The BoF Podcast | How Esteban Cortázar Got His Groove Back


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Esteban Cortázar first fell in love with fashion as a teenager growing up in Miami. Over the years, his career in fashion has come with lots of ups and downs. After he became one of the youngest designers to ever present at New York Fashion Week he had to shut his label down. He went on to become the creative director of Emanuel Ungaro at just 22 years old, before leaving after he disagreed with the owners’ plans to bring on Lindsay Lohan as a consultant. He relaunched his eponymous fashion house but it closed during Covid. Now, Cortázar is launching ‘Donde Esteban,’ a new brand on his own terms, on his own schedule, celebrating his roots in Colombia, Miami and Ibiza.

“Where we can lack as young designers or as designers doing independent brands is that it’s really like a puzzle,” says Cortazár. “And you have to have all of the pieces in place for it to work. Having an investor is certainly not enough, you really need to have all of the different angles in place, especially today, to be able to sustain a business.”

This week on The BoF Podcast, Cortázar joins me to share his career journey and the lessons he’s learned about building an independent fashion business today.

Key insights:

  • Born to a Colombian painter and former British jazz singer, Cortazár’s childhood straddled continents, lifestyles and subcultures, all of which has greatly influenced his artistic sensibilities. “I grew up around a very bohemian environment through my family and my parents — colours and paints and oils and instruments. That already set the tone of a very artistic point of view from a very early stage,” he says.
  • Emulating what he saw in the fashion magazines he devoured as a teenager, Cortazár’s early shows were always organised to a professional standard despite his young age and lack of training.
  • Cortazár jumped at the opportunity to become creative director of Ungaro at the age of 22. “I knew how much questioning there was going to be from the industry about me and my age, my experience, my lack of experience. I just took it and I went for it because I knew that that kind of opportunity wouldn’t just continue to come like this.”
  • Heavily influenced by his upbringing, Cortázar’s new label Donde Esteban is somewhat of a homecoming. “My take on fashion has changed and evolved and I wanted to create something that felt so authentically me, that really celebrated the multicultural aspect of my life. The fact that I was born in Colombia, grew up in Miami, then went to New York, then went to Paris, that I spent all my summers in Ibiza.”

Additional resources:

  • Turning Point | Esteban Cortázar, Comeback Kid. Before the debut of his second capsule collection with Net-a-Porter, set to launch on July 17th, designer Esteban Cortázar spoke to BoF about why leaving Ungaro was the best decision of his life, his new business model, and why slow and steady wins the race.
  • Esteban Cortázar Tackles Fashion’s Timing Gap. For Paris-based Colombian designer Esteban Cortázar, designing and pre-selling a trans-seasonal collection, delivered eight weeks after fashion week, is the solution to the ‘broken’ fashion system.
  • Unlikely Directions at Esteban Cortázar. Esteban Cortázar’s pairing of Berlin nights and gymnastic inspiration made for a stirring, if unlikely, combination.

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