Within months, swimwear created in, and inspired by, Costa Rica will take to high-profile runways around the world – in what, according to those familiar with the fashion industry, may be the first of many achievements for a growing talent pool of designers here.
“Fashion design in Costa Rica starts now,” said María Teresa Osorio, a Costa Rican designer who is putting the finishing touches on the new V del Sol swimwear line she created with Veronique de la Cruz, 1993’s Miss France. “We have a lot of U.S. influence, but now we’re starting with our own image… This is going to be the first Costa Rican brand that’s shown to the world.”
Monserrat Cervilla, export promotor for the textile sector at the Foreign Trade Promotion Office (PROCOMER), echoed Osorio’s vision of an industry on the brink of growth.
“I don’t know if we’re seeing the first or second generation (of designers), but they’re certainly within the first few,” she told The Tico Times, calling Costa Rica’s new talent “people with great potential, very creative” and adding that the key to success for designers here will be whether businesses give them the support they need.
According to de la Cruz, who moved here last year with her husband, Canadian businessman John Abrahams, designers in Costa Rica may find themselves working in a more stimulating and competitive environment after the launch of V del Sol in July.
“I think this is going to put Costa Rica on the map (in terms of design),” she said, adding that the country’s renowned ecological wonders have helped open doors for the fledgling company abroad. “People will start knowing Costa Rica for its fashion.”
“Lingerie for the Beach”
For Osorio and de la Cruz, Costa Rica’s natural attractions were not only a boon in marketing the brand, but also the source of inspiration when the two designers sat down to create the swimwear line.
“The concept of this first line is: Costa Rica has this natural beauty. How can we get that into a collection?” Osorio told The Tico Times during an interview at V del Sol’s office in Escazú, west of San José.
The two women seeking to attain that goal have led very different lives, though they share a love of fashion. De la Cruz, 32, grew up on the French Caribbean island of Guadaloupe, worked as a model in Paris, then in advertising in Toronto, Canada.
When she and her husband moved with their two children, 5 and 7, to Costa Rica, seeking a change of pace, they decided to start a swimwear line and recruited Osorio, 28. The native of Alajuela, west of San José, is trained as an architect, but entered the world of fashion when she started making clothes for herself, then her friends. She created the lines K.L.D. 10º 88º, 14278, and Mahi Mahi swimwear. She’d decided to take a break from fashion when she met de la Cruz, who didn’t give up until she’d persuaded Osorio to join the new project.
They chose seven themes – Butterfly, Blade, Earth, Ladybug, Ocean and Rose – and enlisted a professional photographer to capture the images they wanted, then set about designing fabrics with a kaleidoscopic twist, woven and printed in France. On the outside, the suits feature an up-close look at a natural object such as a leaf or a flower, leaving the viewer wondering what the dazzling print depicts.
“When people see our prints, they don’t know exactly what it is, but they know they’ve seen it before,” Osorio said.
Only the woman wearing the suit knows for sure, thanks to the different icon of the mystery object inside each suit. For example, the “Earth” suits feature the ruffled layers beneath a mushroom cap on the outside – familiar, but not quite identifiable – and an icon with the mushroom itself on the inside.
“The idea is lingerie for the beach,” added de la Cruz. “You still have the outside, but the inside is intricate.”
Each of the seven print designs has 12 swimwear pieces made from cotton Lycra – the cut and style varies from print to print, with bikinis, tankinis, wraps and one-pieces – and one article of clothing, a skirt or pants or a dress depending on the print, made from 100% cotton. The line also includes accessories from silk scarves to gold pieces, and each print design also comes with solid-color pieces so wearers can mix and match.
Providing women with versatility and a good fit is a goal for the designers, who will make the suits in six sizes instead of the usual four. Many of the materials are imported from France, Colombia, and other countries, but despite the company’s international edge, “we have the Costa Rican savoir faire, because all the employees (here) are Costa Rican,” de la Cruz said.
Along with Osorio, the people at V del Sol’s Escazú office include Julio Blanco, who designed the prints. Downstairs, a staff worked to put together the sample suits Osorio and de la Cruz are testing for fit.
The prices for the line haven’t yet been decided, though they won’t be cheap. Ahad Ghadimi, director of business affairs for the company, told The Tico Times in a phone interview from Toronto that though the brand is new, the care that goes into each piece will place the line in the “upper end.
“You’re not paying for our brand, but… we designed each piece, the buckles. We’ve woven the fabric and printed it,” he said.
According to Ghadimi, the company will introduce the line at “boutiques, high-fashion swimwear shops and high-fashion specialty stores, including lingerie stores,” on the East and West Coast of the United States in November and December, when swimsuit buying season begins. By that time, the line will already have made its debut at shows in Miami, New York, Las Vegas and the French city of Lyon.
He said the line provides a way to “peer into the future of fashion swimwear through the eyes of V del Sol. You’re seeing what hasn’t existed before.”
A Stylish Future
Once the finishing touches on V del Sol’s line are made, production will most likely move to Colombia. According to de la Cruz, she wanted all the company’s operations to take place in Costa Rica, but “we can’t find the quality here.”
That’s something PROCOMER hopes to change through support and training for designers and textile businesses, according to Cervilla. The organization recently hired Colombia’s Institute for Exports and Fashion to provide training for 24 Costa Rican textile and leather-goods businesses.
“The results were very positive,” she said. “75% of the businesses increased their sales by 25%…and improved their earnings margins. They made considerable changes (such as) improving their purchases of prime materials, but above all it’s a business mentality change. They feel more secure.”
She said that in terms of training for would-be designers and other sector leaders, Costa Rica is “a little empty,” but that especially in the face of increased competition from China, the textile industry here needs to focus on “more design, very high quality…specialized attention, perfect client service.”
Costa Rican designer Sonia Chang has carved a niche for herself in the world of haute couture by following these principles. Chang, the sister of renowned U.S.-Costa Rican astronaut Franklin Chang, has created personalized designs for former First Lady Lorena Clare and Libertarian Movement Party legislator Evita Arguedas – who has proudly admitted to “wearing Sonia Chang”on various occasions – along with other Costa Rican and foreign clients (for more information, visit www.soniachang.com).
Like others in the industry, Chang said the fashion industry “has been growing,” though as far as she knows, she’s one-of-a kind in the country when it comes to personalized designs.
“As far as I know, up until now – it’s me,” she said.