For a designer whose big day is drawing closer, Rolando Santana’s calm composure is admirable. Inside his sixth-floor show room in New York City’s Fashion District on a recent Friday morning, Santana gently pushes several mannequins into place before he sits down to talk.
As eye-catching as his fall collection is, the real reason for this chat is the 39-year-old’s latest labor of love –- his Spring Summer 2013 Collection.
As New York Fashion Week draws to a close this Thursday, Santana is one of many designers prepared to show what they’ve meticulously been working on for months.
Meticulous is just one way to describe Santana’s new collection, which boasts manipulated fabrics and mostly shades of blues and greens. The theme is “For the Love of Water,” and the idea behind it struck Santana during his recent travels to Mexico and France.
The New York-based, Cuernavaca-born designer recalls arriving to Acapulco late one night.
“When I woke up the following morning, I looked out the window and I was in this amazing hotel, there was literally water all over,” Santana describes. “It was just a really beautiful sight that struck a chord with me.”
That’s where his upcoming collection took root and with it, the obvious color choices of blues, greens, and sprinkles of coral.
From Cuernavaca to New York City.
Santana also has a collaboration with Manolo Blahnik -– two shoes from the famed high-end Spanish designer will debut at his show, in addition to a line of chic sunglasses, in collaboration with OPTX rhode island.
But first, we need to understand the inspiration behind the show, one of the hottest tickets at this year's NYFW.
Santana says the body of water has its rough, strong elements to it, but can also be calm and soothing. Somewhat romantic.
“As with everything I do, I think there is a strong and a soft side that you marry together,” he said, “and it becomes a collection.”
To capture the sea in his collection, Santana used very soft translucent fabrics like chiffon – as well as special jacquards with textures that resemble water. There’s also pleated cotton that represents waves.
To handle fabrics with such expertise isn’t something Santana picked up. It’s part of the designer’s story, which he shares as he sips his coffee (which was lovingly prepared by his boyfriend, who is a Mexican textile designer).
At age 5, Santana was already a budding designer. He’d spend a chunk of his free time back home in Cuernavaca observing his mother make garments and patterns through her small business. She later transitioned to production in a factory.
“I pretty much grew up around the factory and learning about fabrics, cutting, and making garments by just watching my mom,” Santana says. It was fun for the designer, who said he preferred playing around his mother’s factory than engaging in school activities he didn’t care for.
Santana’s the first to say his childhood was very unconventional. He’d split time between helping his mother at the factory and tagging along with his father, who worked as a wholesaler of fruit. The father-son duo would travel all over Mexico, chasing seasonal fruits – a never-ending cycle of buying and selling.
They were two opposite worlds – and the perfect education for Santana, who went on to study at FIT in New York and later worked at Spenser Jeremy and Donna Morgan. He launched his own line in 2009 and is now actively involved in both the business and creative sides of his company.
As you can imagine, it’s difficult for Santana to detach himself from work – because he doesn’t view it as work.
“I feel that I’m very lucky to be able to do what I do, but at the same token, I have a huge responsibility to the people who work for me,” he says. “You never really disconnect yourself from it.”
He jokes that he’s banned from having a phone beside his bed. Or maybe he isn’t joking.
It’s difficult to disconnect, though – especially more so now because of Fashion Week. By 11:30 a.m., his assistant and two master sewers are already in the office. His mother, too. Santana says she flies in to NYC for Fashion Week to help him and his team of five.
Santana declares he has no muse – no one specific person he gazes lovingly at. His designs are for every woman.
“To be chosen is really to be chosen by them [women],” he says, “to wear your clothes.”
Santana added that the women who inspire him the most are those who buy his collection.
After the interview, Santana strolls over to where his clothes are neatly hung. He first shows me his fall collection – and then turns his attention to the new collection. Santana holds up a jacket – which looks heavy, but is actually quite light.
Later, the designer walks to his office, which he shares with one of his master sewers (who bends over a sewing machine in concentration).
Along one wall, his entire Spring Summer 2013 collection is manifested in sketches – thin women colored in brown marker and drawn as though they’re walking down a runway.
Santana sits down at his desk for a few minutes to type away and catch up on his voicemails. Behind him is a collage filled with photos of family members and friends, stacks of magazines, vintage Vogue covers, notes, and even shoes.<
Santana knows that the fashion industry is cutthroat, but it’s what he’s always wanted.
“Anything is hard… it’s not just because you’re breaking into a certain industry,” he says. The designer adds that if one applies themselves, anything can be achieved.
“It sounds cliché,” he admits, “but it’s not.”
At the end of the day – this is a business, Santana says. Just what he learned from his father.
“The glamour and the photo shoots and all that… that’s just the icing on the cake,” he says. “But the reality of it is that you’re running a business, and you should treat it as such.”
When asked how he feels now, Santana admits he feels very nervous as his show draws closer. Rightfully so -- there’s a lot to take care of, like making sure that every piece is perfectly made, and fitting as many models as he and his team can before the show.
The designer’s invitation-only Spring Summer 2013 Collection show takes place tonight at NYC’s Eyebeam Studio and will feature a painting by Brooklyn-based artist Ran Ortner as its backdrop – the piece is called “Open Water No. 24” and depicts the ocean.
One more look at Santana’s clothes and it’s clear who his target is.
“I want them to feel their best and I think that, aside from being a strong woman and confident… there’s also that softer feminine side to every woman that I always like to address when I’m designing,” he tells me.
Like the sea.