Esteban Cortazar

Fashion loves a comeback kid, but in the case of Esteban Cortazar, his absence (and return) to his eponymous label was one of a deeply felt personal journey. “I didn’t want it to be about such-and-such book or such-and-such movie; it was about the story of my life,” the 30-year-old designer says of his spring collection, which marked his official return to the runway. With fresh, bold colors, sharp, architectural construction, fluid drapery, and effortless sex appeal, the collection felt like a blank canvas of sorts for Cortazar, who counts his Latin roots and Parisian home base among his driving inspirations. “The work is more mature,” he continues. “It has more to say and more to give.”

Cortazar’s bohemian upbringing, with an artist father and jazz-singer mother, drifted between Colombia, New York, and Miami. The time he spent as a teen living with his father above South Beach’s News Café, Gianni Versace’s breakfast spot, proved to be a comprehensive fashion education in itself. “It was the place to be,” Cortazar recalls. “All the big photographers were doing shoots there: Herb Ritts, Demarchelier, Lindbergh, and all the supermodels. When other kids were playing soccer and dolls, I wanted to play fashion.”

Cortazar made his debut at New York Fashion Week before graduating high school and landed at Emanuel Ungaro at the age of 23 (he left the house in 2009 after Lindsay Lohan signed on as artistic advisor). The regrowth of his brand, which began in 2012 with two capsule collections with Net-a-Porter, is on a solid course, including a new showroom in Paris’s swank first arrondissement and a business model that eschews the multiple-season schedule, previewing collections to buyers before debuting on the runway and delivering clothes into stores shortly thereafter. “Why not follow this idea of immediacy or honoring the desire of the woman when she sees what she wants?” Cortazar says of his forward-thinking approach. “How is fashion going to be in ten years? How can I be a part of that?”