NYFW: Latino Students Make Debut at Fashion Week

Alongside the fashion industries most elite couturiers, top models, and celebrity stylists, on one of the world’s most recognized stages, a small group of emerging designers will share their work for a select few of fashion’s insiders at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

Bringing their classroom skills to the runway at Lincoln Center, 12 students and recent graduates, some of them Latino, of The Art Institute of New York City will present a show of their collections on Thursday at 7 pm.

Nelson Tavarez was born in the tiny town of El Corozal, in the Puerto Plato province, of the Dominican Republic. He moved to New Jersey when he was 9 years old.

Tavarez will present 10 looks from his ready-to-wear collection called “Within Shadows”.  He says his inspirations are walking in New York City at sunset and the London Opera House. Playing with shades of grays, blacks, blues, whites, and pops of orange and purples, he wants the woman who wears his clothing to feel “fierce”. 

Of course, the young designer says he’s also trying to do something new and different.  He’s not at all interested in referring to history for his looks.

“The fashion world is always changing, so I want to create something new. If I use the past I’ll be left in the past,” Tavarez says.

Luisina Victoria’s mother Diane Moto was also a clothing designer.  Known in the Dominican Republic as the “Designer of Queens”—beauty queens that is—Moto’s expertise has been gala dresses and wedding gowns and Victoria was her right-hand woman. She watched, she worked, and she says she learned it all from her mother. Although she admits she needed to go to school in order to bring all of her skills together. 

Victoria says she will present her “Candy Land” themed vibrantly colorful cocktail dresses, pants, and long skirts, made of all silks to Lincoln Center in the hopes of bringing a fresh, young, modern, and feminine dessert-like style to make her mother proud.  She’s been working her fingers to the bone in the DR for the last several months, with much help from her mother, hand-embroidering her clothing.

Currently interning with designer Melinda Eng, she says the Fashion Week platform is invaluable to her.

“The DR culture is to never stop studying and working. We’re very hard-working people. I want my name known some day and it’s hard work that will get me there,” Victoria says.

Four years ago Joshuan Aponte moved to New York. Born in Puerto Rico, he says he grew up with fashion by watching his grandmother, mother and aunts making school uniforms.  Sewing literally hundreds of orders each year, the women would fill the requirements of each school and still make a unique design for each student.  Aponte was inspired by their creativity. 

“Each school had it’s own color code. The color would immediately identify the class of the student.  This is my foundation,” Aponte said. “Philosophically speaking, we all wear a uniform in a sense, but how we style it, the kind of fabric something is made from, or a brand name that identifies it, also identifies our class. It’s this conflict or battle inside me with the positive and negative aspects of this that drive my design aesthetic.”

His first stop leaving home at 17 was Orlando, Florida. He found work at the Walt Disney World Resort. He was cast as Aladdin and Goofy.  Eventually leaving Florida, Aponte would search the White Pages for his father, who he found in California and moved in with him. But after six months, he returned to Puerto Rico. Finding his way to Queens New York four years ago, Aponte says he feels at home, and has no plans of leaving anytime soon.

A year ago, the designer enrolled in the Art Institute. He has made such an impression, that with a year left to go before finishing, Aponte has been invited to close the student runway show at Fashion Week. 

“I burst into tears when I found out,” he said.

Aponte will have to give the biggest drama bang of his short career to impress for the finale.

No stranger to dramatic design, Aponte says he once wore a corset for a time just to see how it influenced women’s movements.  His collection is called “A Mort Dore” (Death of Gold).  Using silk lame in black and gold to simulate wood grains, Aponte’s inspiration is the Gold Rush of 1849. 
            “I love the rich colors of the dirt and coals. The mines were dramatic—if one died there, sadly the place was like a burial ground for them,” Aponte said. “My accessories are based on the coal miner’s helmets, using mirrors to represent the lights.  The gold will be seen in gold-mirrored corsets made from acrylic.”

While their tastes and designs are starkly different, there is one thing the students have in common – other than attending the same school. They are excited about this unique opportunity to present at New York Fashion Week.

“It’s the most amazing thing that’s happened to me,” said Tavares. “I’m from such a humble background I had to literally walk through the river to get to school as a kid. I’m the first in my family to graduate from college. This will be life changing.”

Rebekah Sager is a writer and editor for She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @rebekah_sager.