Antonio Ortega - fall/winter 2003

It is unreasonable to think that anyone could have foreseen the magic Antonio Ortega would spin at Montreal Fashion Week’s Designer Debut.

His first official collection is the very essence of couture, and apparently couture is the very essence of Antonio Ortega; at the tender age of eight he stole secret moments with his mother’s sewing machine and any magazine patterns he could get his hands on.

“Since I was young I knew I had something in my blood.”

The dream unfurls its tender shoots with boleros, bustiers and blouses in the most sumptuous embroidered fabrics and leathers. Strident emerald and gold glints throughout the collection, either drenching a pair of lace-topped lamé pants or winking covertly behind thatches of rooster and ostrich feathers. The tribal seduction has another secret weapon—a killer bias cut whose dramatic swoop is reminiscent of the cut that branded designer Madame Vionnet a sculptor in Paris in the 20’s and 30’s. Fantasy-fuelled straw hats and body accessories put the icing on a cake that is already sweet beyond belief.

Antonio credits the universal ambivalence toward snakes as the inspiration for this collection. Like you, we needed an explanation.

“Snakes get many divided reactions, there is an attraction and also a fear; when approaching one you never know if it’s male or female. Every culture has mythology about snakes and so does the church—it’s a forbidden seduction that everyone can relate to. Snakes are known for shedding their skin, and I wanted to show this transformation as well as their sense of movement in my collection, particularly in using leather.”

If Antonio’s designs tell a story, it pales in comparison to the prolific adventure the 30 year-old designer calls his life. It all began with a curious, young aspirant in the heart of Mexico.

“I began to study native communities, and I explored the ancestral secrets of Nichoacan culture. It was there that I learned the ethnic braiding that you see in so many of my pieces. There is nothing that can replace being in direct touch with real people.”

Antonio would soon be in direct touch with a lot of people. Imagine the shock of rocketing straight to the helm of the costume studios at Televisa, the biggest television network in Latin America.

“Television gave me a lot of experience working in a high pressure environment. You need to talk your point and convince people about your vision. It taught me versatility. It was also a good chance to work with lights, music, and makeup, really theatrical aspects.”

Ah, but the scented lure of Paris proved too irresistible, the starry lights too numerous. He would become apprentice to none other than Dominique Sirop. Antonio explains with passion, his most singularly recognizable quality.

“Working with Dominique Sirop was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I learned not only how important the fabric selection process is, but also how important quality is, especially in Paris. That is why I still get my fabrics from Paris, and having a good relationship with these suppliers gives me even more options.”

How did Montreal end up on the bottom line of his flight itinerary?

“I didn’t know why Montreal was going to be my next platform. I knew that Canada is a country that gives opportunities to people to succeed.”

Success has already begun to shower Antonio Ortega. A few minutes after his monumental debut, Montreal Fashion Week organizers offered him a solo show at the next edition. But don’t expect to find the collection in trendy boutiques—you may have to visit the studio for an Antonio Ortega original.

“I’m not doing ready to wear at this point, because there is just too much quantity involved. But who knows? At this point I am happy to make unique, exclusive pieces.”

And no, he doesn’t own a snake.

Daniel Cox, Fashion Editor
Marek Wlazlo, Photographer