Feature photograph by Luis Anthony Chavez
Collection Photography courtesy Kayoua Xiong and Dan Tomei
At the end of a not-so-special street, on a not-so-special block, there’s a modest condo guarded heavily by two miniature pinschers named Rex and Selena. Inside, the furniture is modern but comfortable looking, the kitchen is tidy, and the hardwood floors are the color of honey. By all accounts, it’s a perfectly average looking home. You wouldn’t know it just by looking at it, but something magical happens here.
Downstairs, bolts of lush fabric stand sentry in the corners, rolling racks full of pieces made of colorful silks are begging to be thumbed through, and the walls are neatly pinned with sketches of pen-and-ink women wearing painstakingly detailed clothes. This is Horacio Nieto’s studio. More importantly, this is where clothes that make pulses quicken are made.
For nearly a decade, Horacio has been designing and producing body conscious, meticulously tailored clothes that are dripping with sex appeal. His clothes are exactly what you’d want to wear in case you ever ran into an ex-boyfriend (or ex-girlfriend). Horacio’s creations favor colors rich and luxurious enough for European heiresses and seams that coil around hips, busts, and thighs like rumors twist around fast girls in small towns. Wearing one of his cocktail dresses means getting an instant boost of self-confidence. “I design for a woman that’s strong, has a personality, loves fashion, wants to feel sexy, and has curves.” Horacio explains. “I don’t tend to work with the girls that are extremely skinny. I think it’s just part of my background of being Mexican American. Every woman in my family has curves.”
Growing up in Texas, Horacio’s first customer was his mother. “I was always an arts and crafts kid. Most little boys. . . wanted to go play with guns and I was over there making flowers out of construction paper. I started sketching for my mother. She was the one that raised me so my mother is the world to me.” Horacio’s mother encouraged his designs, in spite of the very first dress he imagined. “The first dress I designed for her, it actually had a hole in the stomach. . . it was in a fuchsia color (too).”
From his small town Texas roots, Horacio moved north to Chicago. “I looked into Chicago (because) I was Mexican folk dancing, something I’d been doing since high school, and at a competition during my senior year. . .there was a group from Chicago. I actually spoke to the director and said, ‘I’m interested in coming to Chicago.’ He said, ‘Well, if you do, you’re more than welcome to join the group.’ So that was kind of the incentive. It wasn’t just coming for school I was also going to be able to dance.” Horacio adopted Chicago as his new home as he studied his craft. “I just fell in love with the city. I fell in love with the different cultures- you can go from Chinatown to Greek Town to a Polish area to just everything. There’s everything here!”
To say that Horacio started his own line tentatively is a bit of an understatement. “I didn’t want to start my own line, I wanted to work for somebody else but the Chicago industry is extremely small so there weren’t a lot of people to work with so I just started doing pieces by myself.” He takes a practical approach to designing and beginning his own label was no exception. Horacio started building his line one piece at a time, one season at a time, step by step. “That’s how I started: going from fashion show to fashion show. It just got bigger and bigger.”
Horacio doesn’t limit himself to just women’s wear. He keeps busy year round doing double the fashion shows of every other Chicago designer with his men’s wear line, Arlo. “I never ever planned to do two lines.” When his women’s line was in its infancy, Horacio began designing and sewing jackets for himself that he couldn’t find in Chicago boutiques. When he wore the one-of-a-kind pieces out, he would be flooded with requests from strangers hoping to own the same clothes. “I love the balance of (designing for) both (men and women). . . Obviously women will wear something that is pushing the boundaries. . . With (Arlo), I’m able to create pieces that push the boundaries too. That is my customer base- it’s a guy who wants to show his personality with his clothes. This isn’t your regular Banana Republic, Gap kind of wear. These are pieces that stand out.”
With his fall/winter 2010 line already under his belt, Horacio is currently hard at work on spring/summer 2011. “It’s just amazing how as soon as you finish one show, you know- it isn’t even fall yet, and you’re already working on next year!” What can we look forward to next year? Horacio’s women’s line is inspired by aquariums and the colorful, exotic sea life that dwells within them. “When I get an inspiration, I immediately begin researching so I’ve already watched like 15 documentaries on ocean life. . . I always like to do contrasting themes so the guys’ line is going to be an Egyptian dessert- sort of a ‘Laurence of Arabia’ feel.” Beyond the dreamy inspirations, Horacio really just wants to bring his designs to the masses. “I want to get these pieces into a women’s wardrobe but I don’t want them to be pieces that she only wears once in awhile.” Horacio wants us to dress, and feel, magnificent every day.