Casa de Osuna

Tucson designer recounts the road tothe Tony Awards

Estéban Osuna and model Hailey Swanson. Photo by Vickie Lan.

By Laura Latzko, October 2018 Issue.

Few emerging designers have the opportunity to showcase their work on a nationally televised red carpet event, and seeing a creation come to life before millions is a career-changing experience.

Tucson-based designer Estéban Osuna had this opportunity this year.

ASU Gammage executive director Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, the sole Arizona voter, wore a dress from Osuna’s “Casa De Osuna” collection on the red carpet proceeding this year’s Tony Awards June 10.

ASU Gammage executive director Colleen Jennings-Roggensack and the dress she wore on the red carpet proceeding this year’s Tony Awards June 10. The dress is part of Estéban Osuna’s “Casa De Osuna” collection. Photo courtesy of ASU Gammage.

The dress, as described by Osuna, was a ball gown/evening dress, with a unique feature.

“The top is actually a body suit, and then the ball gown itself is a separate piece. It’s actually a [floral brocade fabric] skirt. So, they are separate,” he explained. “It makes it even more comfortable to wear as well as a cool piece to interchange.”

According to Osuna, Jennings-Roggensack selected the dress right off the runway.

“The reason she picked this gown is because it reminded her of Michelle Obama’s self-portrait,” Osuna said. “That was her inspiration … She fell in love with my piece and was able to appreciate it and not change it too much.”

Osuna then customized the gown for Jennings-Roggensack, which included redesigning of the top to make it more appropriate for Broadway’s biggest night.

“I wanted to give her a more classic look, a more regal look,” Osuna recalled. “The original top was sheer and had a lot of beadwork and Swarovski crystals covering the whole top … I wanted to recreate it to change the look completely. That way we could make a whole new design for her to present at the Tony Awards.”

The Road to Radio City

Known for his couture, one-of-a-kind eveningwear, Osuna describes his style as a fusion of European and Wild West inspirations.

“I love taking a European style and converting it into a western flair,” he said. “I grew up with the Western lifestyle … Then, the European side, I’ve always been intrigued by their history. I loved fairy tales. I loved reading stories. I think it became a combination of those two that I reflect in my designs.”

His work stands out because of its intricate beadwork, which often includes Swarovski crystals – a technique he perfected while earning a bachelor’s degree in fashion design from The Art Institute of Tucson.

Ultimately, the designer hopes that the exposure the Tony Awards afforded him leads to more opportunities to work with other designers.

“I get more excited when people want to work with me,” he said. “It’s not so much selling and getting more clients. I love the whole creative perspective and working with a team.”

This also includes the collaborations with Vicki Lan, Paul Davis and Neil Peters, who have brought Osuna’s creations to life through their photography, which has landed in Avant Garde, Blum, Promo and Pump magazines.

Cut From A Different Cloth

Osuna grew up working surrounded by art and working with exotic leathers at his father’s boot shop.

“My dad was a boot man … on the side [he] would do architecture,” Osuna recalled. “I would always love looking at the blue prints. My dad has always created our homes from scratch. So, he would give me leeway to design here and there throughout the house.”

Osuna also began painting and sculpting at a young age, still fashion design was never on his radar.

“I always pictured it as a cliché,” he said. “For one, I am gay. Another thing, I grew up in a strict family. The last thing I wanted to do was to tell my dad I’m gay, and I’m also in fashion design.”

Experiences throughout his teenage years paved the way for his future in fashion.

“I was emancipated at age 14,” he shared. “So, I had to grow up fast. I pretty much became my own adult at a young age. I was homeless. I just didn’t have a sense of belonging in the world. I expressed everything through painting, through sculpting. I just put all of my thoughts into my sketches and … growing up that way, I created my own fairytale of what a family would be.”

Left to right: models Bianca Brotherton, Carli Shepherd and Elizabeth Lane. Makeup and hair by Kristopher Osuna. Photo by Paul Davis.

The Blueprint

Leading up to college Osuna was faced with decisions about his career direction: as a lover of every aspect of art, he decided to pursue interior design on a scholarship to The Art Institute.

“When I got there, the lady did not like [my decision],” he recalled. “She said, ‘I think you belong in fashion.’ I started laughing. I was like, ‘I can’t even afford clothes. You want me to make clothes for other people?’”

He acquiesced, but to his initial dismay.

Tucson-based fashion designer Estéban Osuna. Photo by Vickie Lan.

“I hated it for the first year,” he said. “I hated sewing. I didn’t feel like I belonged … clothes weren’t really a priority growing up … I couldn’t relate to, [or] catch up with, the other students …”

Feeling intimidated, Osuna fell back on one of his other creative outlets.

“I started to translate my paintings into my designs,” he said. And then he moved on to his next challenge.

When it came time to create eveningwear, Osuna’s classmates were experimenting with beautiful, expensive fabrics. Once again, he got creative.

“I didn’t have a big budget, so I’d try to find things that were cheaper [and] make them look expensive,” he explained. “That’s when I started to add my beadwork. [I’d] find what I could around the area, what I could afford, [even] breaking necklaces and repurposing them onto my designs.”

Looking at the final products, Osuna said, you’d never know he achieved them on a budget of $80 compared with the $300 budgets of the other students.

It wasn’t until his second year – when Osuna was introduced to manipulating, dyeing and adding embroidery to regular fabric in a textile class – that he truly began to believe in himself as a designer.

“That’s when I fell in love with fashion,” he said. “I had my first runway after that, and that gave me the moment to see my clothing come alive. After that I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’”

Estéban Osuna on the runway at Tucson Fashion Week. Photo by Neil Peters.

Fashion Forward

Since then, Osuna has participated in Tucson Fashion Week four times and showcased his most-recent collection, “VIS” (Latin for power, force, strength), at the 2016 event.

And, in the months since his work sashayed its way to Radio City Music Hall, the designer revealed that he’s changing his focus from the red carpet to the poolside.

“I’m … working on the men’s swimwear line and the women’s collection to go with the men’s swimwear,” he said. “It’s in the same boundaries, but the men’s side will be more ready-to-wear and the women’s side will be more of a refinement of the men’s swimwear, more on the couture end.”

These items will be a part of his next collection, which he plans to debut in 2019, also mark his first time creating an extensive men’s collection.

“I’m excited about it … It’s a cool way to introduce to a new niche market,” he said. “In today’s society, men are trying a lot more than before, taking care of themselves with products. Men are starting to have a fashion sense … We’re starting to see a whole new shift and change in menswear.”

Focusing on menswear has evoked a new creative process for Osuna.

“Now that I’m doing menswear, I’m thinking about myself, what makes me happy as a person, as a designer,” he said. “Now, I can actually wear some of my designs, which is great because when I do go out … and people give me a compliment, it’s a whole different appreciation.”

For more information on Estéban Osuna, including the latest on his collections, visit estebanosuna.com.