June 10, 2012
The Don Juan of Evening Wear: Juan Carlos Obando
This Latin designer’s frocks seduce not by revealing too much, but by the sophisticated play of flirty concealment & show
By Nancy Staab
- Trunk Show photos and portrait of Juan Carlos Obando by Colby Blount
L.A. designer Juan Carlos Obando presented an exclusive trunk show in Buckhead this spring, hosted by Cathy Cooper and Lara Mitchelson, and the local lovelies flocked to his sexy-chic gowns in day-glo colors. Also on show: his exclusive jewelry collection for Atelier Swarovski. Here’s a peek at Obando’s fluid frocks and his past collections that limn the boundary between edgy and elegant.
One thing is certain about thirty-something, Los Angeles designer and CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund nominee Juan Carlos Obando. He does not travel with an obnoxious entourage and he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, or should we say clean, personally hand-steaming his drapey confections in liquid-like silk. Obando is in town for a private trunk show hosted by Cathy Cooper and Lara Mitchelson (clients and friends of Obando) at Mitchelson’s beautifully appointed, Mediterranean-style estate in Buckhead. On this day Mitchelson’s model form is swathed in a dreamy cobalt blue gown by Obando that undulates like the sea, revealing the momentary, sexy flash of leg; while sample-size Cooper is modeling an eye-popping, highlighter-pink sheath with dramatic black silk scarf that drapes down her back like the enticing ribbon to a beautiful package.
Cooper, who has attended an Obando fashion show in Paris and modeled one of his emerald green mini dresses at a past Fashion Cares gala, was convinced that Obando’s hand-crafted pieces would be a huge hit with her gala-going crowd. And indeed, the Atlanta ladies are transformed as they try on Obando’s tucked, draped, pleated and ruffled designs on a recent spring day in Buckhead. Many of these pieces are in day-glo shades the color of summer floatational devices--- hot pink, citrine green, fluorescent orange, cobalt blue. However, it took awhile for Obando to find his niche crafting evening wear in a high-voltage color palette. Prior to this, his collections conveyed a slightly darker, more brooding mood—inspired by everything from Tom Ford and Josephine Baker, to motocross daredevils and the rock group Kiss. The latter’s influence was evident in black leather, lightning bolts appliques on skirts, dresses and jackets. But a memorable red carpet walk by actress Freida Pinto in a vivid, grass green silk gown by Obando in 2011, triggered this designer’s new focus on slinky, color-saturated evening wear.
Obando was an advertiser by trade--producing work for clients like BMW, Coca-Cola, Nestle and Sony as Creative Director at powerhouse firms like Young & Rubicam and Saatchi & Saatchi-- until his calling for couture pushed him into a new style universe. His asesthetic was always present, but he taught himself fashion techniques by deconstructing vintage pieces and then painstakingly sewing them back together. To this day, he still does all the construction on his garments.
Obando’s bias-cut gowns turn out to be perfect for L.A.’s red carpet culture. They are sexy, body-skimming and flash bulb-catching. It’s easy to envision these sunset-colored gowns translating well in Miami, Brazil, Mexico, Ibiza, etc. as well. But the simplicity of these gown’s appearances are deceiving. The intricately-worked frocks are very carefully hand-sewn by Obando, who is famous for his draping, twisting, pinning and tucking techniques. Some dresses even come with hidden, built-in architecture to lift and cinch just right. Like a sculptor, Obando also works with three-dimensional details like massive pleating, twisting and embroidering. Color-blocking is a favorite technique and he has a penchant for gowns with two-toned linings and loose, wrapped scarves as accessories. Materials are subject to all manner of treatments: they are singed, sunbleached, even broiled. This is the punk rock aspect of his fashions and though he’s famous for eveningwear, Obando is equally capable of day pieces, suits and shrunken jackets with razor sharp tailoring and rocker details.
There is an edge to Obando’s elegant aesthetic which perhaps explains his unique appeal. More importantly, his clothes are always sexy-chic. They are flattering and semi-revealing, but only in partial flashes of a leg, back or décolletage. Shockingly, some of his gowns are even long-sleeved, but you would never label them demure. These are the kinds of gowns that seem tailor made for the sleek, sophisticated glamour of Cate Blanchett. Other leading ladies who have worn Obando include: Megan Fox, Michelle Monaghan and Rose McGowan, and L.A. socialites Jacqui Getty and former Sr. VP at Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey, Katherine Ross.
Also on show at the spring trunk show, Obando’s new Atelier Swarovski Juan Carlos Obando jewelry collection. The spring/summer 2012 collection is as modern and glamorous as his fashionwear. Taking inspiration from the industrial links and cables of climbing equipment, Obando has transformed the elliptical hook, or carabina, into a glittering Swarovski-encrusted jewel. He also drew inspiration from the louche, easy glamour of Helmut Newton’s California portraits in the 1970’s. The result: minimalist rings, bracelets and necklaces that are both bold and beautiful.
SEE SLIDESHOWS BELOW FOR IMAGES OF OBANDO’S ATLANTA TRUNK SHOW AND HIGHLIGHTS FROM HIS PAST RUNWAY COLLECTIONS.