Born: Chihuahua, Mexico, 26 May 1963; immigrated to the U.S., 1981. Education: Attended University of Texas, 1982; graduated from Fashion Institute of Technology, 1987. Career: Assistant to Mary Ann Restivo, late 1980s, and Joseph Abboud, 1990; established own business, early 1990s. Awards: Vidal Sassoon Excellence in New Design, 1993; Omni-Mexican award for Best Latin American Designer, 1994; Dallas Fashion award, 1994; Council of Fashion Designers of America New Fashion Talent award, 1994. Address: 130 Barrow Street, New York, NY 10014, USA.
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Victor Alfaro, known for his "come hither" designs, claims the only fashion design training he has ever had was poring through fashion magazines. Born and raised in Mexico, Alfaro moved to the U.S. as an exchange student to perfect his English and to study communications at the University of Texas. At the time, fashion design was "just a fantasy," but later he applied to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. After graduating in 1987, Alfaro worked as an apprentice designer, and by the mid-1990s, at the age of 30, he had become recognized as one of the leading designers in the United States.
Bare simplicity and an equally frank sexuality inform Alfaro's dresses for cocktail and evening. Bridget Foley predicted in March 1994 W article, "The heir apparent to Oscar and Bill? Perhaps. Victor Alfaro may be New York's next great eveningwear designer." If Alfaro is the torchbearer of style for New York nights, his role betokens a shifting sensibility, one that pointedly exalts the body, seeks out youth, and takes risks. Skilled in the vocabulary of separates (he worked for Mary Ann Restivo and Joseph Abboud), Alfaro eagerly draws upon the street for inspiration and demands a body consciousness that have made some call him the American Alaïa. In early recognition as a designer for celebrities, photographed by Francesco Scavullo for Cosmopolitan covers in New York, Alfaro flirted with attention-getting vulgarity, though his collections have come to represent a more natural but nonetheless willfully seductive sensuality.
Amy Spindler, in an April 1993 piece for the New York Times, commented, "Victor Alfaro's clothes come with plenty of attitude." The attitude is, of course, of postfeminist women's individuality and options, including a very 1990s' reexamination of the possibilities of seductive, relatively bare clothing in the most luxurious fabrics. One needs a self-confidence approaching attitude to wear dresses and outfits of such body-revealing form, but one also needs a distinct segregation of Alfaro's partywear from day-to-day clothing. His clothes are not for the timid, but neither are they for showgirls. Spindler refers to his "sex-kitten clothes," but their relative austerity, depending entirely upon textile and shape, keeps them from being vitiated by Las Vegas.
Alfaro does however raise provocative issues of women's overt and self-assured physicality and sexuality more than of sexual license. To be sure, short skirts, bared shoulders, lace in direct contact with skin, leather, and sheer skimming fabrics suggest fetishes, but there is always something strangely wholesome about Alfaro's sensibility. Singer Mariah Carey is quoted as saying very aptly that Alfaro's "clothes are fierce." Their ferocity resides in the fact that they define strong women.
According to Ricky Lee ( New York Times, 2 August 1992), Alfaro was counseled by one buyer from Chicago that in order to succeed, he should add more suits to his line. But Alfaro rightly declined, knowing he was not creating professional clothes nor daywear basics. He eschews sobriety and, with it, tailoring. Rather, he was responding to sexuality's siren and creating the sexiest siren dresses for young New Yorkers of the 1990s. He is dressmaker to the legendary Generation X. Alfaro was defining a strong personal style and a clientéle that is generationally, visually, and libidinously nurtured on MTV and informed by multicultural street smarts. Woody Hochswender reporting for the New York Times in April 1992, found Alfaro's collection "suggested sex—in a voice loud enough to clear a disco. There were lace chaps and fake snake chaps, worn over bodysuits. Skintight snakeskin jeans were zipped all the way from front to back, reason unknown. Rib-knit sweater dresses were worn with harnesses of metal mesh, Mr. Alfaro's version of the bondage look sweeping fashion."
Explaining his relative restraint and deliberate avoidance of vulgarity in his fall/winter 1993-94 collection to Foley, Alfaro said, "I didn't want it to look cheap. Buyers see every trick in the book, and they want clothes that are wearable." Alfaro has consistently made unencumbered clothing, emphasizing minimalist sensibility and cut and employing luxurious materials. In these characteristics, he is a designer in the great American tradition. His distinctive deviation from this tradition might seem to be his hot sexuality, the body-tracing and body-revealing simplicity of his clothes—but again and again, 20th-century American designers have been dressing advanced new women of ever-increasing power and self-assurance.
In 1996 Women's Wear Daily claimed Alfaro's collection was his "best ever." The same year, he designed a line of coats, manufactured by Mohl Furs, featuring an ink-dyed Persian lamb pea coat, a leather trench coat, and a camel hair coat lined with mink inspired by photography of Jacques-Henri Lartigue. Despite his talent and popularity, Alfaro was experiencing financial difficulties and seeking financial backing. He entered into a licensing agreement with Italian manufacturer Gilmar in 1998 which allowed him to make long-term plans, be more involved in the manufacture of his garments, and to have a ready place in the European fashion scene.
His first collection shown under the agreement with Gilmar was well received. Merging Milanese chic with American-styled sportswear, Alfaro created a less revealing collection he "claimed to have started with the idea of a rich hippie, but in the end, this collection had little to do with a redux of counterculture references." True, his pieces were more boxy and full than his previous lines, but keeping to his unique and sensuous style, Alfaro added rabbit mules as a finishing touch. For the fall of 2000, Alfaro and Gilmar debuted their new line, Vic., which sells for nearly half the price of Alfaro's signature line. Alfaro told Women's Wear Daily (7 December 1999), "The Vic. line will be a little bit more on the fashion side and forward. It's still a designer collection; it's just another one of my personalities."
Alfaro is creating the postfeminist fashion sensibility, consummately beautiful in execution, infinitely skilled in construction, and assertively avant-garde. Even as some critics dismiss his work as offensive, Alfaro is a true fashion risk-taker and visionary. He is defining and dressing today, and will dress hereafter, the bravest woman of the future.
updated by Christine MinerMinderovic