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“Seeing Gianni Versace having his coffee in the morning while I was waiting for my school bus,” answers Colombian designer Esteban Cortázar when we ask him about his childhood memories in South Beach, a place to which he now pays tribute in the form of a collection together with Desigual. The creative, who debuted at New York Fashion Week when he was just 18 years old, experienced first-hand the unmistakable energy that was present in Miami in the nineties. A unique ecosystem that he refers to as “a melting pot of all types of different people and cultures,” which he recalls in Cada día es para siempre, a proposal that celebrates optimism, good energy and colour; values that he shares with the Spanish fashion brand. And with his father, the artist Valentino Cortázar, with whom he has worked on a print inspired by the joy of living.

From Lucky Cheng's restaurant where he celebrated his 12th birthday surrounded by drag queens to the mix of the Latin culture boom, Versace and the rise of supermodels. Esteban Cortázar's eyes light up when he remembers the last years of the 20th century, which defined his way of understanding the world that he now relives in his new collection together with Desigual. “It's about remembering your roots, where you come from, and especially as a child when you feel so curious and open and ready to embark on your life,” he explains about the new collection, in which we find a revival of South's Beach photographic legacy by Andy Sweet, a vindication of a simpler and more relaxed lifestyle, and a carefree celebration of summer.

Printed dresses, colourful outfits and pieces with history and soul are found in the collaboration that has just been unveiled, according to Cortázar's vision in which aesthetics must always be accompanied by stories and experiences that bring meaning. “They gave me so much liberty, and I hope to be part of a new chapter for the brand that will attract a new generation of like-minded people!,” he comments on the creative process with the brand that has previously collaborated with creators such as Miranda Makaroff or Monsieur Christian Lacroix, and of which he does not hesitate to highlight the authenticity and its own personality.

It is precisely these values that have defined the career of the Colombian designer, who has decided to do things at his own pace, dissociating himself from rigid calendars, betting instead on the creative experience. “I have several new collaborations in the works that I will share are, but mostly living in the now!”

Originally from Colombia, you grew up in Miami, a city to which you now pay homage in your first joint collection with Desigual. Specifically, to the South Beach neighbourhood in the nineties, of which you highlight its spontaneity and creative spirit. What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of this place?
My home for 8 years, above the iconic News Cafe on eighth and Ocean Drive, seeing Gianni Versace having his coffee in the morning while I was waiting for my school bus. And also my 12th birthday at Lucky Cheng’s, where the waitresses were drag queens, and after asking several times to go there my parents took me for my birthday.
From the explosion of gay culture to the absolute freedom embodied by iconic photographers and designers from an era that will go down in history, many phenomena have made the last few years of the 20th century an iconic era brimming with creativity. What feelings do these years evoke for you? How have they influenced your way of seeing life?
These were very formative years for me as a person and as an artist, I feel lucky I experienced this time as a child. South Beach in the nineties was a melting pot of all types of different people and cultures. It was free and spontaneous. A mix between an incredible Latin culture, music, nightlife, photographers, Versace, all the supermodels, artists, eccentric retirees that would be super flamboyant and colourful. I think the mix of all of these things on a beach was so unique and special.
As time passes by and you look at all those references, you look at photos, memories, videos, you really realise just how special it really was and how much it shaped Miami into the city it is today. My father is always discovering places before they become popular, so I feel lucky that I went along for the ride when he decided to move there in 1990. It feels full circle to now do a project based around this time and to be collaborating with him and his beautiful art on one of the prints of the collection.
These experiences have inspired your way of understanding fashion, from colour to the celebration of your garments’ identity. And in your first collection with Desigual, you talk about the importance of celebrating life. Could you explain to us the motif of this new proposal?
Cada día es para siempre is a phrase that my father always says. It means: Every day is forever. To me, it means never forget those moments that really shape who you are. It’s about how we can reference the past to lead us into the present and future. It’s about remembering your roots, where you come from, and especially as a child when you feel so curious and open and ready to embark into your life. Those moments are so special, they’re so free. It’s important to remember them and allow them to help you shape your life.
As you just said, the collection is called Cada día es para siempre, a title that, while encouraging us to enjoy the present moment and make the most of life, is followed by timeless and versatile pieces. Who is this new proposal intended for?
This phrase also made me think that this is a collection inspired in the past, designed for today and wearable forever. It is intended for anyone who loves colour, summer, life, laughter, dancing, good vibes and culture! They are pieces that have a story, a soul. It was important for me to do something personal and connect with the audience beyond just another fashion collaboration. We wanted to bring a real story and something that will last forever.
You create multicoloured prints and designs and pieces that turn into a second skin that empowers and frees the wearer. Could you describe this creative alliance with Desigual in just one sentence?
Thank you, that’s a very nice compliment! This is a project that celebrates the things Desigual and Esteban Cortázar have in common. Optimism, good energy, colour, light, summer and joy!

