National Hispanic Heritage month is September 15th through October 15th, but any time is a great time to recognize and commemorate the achievements of Hispanic individuals and creatives. To celebrate the month, we will highlight a great Cuban-American 20th century designer, Luis Estevez. Luis Estevez was born around 1930 in Havana, Cuba. Originally with an interest in architecture, he began at the University of Havana but later attended the Traphagen School of Fashion in New York City for fashion design. He began his career as a window dresser for a summer job in New York for Lord & Taylor, sparking his interest in fashion and causing his shift from architecture to fashion design. After his studies at the Traphagen School of Fashion, he secured a job in Paris to work for Jean Patou, where he stayed for about 2 years before returning to New York to open his Grenelle-Estevez label with a few colleagues.
Designing under his own name in 1955, Estevez was immediately successful. He received the Coty American Fashion Critics Award in 1956, owing his success to his individualistic, uncluttered, feminine, and tasteful clothing that appealed to modern, wealthy women. Estevez was mostly known for his cocktail and evening dresses with interesting necklines, but also became known for his theatrical and theme centered clothing in the 1960s such as his Night and Day collection and his Fly Me to the Moon collection in 1965. With continued success throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he moved to Los Angeles, California in 1967 and became established on the West Coast as well. Here he became well known for his flowing, body-conscious designs that often featured his signature cutouts, going more in the direction of sportswear and West Coast inspired dresses. His use of simple fabrics such as cotton, jersey, and silk contributed to a simple yet tasteful California feel. Luis Estevez had an impressive friends list in terms of the fashion community at the time, with Diane von Furstenburg, Bill Blass, and Hubert de Givenchy who was his best man at his wedding. Additionally, his clientele list in California became impressive as well, with Nancy Reagan, Lana Turner, and Eva Gabor who he later designed eveningwear for and eventually launched Luis Estevez International in 1974 with her parent firm.
Estevez had many other accomplishments throughout his career. From 1974 to 1977 he dressed First Lady Betty Ford during her husband Gerald Ford’s presidency. Awards he received include the Chicago Gold Coast award, Bambergers Golden Scissor award in 1962, the Tommy award in 1988, and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Hispanic Designers Fashion Gala in 1990. His collections were showcased during theater productions of Hello Dolly and Hair, and his gowns have been shown at the Smithsonian Institute and Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the late 20th century Estevez continued designing on a smaller scale with boutiques on Melrose Avenue and later in Montecito. He eventually moved to Miami, Florida and retired in 1997. Luis Estevez died on November 28th, 2014 in Miami. With a long and impressive career, Luis Estevez deserves immense recognition for his accomplishments and impact on fashion in the mid-to-late 1900s and today. Designers today are influenced by Estevez’s work and he paved the way for many Hispanic people and Hispanic-American designers to receive their rightful high status in the fashion world. The fashion world was and is more diverse and accepting because of designers like Luis Estevez.