Eveningwear King JC Obando Goes Global
by Monica Corcoran
Juan Carlos Obando is on a heady fashion mission. “I want to change the face of American eveningwear,” he says over an early breakfast of house-made granola and yogurt at Little Dom’s in Los Feliz. “It’s time for an unassuming, elegant approach to the way women get dressed up.” Meaning, no more stiff chignons or rib-nipping bodices. Shelve those tortuous stilettos, too. The 35-year-old designer, known for bright, sculptural gowns as fluid as spilled milk, equates elegance with—gasp!—comfort.
If anyone can reinvent a fashion category, it’s Obando. Ten years ago, he worked by day as a creative director at advertising behemoth Saatchi & Saatchi and helped rebrand blue chips like Toyota. But at night he feverishly tore apart vintage gems like an Azzedine Alaïa jacket and a Chanel suit to study the intricacies of construction. “I knew that if I couldn’t put them back together, I would fail the task,” he laughs. No chance of that. The Colombian-born designer, who goes by “JC,” went on to show his first collection at Fashion Week Los Angeles in 2005 and became a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Finalist just three years later. His impeccably crafted looks range from architectural hand-sewn jackets to small pleated bustier tops.
A few red-carpet moments only further gilded his profile. Cate Blanchett, Megan Fox, and Freida Pinto have all been spotted in his ethereal designs. But when Pinto was photographed in a neon-green frock last summer, the dress sold out at Barneys New York nationwide. “The red carpet is the fantasy part of my business,” says Obando, who is still fulfilling orders for that dress, which originally appeared in his 2012 Resort collection. He notes that a look worn wrong on the red carpet can paralyze a career, too: “It’s such a big part of pop culture. The images online are immortal.”
For his Fall runway collection, Obando sought inspiration from the motocross renegades who race the desert dunes of the Salton Sea. Faux-mink biker jackets, brocade wrap skirts, and distressed Swarovski Elements evoke both a natural and an industrial feel. In fact, the city’s easy access to isolation keeps the designer sane and productive. “In New York, you have to go to fashion parties every night,” he says. “Here, you are a lone ranger and you can focus on what you need to do. Plus, you stumble on things like the desert.” When Obando’s creativity flags, he muses over ideas on a long drive or pores over architecture and fine-art books at Hennessey + Ingalls. A typical day for him starts at 8:30 AM at his studio in Los Feliz and involves meetings with factories and with devoted local clients whom he calls “fantastic women with phenomenal bodies—they love Pilates!—and a level of confidence that appreciates clothes that are sensual.”
His new jewelry and accessory collections, which debut in November, will embody that same effortless aesthetic. Chunky, masculine gold and bronze necklaces contrast with delicate clavicles. His silk “pillow case” clutch reads sleek and game for spontaneity. “The accessories are also part of my eveningwear plan,” says Obando, who will devote his next three collections to the “evolution of the current perception of eveningwear. I know it won’t happen overnight,” he concedes. And in fact, it’s the sensibility of the city that influences his ambition. “People underestimate the style of Los Angeles. It’s very understated, but also incredibly chic,” he says. “Casual and simple can be very elegant.”
photography by joe toreno
LAC celebrates the women of its May/June 2013 issue at Palihouse in West Hollywood.