The buzz surrounding Johanna Ortiz isn’t going to die down anytime soon. The Colombian designer has now reached superstar level, although she has been working on her eponymous line for 15 years (yup, it’s not so new after all!). She recently announced her Johanna Ortiz x H&M collaboration, seeing her join the ranks of Erdem, Giambattista Valli and Balmain, and making her the very first Latina to partner with the Swedish fashion giant. This high profile collection adds to her already impressive portfolio, which includes celebrity fans like Camila Cabello, a beauty line with Aerin Lauder and a shoe collection with Tabitha Simmons.
Born in Cali, Colombia, this style architect is responsible for transforming the world’s view on Latin American fashion. After introducing her signature ruffle and off-the-shoulder eveningwear into the mass market, she’s not only elevating the South American spirit to the foreign eye, but she is also turning Hollywood into one big salsa party. HOLA! USA caught up with this cultural visionary and spoke all things fashion, sustainability and breaking stereotypes.
HOLA! USA: How do you see the Latina style evolving?
Johanna Ortiz: "I’m going back to 2014, and I remember that first collection I launched at Moda Operandi with Lauren Santo Domingo and Olivia Palermo wearing the Tulum top. Then, that particular off-shoulders & ruffles style boomed. All women in Latin America started wearing it. Now we are a month away from 2020, almost six years since launching, and I can see how my Latin style vibe has evolved into something more subtle. Still a lot of sophistication and festiveness. Not minimal at all, but more mysterious."
You have an incredible eye for color and shape, something everyone swears by during summer. How can we adapt the JO signature look for colder temperatures?
"I love color! It is my starting point to develop a collection. I am from the Caribbean, and there were not a lot of winters in my childhood memory, so it has been challenging but fascinating at the same time. I have truly enjoyed designing Fall/Winter collections. Adapting JO iconic silhouettes like balloon sleeves and ruffles in heavier materials like leather, wool and knits has been a new experience, and I am loving it."
Latin women are constantly struggling with stereotypes on style and fashion choices, yet you have set a 'before and after' for our identity within the industry. What do we need to start doing less of – and more of – to stay on top of everything that’s happening these days?
"I really don’t believe in stereotypes anymore. We live in a world with all eyes ready to give an opinion, good or bad. My only advice is that women should dress for themselves and feel confident. Jean Lanvin once said, 'The great factor in dressing elegantly, is personality.' Fashion has to be fun, enjoy life and cherish your experiences, so dress for that!"
The number one trend (that we expect to be a lasting reality) is sustainability, yet everyone has a different concept of it. What is your take on it?
"Most of my inspiration comes from the exuberant tropical nature that surrounds me. It is never still; it always surprises me. How can we ignore the fact that we need to act together to create an impact? It will take some time to change everything we are doing wrong, but we all need to start cooperating with Mother Nature. Small steps that will add up if we all are more conscious by new materials, new processes and new efficiencies."
To you, what is the best way of becoming a powerful voice of fashion through social media?
"One should be responsible with that voice you use. It is a susceptible moment in society, so always be respectful in what you post. Besides that, always keep your aesthetics sophisticated and present a color flow that makes sense to other eyes. Remember, it is your presentation card to the world!"
You also have a collaboration with Aerin Lauder. Tell us a bit about that.
"It’s a really nice project, and we have deeply enjoyed this collaboration! I love Aerin’s effortless glamour and lifestyle. Having the opportunity to create neutral shades and understand color in another way has been an incredible experience for me."
Let’s talk celebrities! Who would be a dream to dress? If you haven’t done that already…
"I love women with personality and character. Meghan Markle and Jennifer Aniston have that; their styles are a bit more minimal, so I would always love to see them in a flirty red JO dress! Emma Watson I find so beautiful and fearless… well, actually, I just adore seeing women from every part of the world embracing their inner Latin flare!"
What is next for Johanna Ortiz?
"Something really unexpected is coming… keep an eye [out]!"