SPECIAL FEATURE: AW Celebrates Women’s Fashion at NYFW with New York, Latino Fashion Designer, Raul Peñaranda
We enter a romantic interlude when encountering, the garment that makes us feel like a queen. The perfect dress or ensemble has the power to transform the woman wearing it. Selecting the right dress, down to the fabric, color, style, and fit produces many feelings. Joy, admiration, appreciation, excitement, awe, nostalgia, and anxiety are some of the emotions that can arise when putting on a dress. Have you ever looked at the facial expressions of a young girl, as she tries on a Sweet 16 gown or a woman who puts on a luxurious evening gown or wedding dress? Connections are made to a person, place, or moment. It will be a garment weaved into a collection of lifetime memories.
The first time I experienced such a sentiment happened during prom season. My parent’s modest earnings made it challenging to buy a lavish dress for the high school dance. The best option was to purchase a pattern, fabric and have it sewn from scratch. Luckily, my mother’s cousin was a seamstress and couldn’t be more excited to help with the project. I remember every detail of the black, sweetheart strapless, lace overlay dress but what I remember most is the way I felt, wearing it.
New York Fashion Week (NYFW) begins September 8th. The highly popular, fashion extravaganza was born as Press Week in 1943. The turmoil of WWII thwarted our country’s fashion media from visiting Paris for the big shows. As a result, Americans saw an opportunity, they rolled out the red carpet all over New York City for these events. Every year in February and September, brands, “houses” and designers unveil their newest collections. The trendy industry shows are drenched in glamour and glitz, as fashion designers share their vision with the media, buyers, and fashionistas of the world.
This year, many eyes will be on Colombian-Venezuelan, Fashion Designer, Raul Peñaranda. The talented creator has been featured in WWD, Vogue, CNN, Forbes, People en Espanol, FOX, New York Post, NBC, Popsugar, and LA Times. Most recently, he took his brand to new heights by partnering with former Calvin Klein, Tom Murry, as CEO of Raul Penaranda LLC. Raul is a force of creativity who is making an impact with his designs and kindness.
In honor of NYFW 2021, AW brings a special feature with the gifted designer. During our Zoom interview, we discuss his inspiration, upbringing, sage mother, collaboration with Swarovski, and upcoming REVIVE presentation. It was an absolute delight to chat with the energetic Latino. He was friendly, warm, with positive energy that radiated the screen. I have no doubt readers will enjoy this beautiful interview!
A couple of years after Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Forbes named you “One of the fastest-growing entrepreneurs to come out of the small business industry.” More recently, Vogue-Mexico named you “The New King of NYFW.” Despite all the recognition, you seem to have your feet planted firmly on the ground, remaining humble and grateful. Your mother did a fabulous job with you. When you think back to your upbringing, career, and the man you are becoming. How has your mother influenced you? This is a woman’s platform, women are important – mothers are important, so we want to hear all about mom. I’m thankful for my culture, roots, humble beginnings because when you don’t lose the prospect of where you come from, you can reach for the stars – that’s the beauty that people can see. I was lucky to learn from the master, Oscar de la Renta. He was that guy that when I worked for him, he was powerful but kind, luxury with softness and I feel like the luckiest designer in the world for all of it.
My mom is basically everything I am, as a human being and designer. She shaped me into who I am, as a man and shaped the values that I want to share with the rest of the world. She is the person who taught me from a young age, two important things – you can be anything you want in the world. You can achieve greatness as long as you keep humbleness, sensibility, and compassion right there next to you. My mom is a driver in my life. She was a seamstress which is where I got the idea to empower women through clothes.
You are into your 22nd collection, designing for women. Your designs are elegant, sophisticated, sometimes, whimsical. Simply stunning! In an interview, you referred to yourself as a storyteller instead of a designer. Can you share why you refer to yourself as a storyteller” and what is the best or favorite story from your entire collection? You have the keywords, whimsical, seductive without being trashy, and elegant without being old. I will never forget to put that Latin touch in a way that is subtle, yet powerful, that is what makes our brand completely different from the others.
