Yalary Fuentes’s life as a fashion designer started at age six in her native Mexico. She wasn’t necessarily making clothes from scratch, but she became quite adept at acting out dressmaking scenes from Disney cartoons by draping blankets on her grandmother.
At New York Fashion Week, the 23-year-old realized those childhood dreams when her designs were paraded on the runway. Fuentes was among twelve students from art institutes across the country to feature in this year’s student showcase at Lincoln Center on February 17.
Her collection of six looks, titled “Queen of Curves,” was inspired by the works of Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, who is internationally renowned for designing museums, opera houses, and sports stadiums that feature distinct curves. “Zaha is not the typical model woman, like fit and skinny,” Fuentes says. “She’s more about the brain.”
Fuentes learned design in stages over the years. Her mother, who is a florist in Mexico, taught her basics like sewing buttons, but in 2011 Fuentes took a six-month course at the EF International Language Center of NY, which allows its enrollees to simultaneously explore other subjects they are interested in; there she learned to thread a sewing machine and how to control it. She also interned with Ghanaian-born fashion designer Mimi Plange before returning to Mexico.
In 2013, Fuentes moved to New York from Mexico to pursue a two-year Associate of Applied Science degree in fashion design at the Art Institute of New York City. At AINYC, she discovered more complex fashion concepts, including how to find inspiration in the unconventional.
It was that lesson that led to her curve-themed collection this year. Fuentes recalls falling in love with Hadid’s designs in 2008 when she saw the “big little museum” project that the architect designed for Chanel. It was called the “Chanel Pavilion” and was installed in Central Park. Seeing Hadid’s futuristic designs pushed Fuentes to be more avant-garde with her collection.
“I loved the organic shapes that she used, the designs,” she says. When it came to the actual practical influences of Hadid’s architecture on her work, Fuentes reveals that she loved the organic silhouettes, colors, and textures of Hadid’s work. “I tried to find fabric to be like the same texture as the building. I used neoprene or I used plastic. Plastic is my main thing here.”
To attain the architect’s unique circles in her portfolio, Fuentes incorporated circles to create puffiness and curves in her clothes. Encouraging voluptuous or overweight women to embrace their bodies has also been a long-running pursuit for Fuentes. As a curvy woman herself, Fuentes rejects the idea that fashion should conform to society’s belief that “thin is beautiful.”
“I like to be curvy. Mexicans are curvy,” she says. “A lot of people in Mexico, they say, ‘Yalary, please, if you’re a designer, do something for my body, like curvy. I want to still look sexy. I don’t want to use some floral ugly pattern in a dress.’ Those kinds of things encouraged me.”
To conjure up her unique designs, Fuentes has a ritual she abides by: Working from her one-bedroom financial district apartment, she switches off her cellphone, blares loud music, whips out whatever inspires her — like pictures of Hadid’s designs — and begins to sketch.
“My house is my church,” she says of her creative process. “I start listening to music. Whatever the music wants me to do, I do. I listen. I see. And I draw.” She says she doesn’t take inspiration from “flowers” and “spring,” as many designers do. Her inspirations deviate from the norm. Besides architecture, she’s also inspired by philosophy, psychology, and contemporary art. She’s currently reading Sigmund Freud’s Introduction to Psychoanalysis.
The challenge, she continues, is balancing her creativity with wearability. After drawing like “crazy,” inexperienced designers like Fuentes have to rethink how to translate the designs to real clothes. “How is the girl going to enter the dress? How’s the girl going to walk? We’re not Marc Jacobs or Alexander McQueen that have a lot of [tailors] and a big budget,” she says.
Fuentes submitted her entries — sketches, inspiration boards, and garments — for the competition in October 2014, before graduating from the Art Institute. Those entries carried her through the first round and into the second stage, in which a jury of four professional New York fashion designers selected her collection, along with twelve others, from a pool of nearly fifty submissions from around the country.
“Her use of highly innovative materials such as plastic filament non-woven and elasticized ruched latex and her execution of her inspiration distinguished her work from the others,” says Jennifer Ramey, president of the Art Institute of New York City.
After this, Fuentes says she will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the business of fashion at Central Saint Martins, an art and design center at the University of the Arts London. Now that she’s figured out the creative aspect of her dreams, she wants to be able to market her designs. In the near future, we can expect her to translate her Freudian influences into sensual lingerie, she says.
Not everyone sees Mexico as a fashion hub, she says, but she wants “to show the world that Mexico has that talent.”