As a boy, Rey Ortiz was enamored with creating his own illustrations and he drew nonstop. Today, he’s taking what he used to merely draw on paper, and turning it into the fashions worn by the likes of Bianca Del Rio. We talked with the emerging Puerto Rican designer about his passion for clothes, his inspirations as an artist and why you have to create for the love of the craft.
I grew up watching my mom make clothes as a seamstress and my grandfather was a seamster. I saw the creations my mom would make being worn by people, and the reason I took notice of it was that she had very happy customers. I want that too.
What was the first article of clothing you remember creating?
It was a Halloween costume for a friend. She wanted to be a white witch and was having a hard time finding witches that were white. It turned out to be an amazing, sexy outfit for her.
Who are the designers you have looked up to and why?
My mentor, Carlota Alfaro, an 80+ years old designer that taught me most of what I know today. I respect her so much I even call her “mother.” She taught me that design comes from within and that kindness guides us through the design process. She is a great example to follow because her spirit, kindness and skills match perfectly. To this day, she teaches fashion design in Puerto Rico and she was the developer of the pattern making system used in the Island for over 40 years.
I admire many other designers but she would be the ONE.
Now that you’re a part of crafting the fashion people wear, what challenges do you face as an emerging designer?
The biggest challenge isn’t technical. I find myself being my biggest challenge. I get into my head and I overthink the process but once I start doing it, everything else fades away. There’s always room for improvements, challenges and successes. Also, since I come from humble beginnings, the financial aspect is always challenging. But, it has never stopped me and, on the other hand, it gives me more desire to make it big and look back with a smile.
A variety of sources. Fabric, I love fabric shopping. It’s relaxing and like therapy for me. I love to see designs that are not basic or cookie cutter. That’s something I really like creating. Whenever someone asks me for an outfit, I try to being something to the table that has some interest to it.
What excites you about fashion today?
I have an anti-cookie cutter policy that I apply as much as possible. Why design if it’s not bringing [something] new to the table. I’m excited by designs that push the envelope. I must add that lately I’ve seen many guys playing the “androgen” look and I’m kinda obsessed and happy for them. Viva-la-expression.
Describe your aesthetic.
Very structured. I love tailored pieces, I love to make a body look and feel amazing. Also, anything that challenges me when it comes to seaming. I love to create cool new ways to construct clothes and challenge myself technically.
As society and culture continues to change and evolve, why do you think fashion will continue to matter as an artform?
Fashion will always be prominent because, in part, it creates identity and allows your inner self to be expressed externally. Even when people say that they don’t follow fashion, I guarantee you that they would have an opinion if asked.
What drives you?
To be able to do this full time. Right now, I’m not. I also have a personal challenge that I need to keep making my family and friends proud.
I am working on a few custom pieces for clients. I’ve done several clothing pieces for drag queens like Bianca Del Rio and Alyssa Edwards. I’ve made a few men’s fashions as well including ones that I wear myself. I’ve got lots of accessories, harnesses, bracelets – just cool stuff that I can make with leather. Leather is something I’ve been working a lot with lately.
It can be easy to see the fashion industry as only a place for huge designers and corporations. But with outlets like Etsy, people are able to sell their work. What is your practical advice for emerging artists who have a passion for design?
As long as you do everything with passion, work hard, and have good technique, people will also value your work. You can’t fool people. They know who does it for just as business and who does it for the business and for the love of the craft. Don’t sell yourself short and work for free sometimes, it opens doors (trust me).