicelli, Director of the Fashion Studies Department at The City University of New York Graduate Center in NYC. "We have this concept that people are limited to place and embody that place. Some designers are cultivating this idea of representing their city, adding a sense of belonging and then selling it. Nolasco is a manifestation of this."
Paulicelli explains that a designer like Nolasco, who has been nourished in places like New York and Italy, where she studied at the acclaimed SACI School of Art, and can turn around and sell what is ultimately her culture, is a considerable success because, she adds, "People are consuming her looks, her culture."
In Nolasco's case being a Latina who isn't from the U.S. makes a difference, a difference that wouldn't exist if she was raised in New York because she would lack foreign appeal. However, Paulicelli does add that there is a sense of closeness with Nolasco, particularly in this case, a closeness with her roots through her designs, that everyday consumers, like Latinos striving to create a familiar space, now have access to.
There's awareness between issues of race and new consumers because of the interaction that is possible in the digital age. This interaction comes in the form of websites, social media accounts, live-streamed fashion shows and even lotteries to allow everyday consumers access to shows that are usually open to the elite and professionals.
This idea becomes that much more real when you consider that one very overwhelmed guest at Nolasco's show was a 17-year-old high school student from Georgia, on a college tour of art schools in the city, who wore Nolasco to junior prom and somehow got an invitation.
Nolasco's popularity among the elite, however, is growing as well. Her growing clientele includes the likes of Eva Longoria, who wore Nolasco to the 2014 ALMA Awards, Maria Elisa Camargo wore a sequined pantsuit to Premios Tu Mundo 2015, Dascha Polanco wore a lace dress to the 2015 NALIP Media Summit and actress Juliette Lewis' yellow Nolasco dress was named one of the best at the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar party.
The designer also created a wedding gown for Nuestra Belleza Latina 2012-winner Vanessa De Roide for her November 2014 nuptials.
Nolasco's name among Latinos continues to rise and coming to New York for Fashion Week, a city diverse and rich in Latino culture, not to mention one of the fashion capitals of the world, only bolsters her name more, and with her name, comes a stylish embodiment of Puerto Rico.
With her Spring/Summer 2016 collection, Nolasco did just that.
"I am proud to do so," said Nolasco about representing Latinos in fashion. "I work very hard to make all of us look good."
Check out the video below for a full look at Stella Nolasco's Spring/Summer 2016 Collection.
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