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The art of fashion

Photos by Dan Bishop

September 2014

Cesar Galindo

If Milwaukeeans aren’t familiar yet with the work of New York fashion designer Cesar Galindo, they will be soon. The intrepid designer is the latest courtier to bestow the city with his couture costume creations, a revue that will be on full display during the Skylight Music Theater’s upcoming fall production of Rossini’s "La Cenerentola" (Cinderella).

It’s not every day that a designer preparing to woo the crowds at New York’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week is cavalierly walking the floors of a local theater. But that’s exactly what Milwaukee’s fashionistas got to enjoy on a recent summer evening.

At an unveiling of his Fall 2014 collection, CZAR by Cesar Galindo, at the Skylight Theatre, Galindo wowed the crowd with his humble and friendly demeanor and his edgy designs. The presentation was an introduction to the extent of Galindo’s talents, and a preview of what is to come when "Cinderella" opens Sept.19, sketches of which were laid out for attendees to see on an alluring inspiration board.

The ready-to-wear collection is an assortment of bodacious offerings — separates such as his luxe leather hoodies — as well as svelte cocktail dresses and chic pantsuits — all of which served to entice attendees with rock-glam details, such as distressed sequins, vibrant, colorful prints and effervescent snakeskin.

That sort of minutiae may seem a little beyond the styles of the conventional Milwaukee woman, but Galindo balances his bold assertions with classic shapes and smart, exquisite tailoring. There’s a swath for every generation or taste, yet his fashions feel far from disjointed.

It’s one thing to look at Galindo’s designs in the pages of his look book — it’s an entirely different experience to touch the fabrics and see how the pieces move on the models in real time. One can’t help but to feel an electric excitement when Galindo’s sketches for the "Cinderella" lineup are revealed.

The costumes range from the playfully raunchy and garish dress reserved for the show’s vulgar stepsisters, to the stately blazers slated for the prince, to the red carpet glamour expected of any soon-to-be princess.

As Cinderella’s Staging Director Jill Anna Ponasick, put it: "It is a little bit, absolutely fabulous."

How the fashion designer came to be the stylish selection for the show took a little bit of serendipity. Skylight’s Artistic Director Viswa Subbaraman met Galindo through a mutual friend in Houston, where the conductor was serving as artistic director at his contemporary opera company, Opera Vista, before he was tapped to come to Milwaukee.

A few years later, the pair ran into each other again and Galindo insisted he design a show for Subbaraman. It didn’t take much convincing. "Galindo’s background shares in the art of fashion and the love of the theater," Subbaraman says. "There is an elegance and a maturity to his work that makes this production more modern day. It’s exciting. It’s been an incredible partnership."

For Galindo the partnership was an opportunity to get back to his roots. Before he descended to New York, his initial fashions lit up the stage at the Houston Opera. While he says it’s a challenge to create costumes that make as much of a statement in the design shop as they do under the lights, Galindo says he enjoys the flexibility of running with his imagination. "It’s fun because I get to be just over-the-top," he explains. "I don’t have to be (restricted) by ready-to-wear."

To some, it may seem unusual for a local performing arts company to contract such a high-class and astute designer — especially one who isn’t exclusively known in these neck of the woods — but Galindo’s instant appeal is yet another acclamation to Milwaukee’s revolving repertoire of world-class artists.

Though the self-taught Galindo is a veteran fashion designer who has worked in the industry for more than 20 years, his work has appeared in-and-out of the public conscious. He scored big early on in his career after one of his gowns graced the bodice of supermodel Karen Mulder on the July 1993 cover of ELLE magazine, and continued to make headway by working as a contracted designer for such labels as Dolce & Gabbana and Calvin Klein.

But the height of the recession — coupled by the devastating loss of his longtime partner — swiftly placed Galindo back at square one. So, he did what any modern-day artist must do to capture the limelight — he signed up for reality TV.

In 2009, Galindo joined the cast of Bravo’s "The Fashion Show: Ultimate Collection," where he surprised many by appearing not as a judge, but as a contestant. He didn’t win, but the experience led to a contract with the network and attracted him the attention needed to relaunch his career.

"It gave me exposure," Galindo says, though being under the scrutiny of cameras wasn’t always easy. But, it also put him front and center with countless influencers, including the likes of Isaac Mizrahi and Harper Bazaar’s editor Glenda Bailey. In 2011, he shared his emotional journey on Joe Zee’s "All on the Line."

After his appearance, Galindo began designing for pop star Gwen Stefani’s clothing line L.A.M.B and commenced his ready-to-wear line, CZAR by Cesar Galindo. The label is gaining attention ahead of his appearance at New York’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

There’s no question that Galindo is back and better than ever before.




This story ran in the September 2014 issue of: