Esteban Cortazar: Colombia's Fashion Prodigy

Photo of Hazel Rowland
10 January 2017

Discover more about the life and work of Esteban Cortazar, the prolific fashion prodigy with an impressive back catalogue.

Courtesy Colombia Travel Colombia Moda 2010 Premiación Esteban Cortázar

Amidst acclaim and praise, Colombian designer Esteban Cortazar has a reputation for being the youngest fashion designer to debut at New York Fashion Week. In the summer of 1999, 18 year-old Cortazar began his fashion apprenticeship with Bloomingdale’s fashion director, the late Kal Ruttenstein, which eventually led him to design his own a Bloomingdale window display in 2002. We take a look at this innovative fashion prodigy.

‘It was a big moment for me, and I will always remember what Kal did that day’, Cortazar reminisces about his Bloomingdale days. The Colombian-born-Miami-raised Cortazar had an eye for beauty and fashion from an early age. Growing up amongst the models and photographers swarming South Miami Beach in the 1990s and hailing from an elite Colombian lineage gave Cortazar a keen aesthetic.

‘I’ve always been inspired by my heritage, especially living in Miami at a time when Latin music, art and design were making an impact on mainstream culture,’ Cortazar explains. By 2006, Etsteban Cortazar not only had the attention of Bloomingdales but also Henry Bendel and Neiman Marcus, as well as the looming watchful eye of media, with articles in WWD, Vogue and ELLE.

In 2007, Cortazar put his own fashion line on the backburner and moved to Paris, where he took up a position as the Creative Director for Emanuel Ungaro, a decision that garnered the 27-year old designer much critical acclaim. In 2009, Cortazar began focusing on the construction of his own fashion line once again. He left the Ungaro label when Lindsay Lohan was appointed co-director, but maintained his lifestyle in Paris and concentrated solely on the Esteban Cortazar collection. ‘There is something about Paris that challenges one intellectually, and it was here that I matured as a designer and learnt to refine my craft,’ said Cortazar on the subject of making the city of lights his home.

In Paris, Cortazar was able to hone his skills in developing a fashion line of his own – one that paid homage to his Latin heritage and combined it with both feminine structure and modern contemporary elements. ‘I wanted to create luxurious clothes that speak to cosmopolitan women around the world. It is a very personal vision; one that empowers women by making them feel beautiful and seductive at any age,’ notes the designer. In 2012, everything came together for Cortazar and he re-launched his fashion label with a Spring/Summer collection exclusively with Net-a-Porter – a contract that did so well that a second collection for Fall/Winter 2014 was soon commissioned. ‘I’m interested in exploring the future of fashion, and I decided to make my collections available in stores shortly after presenting them,’ Cortazar states.

Courtesy Porter Harvey

Net-a-Porter was a fantastic retail facilitator for Cortazar as it showcased his 20-piece line and his 18-piece dance-inspired line exclusively, yet it also gave him the freedom to design according to his own timeframe. The purchase orders placed by Net-a-Porter were based on Cortazar’s sketches, not physical samples. A panel of nearly 7,000 women linked with the business research aspects of Net-a-Porter helped hone the retailers order predictions, with data points detailing customer buying habits, taken from extensive research.

Beyond Cortazar’s Net-a-Porter contract, the Spring 2015 Esteban Cortazar collection is available in stores and ready-to-wear for the everyday woman. Cortazar was courted by and has enlisted the North American retail services of: Barneys New York and Beverly Hills, The Webster Miami and Holt Renfrew, all of whom showcase his buzzworthy new collection that debuted with the Paris Fashion Show.

Irregular hemlines of chiffon and organza coupled with asymmetrical leather cutouts of burnt orange, green and deep burgundy counterbalance each other on the moving female figure. Taking an accurate prediction of the pending fashion climate, Cortazar seemed to predict what pieces the buyers might favor. His line had already been shopped to buyers prior to its runway exposure, which allowed the line to be presented to the everyday woman almost as soon as it left the runway show – a strategy that has received as much praise as Cortazar’s designs.

Having started his career at such a young age, Cortazar has inevitably experienced drawbacks as well as privileges. The speed at which Cortazar was thrust into the limelight was nearly sonic. With emphasis laid on him as a young fashion prodigy instead of developing a strong brand, an identity crisis soon followed. A few years older and many years wiser, Esteban Cortazar has a slower approach with a clearer and more precise vision of what he wants to design and showcase in the Esteban Cortazar collection.

In a recent interview with the Business of Fashion Cortazar stated that, ‘Net-a-Porter has given me an incredible kick-start to re-launch my business and they’ve allowed me to fully express and build my own vision through their amazing global platform and I plan to have a number of pieces in the collection that will continue to be globally and 100 percent exclusive to Net-a-Porter. But the plan has always been for this push to help my business become fully independent and be able to start locking in additional investments, as well as to open distribution with the right offline partners and stores in key cities worldwide.’

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