Op-Ed: Nina Garcia & a Latina Fashion Ideal
“Hard work shows.” Simple words with a powerful punch. Words to live by – professionally and personally. Who knew this simple turn of phrase, which tickles the tongue so quickly, could wield such force and ripple through the years of my foreseeable future? Like an unexpected compliment, the notion that “hard work shows” has stayed with me since I first heard its utterance by Nina Garcia, (Fashion Director of Marie Claire magazine and mainstay judge for the Lifetime reality contest show, Project Runway.
I’ve been a fan of Project Runway for many years, though I don’t consider myself a “reality TV person.” Nevertheless, I love this show. Why? Easy. Hard work shows. Over the course of three months, twelve or so aspiring fashion designers take on challenges that involve creating – from scratch – original runway designs and clothes in a scandalously short amount of time. Each designer has only their imagination, craftsmanship and time management creativity to rely upon to get them through each challenge. Why go through this torment? Because winning Project Runway is a life game changer. The winner wins big: the prize package usually involves some variation of a new late model car, a $100k stipend to launch their own fashion line, a state-of-the-art technology suite (furnished by HP & Intel) to help with designing the new fashion line, a fashion spread in Marie Claire and a mentorship or exclusive contract with a major retailer (this season, it’s Lord & Taylor). High stakes, high emotions equals riveting, addictive television.
Week to week, challenge to challenge, the judges review the line-up, tally their scores, discuss the merits and faults and decide who wins. Simple. One week, a designer spent a disproportionate amount of her 24-hour work time painstakingly putting together a skirt with seemingly millions of hand-sewn appliqués. The finished item was exquisite. She won the challenge. To which Nina Garcia offered the simple wisdom and rationale for the panel’s selection: hard work shows.
That phrase offered a life lesson, suggesting in three words that success comes by staying true to your dream and doing the work it requires. No shortcuts.
That this simple phrase should come from Nina made perfect sense. Over the years, Ms. Garcia has judged with a keen fashion eye and a calm demeanor that bespeaks a deep authority and passion for fashion. She exudes, in a word, power.
She’s a Latina ideal. Her impeccable style, casually blown-out streaked reddish-brown locks and serious appraisal is not a high-fashion caricature. Instead, she projects a confident knowledge that comes from years of working up the fashion ranks.
One episode a couple of seasons back, Nina and the rigors of her day job at Marie Claire were the subject of a design challenge. The aspiring designers were asked to fashion an outfit for Ms. Garcia that could be worn to work and transition into the evening cocktail hour. Over the course of this challenge we watched Nina in action at her office and then in the designers’ workroom. During the consults, Nina’s keen fashion eye simultaneously displayed compassionate encouragement and appreciation for each designer’s skill and craft while demanding discipline for editorial and aesthetic control. She urged the designers to push themselves creatively, making sure to be aware of the sophistication level and to remember that sexy is the not the same thing as slutty.
While fashion sometimes incorporates the ethnic "Other" as an exotic print or vaguely cocoa-skinned models that come from somewhere “out there” away from the fashion world, Nina Garcia simply is. Her difference is there to be sure, in her name, and in her looks, but her authority transcends. Her success is a testament for Latinas everywhere; any industry, even one as competitive as fashion, has room for women of color and women of difference who know their stuff and take the time to hone their passion – whatever that calling may be.
Ms. Garcia, your hard work shows…and inspires.
Liza Trevino is an Op-Ed writer for Hispanic.com