Photography by Michael PowersThe style set flipped when Juan Carlos Obando, or JC as everyone calls him, debuted his eponymous line last October at L.A.’s Spring 2005 Fashion Week. Everyone wanted to know where the heck this guy had come from. Such a bright and beautiful talent, such a thrilling unknown-makes-good triumph. With that one very polished collection of über-sexy,artfully constructed clothes and shoes, Obando transformed himself into a name to be reckoned with — just as he had calculated. Now don’t get me wrong. Obando is no flinty-eyed fashion fast-talker. Oh, no. He’s so darn charming, so effervescently genuine that you want to sweep him in your arms and absorb some of that cheerful spirit. And he’s got the goods, designwise. But you see, JC Obando also understands image. Profoundly. Particularly, how to develop one. And why it matters. After all, what is fashion — at its most basic — if not image? He knows how to build a brand, how to create desire, how to translate ideas, how to sell. Maybe you bought a Toyota based on his “Let imagination run your life” ad campaign. That was back a couple of years, when he was just 24 years old, a creative director at powerhouse ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi after stints at Bates Worldwide and Young & Rubicam, top of his game, awards galore, and a highly acclaimed Super Bowl ad under his belt. “I’ve always loved the visual communications aspect of things. I was always in love with advertisements and fashion ad campaigns. They were my passion from the get-go.” As a kid, splitting time between Colombia and Miami, he would collect ad campaigns, such as the Campari spots from the ’80s (which he still has). Or he would doodle designs for the look of a plane, from headrest covers to boarding passes. No surprise he started his ad agency ascent while still a student at the University of Miami.
From left: Ivy is in a brushed cotton coat and goatskin shoes; Heather wears a lycra bathing suit with silk necklace and goatskin shoes; Kerry is in a stretch micro taffeta dress and goatskin shoes; Renata wears a stretch silk skirt with pleat detail, brushed cotton jacket with suede belt and knitted goatskin sandals;Sarah is in a stretch silk bustier with bias detail, silk radzimir skirt and belt, and goatskin shoes.
It was on the Toyota campaign that he began incorporating more and more fashion, using elements people could relate to — say, the latest sunglasses, or a certain designer for a certain SUV. Establishing a lifestyle connection. Colleagues said his commercials were big fashion extravaganzas. “I was coming into fashion, but without knowing it,” Obando says. “It was a very organic transition.” In a way, his transformation started from the ground up. Off to Italy he went for six months to be a fashion consultant for shoe companies, footwear being a longtime enthusiasm. He studied production and manufacturing, and also had a visually driven fashion series published in a Rizzoli hardcover. He started designing shoes. But he soon found himself sketching entire outfits, creating looks for the shoes. “It was the only way for me to understand the shoe. By doing that I had my first collection.” Which led to an obsession with how clothes are made. Don’t even get him going on seaming or thread thicknesses. He used the skills acquired from nearly 10 years of serving up modern eye candy in commercials and print to launch his line, spending a year and a half structuring his company, formulating the brand, making the foundation on which to build the image. And, of course, figuring out who his customer is: “Fashion conscious but not a fashion slave. She mixes and matches and makes her themes unique. She dresses for herself, to tempt others. I just want to make a woman look desirable.” And then he went to New York with some samples and persuaded Fern Mallis, who heads up 7th on Sixth which, along with Smashbox, puts on L.A.’s Fashion Weeks, to give him a show — cleverly keeping the line on the quiet until that dazzling debut. He proved in his first and then second collection this past March that he can do constructed, high-end tailoring. But his next collection will be a dramatic departure from his first two — sorry, sworn to secrecy on the details — but suffice to say it will reflect his Latin American roots. More experimental. The imagemaker: Juan Carlos Obando He admits he gets bored quickly — even with himself — which pushes him to change. But will he grow tired of fashion? “No, there’s too much love — way too much love. I came into fashion to make a mark.” Fashion, says Obando, gives him the means to most fully express his many deep passions: art, photography, performance, construction, image-making. And he’s in no hurry to take his talent elsewhere. “You have no idea how much I love this city. I said I want to be a fashion designer and here I am. L.A. gave me that.” Juan Carlos Obando is available at Des Kohan, 671 Cloverdale Ave., mid-Wilshire, (323) 857-0200; or www.jcobando.com.Photography: Michael Powers Models: Kerry Dyer, Ivy Dunbar, Renata Zajec, Sarah Happel, Heather Anderson (all from L.A. Models) Makeup by Daniel Ordonez and Liz Buenrostro; hair by Rada Maksomovich and Tonantzin Rodriguez (all from L Salon) Stylist: Elwira Miezal