Orlando Carreras sits limber but confident on the couch in his Hell’s Kitchen showroom. Chances are you’ve got something that he’s designed somewhere in your wardrobe without even knowing it; the boyishly good-looking, out and proud designer was, for 12 years, the head of Gap Design. For six of those years he was head of men’s design at Old Navy and since 2007, he’s been the designer behind his own independent label, Orlando Carreras.
The label has steadily been winning fans within the fashion industry—for its relevant and innovative men’s collections—as well as from common folk who could care less about what season they are wearing but who do know a good shirt when they see one. PINK Magazine has been watching Carreras since he flew the coo at Pacific Sunwear and are most dazzled to discover that at such an early stage in his label’s development, he struck a deal to supply the wardrobe for legendary gay PBS show, In The Life.
Why would anyone leave their plum job at Gap and dive into the treacherous seas of self-employment, especially in the volatile world of fashion? It is clear that while Carreras has the talent and skill to lead one of the world’s largest clothing manufacturers, his vision is such that it could never be so constrained.
“Everything, from the time I was 15, was geared towards fashion design. Since then I knew I wanted to have my own label,” says Carreras of his intentions. But after graduating college (he went to both Parsons and FIT) he was met with the stark reality that starting up your own business is, to be blunt, expensive. “I took the jobs that would look good on my résumé, never losing sight that one day I would be able to hopefully branch out on my own,” says Carreras of why he opted to design for mainstream businesses like the Gap and Pacific Sunwear.
But don’t let his reluctance to join the world of commercial fashion fool you; he’s distinctly proud of the years he spent building Gap, Old Navy and Pacific Sunwear. A glow in the eye and a subtle smile appears on the designer’s face while modestly downplaying the successes he reigned over at said companies. Creative types never like to admit they’re part of a machine, even if that machine produces something everyone wants.
“What I do today is the complete opposite of the Gap” Carreras is quoted as saying to DNR, the industry standard for menswear. While any casual observer might beg to differ—his label offers wardrobe staples and important key pieces—Orlando Carreras is a clear departure from the staid and mass-produced garments offered by his former employer. Conservative staples such as button-ups, plaids and knits appear but are at once thrown out of wack with unexpected seems and fine-tuned with luxurious fabrics. Micro-gingham shirts, lightweight knits and zigzag seeming are just some of the ways Carreras is able to make fashion-forward menswear without being gauche. You won’t find any over-embellished T-shirts in this collection just things like “Seersucker gone-wrong” (describing one piece with horizontal rather than vertical grooves).
“It was a combination of two personal tragedies (his father’s death and his sister getting cancer) that finally made me realize that I needed to start doing what I wanted to do, and it was at that point that my label was born,” says Carreras of what finally pulled him back to where he once saw himself as a young man. So Carreras packed up his belongings and moved out of his home in L.A., left his job at Pacific Sunwear and took one of the biggest chances of his life. He moved back to New York City and began Orlando Carreras.
The gig with In The Life is surprising because most designers with young collections would be fearful of attaching themselves so closely to a gay TV show, nonetheless a gay TV show that discusses politics. “I wasn’t looking to get my clothes on In The Life, it’s actually kind of serendipitous how it happened (Carreras met the crew while seeking out a new showroom space) but they saw my Web site and loved my stuff,” says Carreras of how this all came about. “Part of what inspires me to design has to do with honesty and backbone, and when I met the host of In The Life, I knew that he was just this kind of person.”
Once one understands more deeply the kinds of things that make Carreras tick, one realizes that his designing for the show was always meant to be. He’s not one to let an outside trend dig its way into his mind and force him off his naturally born course. “When I’m designing, I’m not thinking the economics or how I can get someone to buy my next season. I follow my inspirations. I get inspired by anything important to me—like the fight against Prop 8—to anything that makes me smile, like Barack Obama.” Heady subjects for fashion inspiration, but nonetheless, they certainly put Carreras on the right path for success as his garments manage to be both interesting and wearable all at once—something the industry considers the holy grail of men’s fashion.
“I’m thinking of the guy who thinks outside the box. He is maybe not so creative by day but does something very different outside of his 9-5,” Carreras says of who he envisions wearing his clothing. “There are more people like that than you think,” says Carreras, “I keep meeting them everyday.”
From taste to temerity, it has become clear that Carreras is the kind of designer worth spending a few extra bucks on. Most men want clothes that will help them look handsome or smart—something Orlando Carreras does with ease—but it is the added bonus of knowing that there’s a little bit of gumptious gay pride in each stitch that truly pulls us into the orbit of this rising star.
For retail information and more on Orlando Carreras log onto Orlandocarreras.com.