When couture designer Johana Hernandez tells people she grew up in Compton, many point out that the area isn't exactly known for its evening glamour. But like so many Compton born–and-bred successes, the city served to launch rather than limit Hernandez.
From a young age, Hernandez found herself drawn to “divas” — women who looked like they were going places regardless of where they were from. Though she observed fashionable women from all walks of life in the communities of South Los Angeles, she learned the intricacies of dressing them from her Salvadoran parents, who worked in Lynwood sweatshops for name brands like Calvin Klein. It was during her high school years that she began to dream of adding another Latinx name to the world of high couture.
In 2004, she enrolled in the Fashion Institute for Design & Merchandising in downtown L.A. and looked to designers such as Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta for inspiration. Upon completing her degree, she quickly found herself in top positions within the fashion industry, including head designer of Seven7 Jeans, creating styles for all shapes and sizes. From there she designed for Isaac Mizrahi Jeans and Elie Tahari, and her designs could be found in major department stores including Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Bloomingdales.
Despite her initial success in the fashion industry, it was the desire to empower members of the Latinx community that drove Hernandez to launch her own brand, Glaudi, in 2011. Early in her career she realized the struggle women in her community faced to find clothes to fit their curves and their cultural expectations. Growing up, she knew only women with curves, and she quickly learned how mainstream fashion lines neglected the Latina women she knew most intimately. With a mix of daywear, evening gowns and a stunning bridal collection, Hernandez says, “Glaudi aims to be in a girl’s life forever.”
Her collection is specifically geared toward figure-flattering designs appropriate for quinceañeras, evenings on the town, red-carpet events and the defining moment for many brides: the anticipated dress reveal. Discussing her collection, Hernandez is emphatic that she wants “all women to feel iconic” when they're wearing her clothes. She also is clear that she believes beautifully made clothing can serve as a momentary psychological salve, and it is her pleasure to not only dress women but to care for them. Since launching Glaudi, she asserts that her clients have raved that her dresses have made them feel visible again to significant others and family members.
The issue of significance goes beyond the individual when exploring the Glaudi brand. While many top designers seek to make their mark within major fashion hubs like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills or Fifth Avenue in New York City, Hernandez has opted to open her first brick-and-mortar store in Downey, a quiet suburb 12 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles.
Traditionally, Downey has been a sleepy, overlooked bedroom community known only for being the birthplace of The Carpenters and the home of an influential aerospace industry, but since the mid-1990s, the city has undergone a metamorphosis. With the decline of the aerospace industry and the relocation of Downey’s historically white majority, the city is now nearly 75 percent Latino, according to city data. In 2015, a source told the Los Angeles Times, "Living in Downey is a symbol of making it."
Johana Hernandez was well aware of the changing status of Latinos in Downey when she chose the city for her store. Echoing the sentiment that Downey is the “Mexican Beverly Hills,” Hernandez has found success dressing the women of the first families of the city and made her Downey-based line a go-to for a variety of Spanish-speaking pop stars, including Gloria Trevi and Paulina Rubio. When asked about the rising wealth of the residents of Downey, Hernandez speaks with authority about the presence of wealthy and influential families like the Saavedras, owners of Tapatío.
According to Hernandez, women from these families could easily drive to Beverly Hills for their gowns and event wear, but many are “intimidated by mainstream designers because of the [pressure] to be a size 0.” In response, she works to bring “Beverly Hills … or, more like Paris, to Downey” through personal attention and styles designed with individual clients in mind.
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Rosie Rivera, sister of the late Jenni Rivera and CEO of Jenni Rivera Enterprises, echoed the need for Glaudi within the circles of Spanish-speaking sophisticates. The two met during the filming of a reality show and Rivera was instantly drawn to Hernandez’s professionalism and kindness. Rivera says the Glaudi line is made for her body type, being a size 8, and that Hernandez’s clothes make her feel "confident, beautiful and professional.”
This summer, Hernandez completed a specially designed wedding gown for Carmen Melgoza, founder of Latino Fit Club, whom she met during a fundraiser. Melgoza raved about her gown and the memorable experience of going through the artistic process of designing it, and further stressed Hernandez’s role in the community.
“She's an excellent role model for our community since she motivates other young entrepreneur Latinas to work harder for their dreams," Melgoza says. "She's the proof that anything is possible when you work hard to pursue your passion.” Rosie Rivera echoed this sentiment: “Glaudi shows our children to dream big. She could be on Rodeo Drive but she chose to put her store in Downey … with our people and within our people’s price range. She’s inspiring to me and my children.”
Glaudi, 8808 Imperial Hwy., Downey; (562) 440-7473, glaudicollection.com.