Born: Luis Estévez de Galvez in Havana, Cuba, 5 December 1930. Education: Studied architecture, University of Havana, and fashion design, Traphagen School, New York. Career: Window display designer, Lord & Taylor; design assistant, House of Patou, Paris, 1953-55; began designing menswear, 1967; founder/designer, Grenelle, 1955-68; designer, Radley Furs, 1959-68; swimwear designer, Estévez for Sea Darlings and Resort Sports, 1960s-1977; menswear designer, St. Joseph Knitting Mills, France, 1967-73, moved to California, 1968; designer, Somper Furs, 1968-72; menswear designer, JayMar Ruby, 1972-73; designer, Universal Studios, 1969-1970s; designer, Eva Gabor collections, 1972-74, and Luis Estévez International line for Gabor, 1974-77; designer, Estévez for Neal and other freelance work; founder/designer, Estévez Enterprises, 1977-present; operated Estévez boutique on Melrose Avenue in Los Angelos, 1986-92; relocated to Florida, 1992-95; Estévez design studio/boutique, Santa Barbara, 1996-97; LEG Bridge line, from 1997. Exhibitions: Showcased collection during theater productions of Hello Dolly, 1964 and Hair, Los Angeles, 1969; gowns displayed in the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., and Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1956; Burdines Sunshine award (FL), 1957; Chicago Gold Coast award; Bambergers Golden Scissors award, 1962; Tommy award, 1988; Hispanic Designers, Inc. lifetime achievement award, 1990.
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I'm most grateful to God for the gift of an energetic talent and my parents for exposing me to significant style—living life to the fullest and showing me the living discipline that helped me do all I've done.
Throughout his career, Luis Estévez has produced elegant and restrained eveningwear for prestigious Californian clients, including Merle Oberon and Betty Ford. His style has been well suited to the Californian lifestyle, with its emphasis on wealth, luxury, and success.
Born to a privileged background in Cuba in 1930, Estévez studied architecture in Havana but switched to fashion after spending a summer job as a window dresser for Lord & Taylor department store in New York. After study at the Traphagen School of Fashion, New York, he left for Paris and found work at the house of Jean Patou for two years. This experience in Parisian couture was to influence his creative approach to design for the rest of his life.
By 1955, Estévez was designing under his own name, for a company called Grenelle-Estévez. Specializing in evening and cocktailwear, with occasional forays into daywear, Estévez was an immediate success. Sales reached $3 million in his first year of business alone, and Life magazine dubbed him "The One-Year Wonder." In 1956, he was the youngest designer honored with the Coty American Fashion Critics award. Estévez's clothes had an exclusive, individual look but were made from reasonably priced fabrics, selling well in the higher brackets of the mass market. He attributed much of his inspiration to his wife, who liked to dress in sexy but tasteful clothes with sharp and uncluttered silhouettes.
In the 1950s and 1960s Estévez clothes were distinguished by dramatic, theatrical showings, usually along a set theme. The Night and Day collection and gala, at the Waldorf Astoria, was dedicated to Cole Porter; the Broadway cast of Hello Dolly was featured prominently in his 1964 collection; and Estévez took over the Great Hall of the Met for his 1965 Fly Me to the Moon collection. His clothing was further distinguished by individual craftmanship as well: cutout neck designs, unusual angles like Os or Vs or in the shape of daisy petals, the edges of the fabric appearing jagged.
Frequent use was made of stark black and white and of full, rustling skirts, or narrow lines with floating back panels. He also introduced less fitting clothes in the form of barrel-shaped ottoman coats and dresses in two versions; one with a narrow skirt, the other with a puffball skirt. Evening jumpsuits were late 1960s innovations, as was a foray into menswear which featured horizontally tucked evening shirts. He was fond of designing around a strong theme, as in his ethnic-African inspired collection of 1959, featuring oversize tiger and zebra stripe prints. Estévez was also know for his imagainative use of accessories and designed swimwear and furs on a freelance basis for other companies.
After moving to California in 1968, Estévez became well established in West Coast fashion and society. He developed a clientéle of well-known women, including Lana Turner, Rosalind Russell, and Nancy Reagan. Actress Eva Gabor commissioned his talents as a glamorous eveningwear designer for her own label Eva Gabor Collections. This venture was so successful that in 1974 he signed a contract with her parent firm to design a line called Luis Estévez International. In 1977 he formed his own company to concentrate on the couture market. He served this loyal clients at his successful Melrose Avenue boutique in Los Angeles and later his design studio/boutique in Montecito. Although less celebrated than in the 1950s and 1960s, his reliability and expertise were well respected by clients, who eagerly poured themselves into his sensual black velvet dresses and embroidered sheaths. Estévez retired from fashion design in 1997, but he remains active in community affairs and is writing a book about his life. Estévez has received many awards and tributes for contributions to fashion as well as his civic activities.
Throughout his career, Luis Estévez's designs celebrated the glamor he cultivated in his personal life. The 1950s remain his favorite period of fashion because women looked feminine and life was beautiful. He believed, and still does, that clothing should flatter the person wearing it—otherwise fashion is more like a costume and not worth designing.
In February 2001, in commenting on his life in fashion design, Estévez said: "As I review my career, the first thing that comes to mind are my many fashion firsts and my talent's built-in drive and dedication to doing things as they had never been done before—all without fear of failure." Indeed, Estévez did go where designers had never gone before—heralding the future of fashion shows with bold, dramatic extravaganzas, the likes of which are rarely seen today. Though new, hip designers like Viktor & Rolf could be considered heirs to Estévez's lavish style, his dedication and singular designs remain unique.
updated by Janette GoffDixon