NEW YORK — During Wednesday’s talk at Museo del Barrio, Maria Cornejo, Francisco Costa and Narciso Rodriguez presented their own reality show about fashion, and it had nothing to do with overnight success.
Devoted as they are to design, the trio candidly spoke about unrelenting deadlines, long hours, the tireless search for inspiration, “designer’s block,” constant travel and the undeniable fact there is no substitute for perseverance.
Their frank discussion with NBC’s Natalie Morales came across not as complaining but as the shoptalk of three friends who can relate to a degree that others can’t fully imagine. Costa told the packed audience, “Just work hard. It’s really hard — it’s magical — but it’s really hard. If you really want something, go for it. The difference is to be truly yourselves. Do what you love. It’s not right, it’s not wrong. It’s about who you are.”
In a field with so many voices, it is essential to have your own to stand apart, Cornejo said. “There are no shortcuts.Unless you’re a celebrity already, there are no shortcuts.”
Wearing a Calvin Klein Collection white silk draped-front dress with gold-tip python sandals, Morales covered a lot of ground with her questions. The Diseño|Fashion talk was the first in a series that has been set up through a partnership with the Cooper Hewitt.
Asked about designer’s block, which is similar to writer’s block, Rodriguez said a walk is the no-fail answer. “I could just go around the block,” he said. “And there’s nothing around the corner except a Whole Foods and a coffee shop. But then I read somewhere that it is one of the best things you can do — just walk, step away from the problem.”
As for whether Costa ever questions his career choice, he said, “All the time, but not because I don’t appreciate what we do as designers. But there are so many more things that I want to do. Obviously, fashion is a big part of what I love, and I always think of the environment and the lifestyle — I would love to do a hotel, I would love to design a building, I would love to write a book.”
He described taking English classes during the day at Hunter College and going to school at night at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Costa mentioned New Inc., the New Museum’s recently inaugurated incubator program that brings together artistic endeavors and tech start-ups.
And when Costa was asked about his pre-fall collection, Rodriguez offered with a laugh, “I started to twitch.”
Rodriguez spoke of the discerning nature of the business, saying, “You’re more in favor, you’re less in favor. Fashion is so fickle — that’s why it’s fashion.”
In terms of how business affects creativity, Cornejo said, “It’s about having a company, employing people, being part of a team, growing — it’s a lot of pressure….Our job is to create desire every season but also functional desire, because people have to wear these clothes and feel good in them. It’s like urban camouflage. There’s a lot of pressure, but we have fun with it.”
Asked about her design inspiration, Cornejo said, “Inspiration? I call it [desperation] because we’re on such a schedule now that [we’re] constantly producing.” She then detailed how the process starts with fabric and how she references the reams of photographs she shoots of all sorts of scenes. (Her computer has more than 74,000 images.)
While designing his friend Carolyn Bessette Kennedy’s wedding dress was a breakthrough moment in his career, Rodriguez said it also was a personal one. He pointed to Cornejo as a current muse, describing her as “profoundly inspiring and so brilliant.” Born in Chile and educated in England, Cornejo said, “What I love about New York is that you can write your own story.”