You invite us to immerse ourselves in Miami through sensuality but also through a review of the historical archive of South Beach. Specifically, through a photographic patchwork of some of the images captured by Andy Sweet, who portrayed the seventies in an unmistakable light. What attracts you the most about his work?
Andy Sweet is a very big inspiration for the collection and a very big inspiration for South Beach history. I have been obsessed with his work for many years. His images during the late seventies captured that magical Miami light, Art Deco architecture untouched, and the lifestyle of the local residents, way before what later became a melting pot in the nineties. I feel lucky and honoured to work with his legacy and create a special print for the collection alongside my father. Best of both worlds!
His photographs convey carefree celebration and joy, a way of seeing life that is normally overshadowed by the infinite responsibilities we have, followed by our tough city life, full of deafening noises from traffic, for example. Should we let ourselves flow more and enjoy the here and the now more?
Yes! This is the way I try to live my life. It's important to shut out all the noise and go within. For this, sometimes it's important to be influenced by simpler ways of life, and these photographs do just that for me. I love big city life, but these days I am more attracted by something more simple and close to nature. It gives me more life and inspiration.
Identity and personality are two essential values for any creative. As you already mentioned, you have decided to collaborate with your father, the artist Valentino Cortázar, in a piece that is perfectly integrated into this new proposal. What can you tell us about this collaboration?
It feels so exciting and personal to collaborate with my father and support one another. I've been collaborating with him for several years now and this project felt like a perfect evolution. He has lived all over the world, from Greece to Ibiza, to New York, South Beach, and now Cartagena. Always searching for that perfect untouched spot that gathers creatives and easy-going life.
I am genuinely inspired by his work, his use of colour, his eye, and most importantly his philosophy for life and his 'alegría de vivir.' For the collection, we worked on a print based on one of his most iconic styles of black, white and red brushstrokes of couples kissing, which is a style very much formed during his time in Miami.
In addition to the importance attributed to the enjoyment and celebration of life, what other values do you share with Desigual?
When I was invited to do this beautiful project with Desigual, I noticed we have way more in common than I thought. Optimism, love for art, summer, collage, good vibes, and being open-minded. I respect Desigual for being original, for not copying anyone and for having a distinct point of view. They gave me so much liberty, and I hope to be part of a new chapter for the brand that will attract a new generation of like-minded people!

Many people foresee a boom in collaborations after the pandemic. Perhaps joining forces among creatives is the only way to stay on the market in an industry that is sometimes defined by competition and limited resources, don't you think?
Agree! I am all about collaborations in general. Whether it is with my team, family, colleagues, or with a brand like Desigual, it's about listening, sharing, learning from each other. I have never been a very competitive person, as I feel this also brings darkness and pressure that I don't like. I am me and do my thing for those that want to be a part of it and everyone is always welcome into my world.
Desigual is one of the pioneering brands in betting on the collaborative format, inviting different designers with whom it shares its philosophy of life (and fashion) to work together. From Monsieur Christian Lacroix to María Escoté or the unmistakable Miranda Makaroff, what does this collaboration mean to you? How do you feel?
I feel very grateful and proud! It's been a huge pleasure and I can't wait for the world to see what we did together.
How has the creative process been? I guess you have reconnected with your childhood memories and past experiences, embarking on an emotional journey. What do you miss from that time?
My creative process is very personal always, and I try to include personal experiences into my work. My life is full of stories I want to share through my work! I've wanted to do something around my childhood on South Beach in the nineties for a long time, and this just felt right. What I miss the most is that carefree attitude and spontaneous way of life, which I am now searching for again.
The collection is presented as a unisex proposal, however, in its campaign, all the garments are worn by women. Could you explain to us how you would classify this new work? Does it make sense to divide fashion by genre, nowadays?
It was important for me to create pieces that can be worn both by men and women, and this is reflected in the campaign. Of course, there are some sexy dresses and skirts more for girls, but they are also welcomed to be worn by anyone that desires to wear them! There are no rules in this collection, and this I love.

The process of blurring the borders between menswear and womenswear has come at us way too fast and we’re also facing a large part of the sector that is demanding a slower pace. Do you think the fashion system will change forever from now on?
I hope so! We need more time to create and make things that have soul, and not just for fast commerce.
You work at your own pace and rhythm, detaching yourself from imposed calendars and analysing when and how you want to unveil your work according to your own vision. What do you think of fashion shows? Is it the most effective formula or does it depend on each brand?
I do think it depends on each brand. For me, I decided to do my own thing at my own rhythm. Dancing to the beat of my own drum as they say! I grew up with fashion shows and started showing when I was 17, so I have a special place in my heart for them. I will do a show when the time is right, and I don't know if it will be a runway or what it will be. I believe in the power of gathering people to share a creative experience.
And what about sustainability? What significance does it have in Cada día es para siempre?
It is a responsibility that not only fashion brands have, but we all have as human beings. We all need to be more conscious and more responsible in our actions every day. It was very important for Desigual and me to include sustainable and eco-friendly processes for the development of the collection, and the way we chose the fabrics, how we did the prints, the buttons, the zippers and the details.
What’s left of the Esteban Cortázar who debuted at New York Fashion Week before turning 18? What has changed since then?
So much, I feel I am only starting even though I have been doing it for more than 20 years! I want to do more for my country of Colombia! I want to live in different places like my father did... What has changed is that I am not as afraid of change as I was before. In fact, it makes me excited to do it my own way.
This collection celebrates the present moment, as it is difficult to predict the future in these uncertain times, however, what can you tell us about your next projects?
For now, I'm excited to finally launch the collection and project after working on it for more than one year. I have several new collaborations in the works that I will share soon! But mostly living in the now.

David Alarcón
Poncho Paradela

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