5 Local Designers Move Fashion Forward

Photo by Tomas Loewy

Julian Chang

Designer Julian Chang’s love for fashion has built him a loyal following, first in bridal and evening categories, and now with full collections under his own label sold nationally in 600 high-end boutiques. 

Photo by Tomas Loewy

“We were showing the spring collections when everything stopped,” he explains of the coronavirus pandemic, which halted the fashion industry. He pivoted quickly—first by sewing face masks from existing material, both to sell to clients and to donate to Dress For Success Miami. 

The forecasted fall/winter trends, Chang notes, included a lot of purple, sequins, embellishments, sparkles, and embroidery. “Now I feel people want clothes that are toned down and easy to wear, including military-hued colors, green, camel brown, and lots of tie-dye,” he says. “I think comfort is No. 1, and people are price-conscious; those are the two key factors for me.” 

Chang’s cuts will be simple while still reflecting his fashion DNA. The collection will include jumpsuits, contrasting colors, and reversible dresses and tops in fun prints and colors, which will add to wearability. “We want our spirits to be uplifted,” he says. “Ladies love to dress up, but they won’t be dressing for a party or gala anytime soon; they will be dressing for themselves.” 

With dozens of trade shows canceled, collections are now presented one-on-one, and production will be order-based with everything made locally. “I was able to adjust quickly because everything is made here in Miami,” says Chang. “It will be huge that [clothing] labels say, ‘Made in America.’” 7246 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

Mayda Cisneros

When looking at the future, longtime Miami designer Mayda Cisneros reflects on the past. She’s spent the last few months “cocooning, reminiscing about my garden wedding, watching old movies, and looking at historic moments for design inspiration.” For Cisneros, whose eponymous Coral Gables boutique has been a beehive of couture gowns, wedding dresses, and custom designs for Miami’s elite women, the future is in comfort, ease of wear, and personalization. “I’m inspired by prints, pin-tucking, and turn-of-the-century detail because we are returning to a time where it’s more about home and family, and that’s rooted in detail,” she says. “In the old days, seamstresses would embroider your name in dresses, and I think we need a little bit of that right now.”

Cisneros’ fall/winter collections, viewed by appointment, will feature natural fabrics such as soft cotton and lighter materials that are feminine and dressy, washable, can be cared for at home, and worn to feel pretty. The collection will also incorporate personalization. “The details are costly, but we’ll make a few pieces that stand out and have something that’s cherished—like beautiful pleating on my sleeve or beautiful embroidery on the bottom of my skirt,” she notes. Crowded galas may be out for now, but weddings continue. Cisneros predicts more intimate, garden weddings where the romance of her custom gowns will flourish.  

René Ruiz

As one of Miami’s legacy designers, René Ruiz is known around town for his glittering ballgowns and couture wedding dresses. “Miami is definitely my city, and Miami has been great to me,” he says of his 25-plus year tenure. He describes himself as a hopeless romantic with boundless optimism. 

Amid the pandemic, his inspiration emanated from researching historic British fashion and watching old movies that stirred a sense of nostalgia for a more gentile time. “I still want to do feminine silhouettes, interpreting fashion from the ’20s, ’30s, and ’50s—maybe using different shapes with environmentally sensitive fabrics,” he says. “I’m sure every outfit will come with masks and gloves.” 

Photo by Juan Vergara

Ruiz’s fall/winter collection, Quiet Glamour, will have an emphasis on jewel tones, and blouses and bustiers made from laminated silk and cotton and layered with accessories. “I’m playing with creating fabrics with layers of tulle and elements that have never been seen,” says Ruiz, who made hair covers for a friend and her colleagues at South Miami Hospital. This inspired a new collection of sophisticated headwear. 

South Floridians can catch a glimpse of Ruiz’s ready-to-wear collection and order custom couture gowns at his new atelier/workroom in North Miami Beach. “I’m going to have some of my classic dresses, like the Havana Slit and those with Cuban Miami names because it’s me—it’s who I am,” he says.  “There will be a big table in the middle, so I can make big wedding dresses.” 18733-35 W. Dixie Highway, North Miami Beach

Ivana Ruzzo

“There should be the right amount of wrong everywhere,” says Fort Lauderdale-based designer Ivana Ruzzo about her new Art to Wear collection that is as eclectic as the designer herself.  Entirely sewn by hand in the workshop behind her studio, and accompanied by her eponymous jewelry line, Ruzzo’s “upcycled chic” collection consists of wearable art using vintage fabrics. “It takes three times longer to make than a regular dress,” says Ruzzo of the patchwork pieces, but “they’re all one-of-a-kind and special.” 

Ruzzo’s maxi dresses are a collection staple. She travels the world for silks and original luxury fabrics and works with an Indian artist for his jewel-toned batik textile. “A maxi dress is a maxi, but the fabric is the differentiating factor,” she explains. 

Her upcoming resort collection will feature a mixture of floral and leopard prints, all created in her own fabric. “My clients entertain at home, have private parties, and spend Christmas in the islands,” she says. Ruzzo and her clients aren’t letting a pandemic get in the way. 

“My clients always dream about good and believe in a fantasy world,” she says. “You dress as you feel, and you still want to feel very special.” Production is done entirely in her workshop, with clients making appointments to visit the adjacent studio and peruse ready-to-wear collections or sketch custom designs. 3250 NE 32nd St., Fort Lauderdale

Ariel Swedroe

Would fashion designer Ariel Swedroe have begun sewing as a child and transforming her passion into modern, often sustainable collections without inspiration from her grandfather—respected architect/collage artist Robert Swedroe? It’s an unanswerable question, but the Design and Architecture Senior High (DASH) student is using her grandfather’s designs for a new menswear collection that will feature his art on shirt collars and cuffs. 

Known for her Swedroe by Ariel spring/summer/resort and couture collections, the young designer says she’s lately been inspired by Europe’s Renaissance and sees us in a moment of rebirth. “Now living with COVID, this pandemic is giving me a challenge and new realization about how to live with the environment,” says the teen who created a “machine” to weave ribbon from plastic bottles and crafted an award-winning upcycled dress that was featured during Art Basel in 2018. “We are going too fast and need to look into each other’s eyes and fix the problems we’ve created. Well, challenge accepted.”

She plans to return to simplicity with an unfussy silhouette that is pleasing to the eye and comfortable, as everyone is spending more time at home. Her latest athleisure collection, she says, is a testament to current work-from-home attire. 2246 NE 123rd St., Miami

Text by Michelle Payer

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