The Latin American Hands behind Fashion Week

Sonia Herrera de Burgas at left in background, and Sabrina Rosado at right in foreground. (Photo by José Martinez via El Diario)

Broadcasts of Ralph Lauren and Christian Dior fashion shows were not part of the prime-time programming on the Ecuavisa TV channel Sabrina Rosado used to watch in her Guayaquil, Ecuador, home in the 1980s. Back then, before internet or social media, getting close to the big runways was almost impossible for Rosado, who was in her 30s and used her living room to dream big while creating designs and sewing for local clients. (…)

With her gigantic smile and flawless blond mane, the Ecuadorean who arrived in New York in 1992 and for a while experienced the travails of being undocumented, plays a crucial part in the next winter collection of Colombian designer Raúl Peñaranda, which was scheduled to be unveiled in Manhattan’s Fashion Week 2019. (…)

“In the beginning it was hard because I came from working for my own company,” said Rosado, who got her first big break soon after getting her green card.

“In 1999 I went to a Donna Karan fashion show and they were hiring so I entered as a freelancer. There, I met a girl who told me: Why don’t you work for Jones New York? So I applied and got hired. That’s how this dream started,” said the 66-year-old, while working on one of the show’s main dresses.

(…) Rosado lives in the Bronx with one of her daughters that she brought from Ecuador last year. “I love this job, and when I see my dresses on the runway I feel really proud that some of them have made it to Hollywood.”

If someone has gained the respect and admiration of the fashion industry in Manhattan’s Garment District it is Sonia Herrera de Burgas. Herrera, 73, a Queens resident also from Guayaquil, works besides Rosado and can barely contain her excitement for being part of another Fashion Week in the city that adopted her more than 50 years ago.

“Let’s see if I retire next year,” she said jokingly. Even though her two children are telling her to retire, her passion for fashion and fabrics keeps bringing her back to the Midtown workshops.

It’s not been an easy ride, but she doesn’t complain. She said she fell in love with the world of high fashion after entering it “by accident.”

“Back then I was coming and going, buying clothes in the U.S. for my Ecuador clients, but my girlfriends moved here; they were fashion designers and I joined them and stayed here. I was only 21,” said Herrera. “I was always with them and that’s how I learned to sew.”

Now her hands are not only behind the designs of Paula Varsalona’s wedding dresses and Peñaranda’s gowns. She also has her own fashion line that her family markets in Spain and Switzerland, and which she will continue after she retires from New York’s big brands. (…)

In 1990, singer Freddy Tirado took a flight from La Paz, Bolivia, to Miami, Florida, with 16 LP’s under his belt (…)

Without speaking English and with no contacts in the music world, Tirado had to leave the Florida sunshine and moved to New York (…). For three years the artist, in his early 30s, worked as a truck driver. (…)

Freddy Tirado swapped music for fashion. (Photo by José Martinez via El Diario)

“By chance, a friend tells me that there is a fabric cutter job available and that he will show me, because back then I knew about music, but I had no idea about clothes,” said Tirado. “I learned over time, and I later perfected my cutting technique at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).”

With this new passion, Tirado, who lives in North Bergen, New Jersey, was reborn. The 60-year-old is now a household name in the Garment District, where for the past two decades he has been a fundamental part of the creation of hundreds of collections for several brands.

For designer Raúl Peñarada, not a day goes by in which he doesn’t hug his workers Sabrina, Sonia and Freddy. (…)

“For me, this is not only about showing a collection, but about the whole process of how we get to the final product,” said Peñaranda, who left his native Cali, Colombia, to live in Caracas, Venezuela, and finally Miami. (…)

“I think that it’s in the process where the sazón [seasoning or spices] is, as we Latinos say,” said the fashion designer, who has worked with such icons in the industry as Oscar de la Renta, DKNY and Tommy Hilfiger. “This is like a family and I see in all of them my mother, who is a seamstress. Since this is what I love to do, and my workshop is my second home, there is no difference between my relationship with my mother and my sisters, and with my seamsters.”

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