This month he also serves as Gap Inc.’s Keynote Speaker for Latino Heritage Month, which we celebrate here via the efforts of our employee resource group, HOLA (Honoring Our Latino/Hispanic Ancestry). I had a chance to chat with the “Project Runway All-Stars” winner about fashion, his heritage and his activism.
What are some of your personal influences? What inspires your creativity?
When I’m designing, I find that I’m really influenced by my upbringing and the things that I was taught. Growing up in a Latin family, we were all very close, so a lot of that inspiration comes from tradition. I’m also really inspired by music and visual arts. I have a background in playing piano, which I’ve done since I was 8. Inspiration comes in so many different forms, which is what’s so great about allowing yourself to enjoy the process.
What’s the key to good fashion?
As a fashion designer, the key for me is really exploring and enjoying the creative process. Much like getting ready, you should always enjoy the process—it's kind of an overture to set the tone for the day. I always listen to music while I get ready and allow an extra 1/2 hour for "me" time. I know Chanel said that you should always take one thing off before you leave the house, but I say add three more.
Whose work are you into these days? Who impresses you?
I recently discovered the work of an amazing artist, Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay. His work, for me, really examines the social politics within the gay community and all of its "subcultures." I've really been inspired by his work and have designed a collection from the visuals and words he has shared with me. I've also been looking a lot at mobile artist Calder.
You have a history with our company via your previous Piperlime partnerships. What was that experience like and what was it about working with the brand that appealed to you?
I did have that relationship based on the brand’s previous partnership with the “Project Runway.” I didn’t expect for them to reach out to me outside of the show, but when they approached me about first designing the sugar skull T-shirt, it was a perfect fit because it represented who I am as a designer. When it was decided that parts of the proceeds would benefit amfAR, it really hit home because it then became about a good cause.
Since “Project Runway” and your decision to reveal you are HIV Positive, you’ve become an activist in the fight against AIDS, including your work with amfAR. How important was it for you to step up into this role?
It’s been a really important move for me because I have been living with this disease for 11 years. It’s such an honor because I get to do this wonderful HIV/AIDS education campaign, I Design, and I travel and talk to people and I hear their stories and it empowers me. In the Latin community it’s something we don’t talk about a lot, but it’s amazing because this is a disease that affects everybody.
What’s next for you? What can we expect to see?
Currently I am working on my own brand, my private label, Mondo Guerra. My collaboration with SEE Eyewear as well as a new clothing collection hits in spring 2013. I've also teamed up with Merck on I Design. What’s next? Maybe a vacation?!