If you are a woman that wants (and gets!) to have it all, I have a perfect role model for you. Brooklyn-based Cristina Ruales is not only a talented women’s clothing designer and a new star of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, she is also a mom and a leader. In this exclusive interview for the Style Sprinter blog, Cristina reveals how she manages to wear so many hats and make things happen her way, both at work and at home (I suspect that she is Superwoman!).
Katya: What sparked your interest in fashion? Why did you start and how?
Cristina: Since I was a child, I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer. By age fourteen, I had already decided what university I wanted to go to. I applied to Parsons School of Design and started after the 11th grade—I got accepted early, so I started at Parsons as a high school student. I think I am just lucky since I have always known what I wanted to do.
For me, fashion is art, and as a designer I create moving sculpture. I’ve always been intrigued by the architecture of clothing, and it’s something that has been a focus of my work since I was quite young.
In your opinion, is education important for fashion designers and why?
Absolutely! I’m obsessed with the idea of being a master of your craft (particularly, patterning and draping) and having the knowledge to reinvent and create something.
I have a master’s degree from Yale in fashion history and costume design. I believe that if you study all of the different options you will know what you are doing and what you are talking about. So I’m definitely pro-education.
How was your experience of presenting your first collection at the New York Fashion Week?
Since it was my first season, I was hoping to just do a small outdoors show. The idea was to organize a pop-up show where nobody knew where it was going to happen, and at the last minute we announced where the show would be located. Then, much to my surprise, when I called the Council of Fashion Designers of America to let them know my event date and what I was doing, my mentor Lisa Smilor surprised me by saying, “Well, actually we are going to put you on the MBFW main calendar.”
… I was like that too: I didn’t believe it at first! I was reading the e-mails and I kept on thinking that I was misreading them. [Laughs] If you look at the official NYFW calendar, there are no newcomers; only established designers are on the front page of the calendar…and they put my name on there! I literally had to call them back twice to make sure that I understood correctly what was happening. So I was very flattered, very excited and…the pressure was on.
What inspired you to create your first Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week collection? Which colors and materials did you use?
The identity of my brand and the collection is a reflection of my own history. I grew up in Quito, Ecuador, until I was 12 years old. I’m the daughter of mountain climbers and I’ve been exposed to mountain climbing since I was about three years old. So, for my first collection, I wanted to introduce my brand vision, which focuses on the driving influence in my life… architecture vs. nature. My vision celebrates my love for nature and the beauty found in the contrast within the architectural structures we live in and amongst.
I have an instinct for what’s coming next in fashion and I felt that a major color for Fall/Winter 2015 would be green, forest green. I wanted to keep the palette very clean and simple as a launch. This collection was all about the clothes, their structure and the silhouettes—this gave me a clean palette for my launch to build upon season to season and So I decided to go with black, which I call tar, forest green and steel. Just keep it tight and simple.
What makes the designs by Cristina Ruales unique?
None of my designs have traditional side seams. You probably don’t notice it at first, but if you look up closely, there are no straight side seams on any piece. So, even though my designs might look simple, the patterns are, on average, about 17 to 40 pieces. That’s the beauty of it! It’s about having it look simple and effortless, even though it’s absolutely not.
You said that your brand reflects your own history in fashion, but who is your customer? Who is the woman that you are designing for?
My customer is a woman who wants to celebrate her individuality. She is not a wallflower, but rather somebody who really likes to stand out. At the same time my clothes are very wearable. They’re very user-friendly. They should go from day to evening. You should be able to wear them to work and also wear them out, and feel very sexy in them. I also like the idea of the collection being innovative.
What is the importance of accessories in your outfits?
I personally love accessories and wear them all the time, but from a business standpoint, I have to build the brand step-by-step. So first I want to focus just on the clothing line. I am talking to some people about adding maybe shoes and handbags, and I would love to do jewelry too. It’s only a matter of when.
This season, we kept it without any accessories actually. Very clean, just focusing on the clothes themselves. My collection has a lot of details around the neck and on the back, so I just tried to keep it clean.
Jewelry: I have a lot of vintage accessories. The ones I’m wearing today are about 200 years old.
Fashion: I wear designers that have a similar aesthetic to mine, that are probably on some level my own competition with a different perspective. I wear a lot of Helmut Lang, Rag & Bone, and many Japanese brands. I also love Comme des Garcons.
What’s your must-have piece of clothing for spring?
The perfect jacket! I think you need a really cool little boxy jacket. Ideally with either a three-quarter or a jewelry length sleeve, or maybe a wide sleeve. That would look really hot with a miniskirt or big wide-leg culottes.
What inspires you as a designer?
I’m mostly inspired by architecture and nature when I’m traveling, and then actually fine art. Those are the things that I probably am inspired by the most.
Favorite beauty products: I use MAC, Aveda and, believe it or not, L’Oreal mascara. For face cream, Christine Chin, and I always have to wear a lipstick no matter what.
Favorite lipstick: Usually MAC. I mostly wear MAC lipstick and lip gloss.
Top three favorite restaurants in New York: Le Bernardin! Then I love Schiller’s for brunch. It’s just my favorite standby. I also love Mercer Kitchen. I go to a Thai place here in Park Slope called Song. It’s a gamut. I can go for a $150 meal or a $20 meal.
Favorite attractions: Probably the Guggenheim and the Met, especially the costume exhibits at the Met. I also just love Central Park. I like the canoes.
Movies or TV shows: I’ve been so busy I haven’t been able to watch movies lately. But my favorite movies are probably pretty silly and kind of sappy. I love the movie The Help. I think it speaks to my culture and politics.
Favorite book: My favorite book is probably The Art of Happiness. I love that book.
The Red Lipstick Club is about women and power. What is your superpower?
I’m really proud that I’ve been able to get to this place in my career while being a mom at the same time. I am an immigrant and Latina. I don’t come from wealth. None of this has been easy. It’s all been through hard work, effort, dedication and education.
I feel really strong about the different roles that women have to play right now. You want to be a businesswoman and maybe you want to be a mom, maybe you don’t. There are just so many different roles you have to play, and I’m really proud that I’ve been able to get to this place. I hope that other people are inspired by that and are able to do the same.
Cristina Ruales, Photographed by VITAL AGIBALOW for HENSEL