The best story is the story that has vulnerability and little mistakes. I can create magnificent pieces but behind that perfection, there is a human being with fears, and nervousness when showing a collection to over a thousand people in the media, editors. The story does not have a specific way of being said but it has the emotion. An emotion of confidence, and the human aspect is always part of it, too. In my career, this resonates with everyone, I make mistakes every day. I want to make sure that in my life “My best t-shirt was my last mistake.” The collection will be the best that I can do, knowing I am also a human being.
I participated in one of our recent Instagram LIVE interviews and noticed, you have many awesome mom stories. What is the best advice she has given you that has served in your personal and professional life? My dad was the disciplinarian, my mom, the foundation and energy at home. She always told me “You always have the choice to answer based on love or answer based on fear, it is up to you. Nobody will make you feel bad without your consent.” For example, someone may say, “Your skin color is too dark to be in fashion week.” If I act based on fear, I will be mad at the statement but if I act based on love, then the person doesn’t know me, I will show with action what I’m trying to do.
September 15 to October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month. Congratulations on your collaboration with Swarovski! You are the third Latino outside of Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera in 100 years to have this opportunity. An upcoming presentation at NYFW will be an all Latino production, models, makeup artists, hairstylists, producers. Amazing! You are making an impact in the fashion world. You already have made such a difference, what would you like your legacy to be? I am humbled to follow the steps of pioneers such as Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta. In the beginning, I’d ask everyone to give me a chance, a second of their attention. The moment I started focusing on the dress, print, and fabric, let the dresses speak for themselves, that’s when I got the attention when I wasn’t looking for it. Swarovski is a symbol of refinement, they asked for this collaboration. I want to take the opportunity not only to show my work which comes from my heart. I want to demonstrate that everything that comes from the RP world has Latin DNA.
We had many jewelry companies looking to collaborate on the show. I chose to go with Patricia Robalino from Palm Beach, she brings exquisite jewelry. We also have Paula and Oscar from Colombia doing the look book and production. Nails by Luis from Colombia. The main model is from Puerto Rico, Priscilla Huggins, who is doing a campaign for Guess, and our casting director is from Panama. It is a great opportunity to show the world that we, Latinos are passionate and can be at the same level as the big guys in Europe.
Your designs demonstrate such an appreciation for femininity. Where do you find your inspiration? It is about the personal emotion that I’m going through in my life at that moment, as a human being. The emotion can be happiness or sorrow. I want to celebrate either of those emotions. When I grab the pen and paper, drape a piece of chiffon, somehow those emotions give me the tools to create a collection. This collection coming up is called REVIVE because after we went through the pandemic, I think that we have to become a better version of ourselves in order to exist.
AW likes to end interviews with a positive message. What advice can you give the younger generation hoping to break into the world of fashion based on what you have experienced? My life and my story are the same stories you are having, right now. Today, I am a testament that with dedication, humility, and resilience, everything is possible. Nothing is impossible and miracles take a little longer. Be different, make mistakes but learn from them. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t and the world can be yours!
AW looks for stories to inspire, empower and encourage women. This special edition with Raul Peñaranda was chosen to celebrate women’s fashion, as well as, showcase a designer that appreciates a woman’s elegance, femininity, and power. His mother gave him wings to fly when she empowered him to believe in himself, remain true to who he is, and go for his dreams. He is setting a high bar, another example of how we can accomplish what we set out to do by putting in the work and trusting the mission that aligns with our truth.
It is important to highlight the men that show up for women. Raul is an example of someone who respects and appreciates the influence of women in the world.
AW is extremely honored and grateful to Raul for lending his time to share his story with AW! I hope you watch our interview in its entirety on AW Confidential’s YouTube channel, so many great moments that can only be appreciated by watching the episode.
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