Johanna Ortiz x H&M: Timeless Maximalism
WORDS: India Doyle
If you don’t know that Johanna Ortiz hails from the birthplace of salsa, her energetic designs will give you some immediate pointers. Dramatic, luscious, extravagant — Johanna Ortiz’s dresses are the kind of pieces you’ll want to throw on and start dancing in. They tap their own beat, and demand the wearer does the same.
It’s not only fashion lovers who feel the rhythm of Ortiz’s collections. There’s an irresistible sense of joy and power at the heart of the Colombian designer’s work that has the world’s most powerful women smitten. Michelle Obama opted for Johanna Ortiz during her book tour, at parties, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Alexa Chung and Jessica Biel count Ortiz’s design as must-haves. Olivia Palermo wears Ortiz to set her style agenda, and when it came to serving a major look at Jennifer Lawrence’s wedding, it was Johanna Ortiz that Sienna Miller favoured.
Such fandom isn’t surprising. Ortiz’s designs capture the maximalism of the moment, drawing on a heady mix of volume, pattern and colour to create frilled-filled statement pieces that keep a relaxed spirit at their heart. Inclusivity is also key for Ortiz, creating designs that anyone can wear. Her vision for fashion is playful, luxurious and accessible; designs that any woman can wear.
Honing her craft at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Ortiz returned to Colombia to launch her own brand. Starting out with swimwear and building to full collections, the designer broke into the mainstream in 2014 when she showed at Colombia’s prestigious fashion weeks in Medellin and Bogota. Her work was quickly picked up by major retailers in the US, and Ortiz went global. Yet her designs continue to draw inspiration from — and give back to — Colombia. Not only does she bring the rich and inspirational landscape to the heart of her work, but also through the brand’s educational programme for local women.
Ahead of the limited pre-drop of her collaboration with H&M, Johanna Ortiz talks to us about Latin culture, finding inspiration in the everyday and the importance of fun in fashion.
"I’m most excited about the fact that I’m taking a bit of my design and a bit of Colombia and reaching a new audience of women. "
YOUR DESIGNS ARE VERY EXPRESSIVE. DID YOU GROW UP WITH STRONG ROLE MODELS WHO INSPIRED YOUR CONFIDENT AND COMMANDING APPROACH?
”One of my closest role models is my mother. My mother was an interior designer, and the textiles that I grew up with and saw in my house formed a strong part of my inspiration. But actually a lot of my inspiration also comes from seeing how the women dressed around me when I was growing up. Seeing all of the colours, seeing the multicultural style. Where I’m from there’s such a multicultural union. Admiring how the women dress, and the elegance that they have for any type of everyday activity. They were always really conscious of how they looked and how they were dressed. A nice, flirty, feminine and elegant way of dressing. And it was all these women who made me think, ‘that’s who I would like to dress.’”
DID YOU ALWAYS HAVE THIS CLEAR VISION OF HOW YOU WERE GOING TO DESIGN FOR WOMEN?
“It was kind of easy for me as a woman designing for women. I’m always trying on the things that I’m making to see if they’re comfortable and see if they’re flattering to all types of bodies. Every body is different, so I make sure that I’m not only designing things for me, but for six or seven different bodies. I don’t design anything I wouldn’t wear, so the designs come from my DNA, they’re a part of it.”
YOU HAVE A VERY POWERFUL FAN BASE! HOW DOES IT FEEL TO SEE YOUR DESIGNS ON SUCH INFLUENTIAL WOMEN?
“With Michelle Obama, that was one of those moments…. Seeing a woman I admire so much wearing one of our pieces was impressive. But I see many other women in the world wearing Johanna Ortiz, it has been an amazing way to see how women are responding to what I’m designing.”
THIS COLLABORATION WITH H&M WILL BRING YOUR DESIGNS TO AN EVEN WIDER AUDIENCE, WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT?
“I’m most excited about the fact that I’m taking a bit of my design and a bit of Colombia and reaching a new audience of women. I think that’s really satisfying. We tried to make the designs in the image of what I have liked most in my collections, and not only the prints, but also the silhouettes. I love dresses, I love floral dresses worn without shoes and I want people to really enjoy the way they feel in my designs.”
WHAT WERE YOUR INFLUENCES FOR THIS COLLECTION?
“I started looking at colour palettes, that’s how I always start, with colour. Then I went to the archive of my favourite designs and I wanted to share them. I think it’s a collection that has a little bit of everything for everyone! I really enjoy it.”
HOW DO COLOURS SET THE MOOD OF YOUR COLLECTIONS?
“It’s a cliché, but colours always come to me from what I see in nature. I’m always taking pictures, even if I’m dropping off my kids at school, there’s always something to find inspiration from, even in a tiny flower. Colours are my passion. I always work from them. I need to have a colour palette that forms the root of my collections.”
THINKING ABOUT THE POWER OF COLOUR AND THE IDEA OF SELF-EXPRESSION. DO YOU THINK THERE’S ROOM FOR EXTRAVAGANT DRESSING IN EVERYDAY LIFE?
“I don’t want my designs to only be for going to a wedding or a garden party, they can be worn to a bar or for hosting a dinner at home too — I want these designs to be a part of your wardrobe. Wear them with flats and no makeup. It works. It’s just embracing being feminine. I try to make collections really comfortable, designs that you can wear every day — but you can wear them with big earrings or whatever and go out in them too.”
SO THERE’S STILL SPACE FOR FUN IN FASHION?
“It has to be fun! It’s part of it.”
An exclusive “pre-drop” of four dress styles will be released in selected stores and at hm.com on 3 December; the main collection will be available in March 2020.