Esteban Cortazar wants to return Emanuel Ungaro to its heritage of ultrafeminine and colorful clothes.

"My designs have always been about unapologetic femininity that is pure and totally natural," explained the 23-year-old Colombian, who was hired in December to succeed Peter Dundas.

"I had that aesthetic growing up," he continued. "I'm Latin and very warm. I love to celebrate women who take care of themselves, are happy and look beautiful. It's the kind of woman who smells delicious."

Cortazar, who will show his freshman effort for the house Feb. 27, said he felt an instant connection with Ungaro's legacy for color, prints and fluid dresses.

"I want to bring lightness back to the brand," he said, explaining that his fall collection was inspired by "natural elements, fluidity and movement."

"The prints are directed to nature and growth," he said. "There is soft color, but also vibrant color. There are a lot of dresses. The main idea was movement, always movement. Ungaro should always be about unapologetic femininity."

Cortazar's arrival chez Ungaro is part of an effort to bring stability to the house, which was purchased by Asim Abdullah, a high-tech entrepreneur, in 2005. The last few seasons have seen a revolving door of designers, including Vincent Darre and Dundas.

In fact, the house has been groping for an identity since the departure of Giambattista Valli, who took over after the retirement of Ungaro in 2004.

"We're not on the radar of young chicks," said Ungaro chief executive Mounir Moufarrige. "We need to have a strong identity and be younger. Esteban is very aware of color and prints.

He's perfect for Ungaro. He understands what women want."

Cortazar first gained attention when he launched a signature line in New York at the age of 18 after being taken under the wing of the late Kalman Ruttenstein of Bloomingdale's.

"Kal took me to my first fashion shows when I was 14," said Cortazar, who stopped his own collection to concentrate on Ungaro.

Now, the youthful designer said he's ready to turn up the energy.

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