INTERVIEW by MATTHEW KITCHEN | BR!NK PHOTOGRAPHY by ZACK DeZON
Born the son of a tailor, renowned designer Carlos Campos emigrated from Honduras at age 12, alone, with not much more than a few bucks in his pocket and a unique ability to sew. By age 14 he was a pro, and a couple decades later he’s living his dream: designing costumes for Broadway plays and the New York City Ballet, and placing his indelible mark on contemporary menswear. Campos’ Fall 2012 collection, themed after his childhood literary favorite, Love in the Time of Cholera, was praised by the New York Post for yielding “clothing as poetic and nuanced as the novel.” Lofty praise considering the book was written by a Nobel Prize winner, but Campos is more than deserving. He’s already busy determining what you’ll wear in 2013 — and beyond — but thankfully, we caught him for a chat during some rare down time.
How do you come up with the concepts for your designs?
I like to see myself wearing my clothes, so I focus more on what I like to wear. Of course, you always imagine the consumer, but lately I’ve been thinking, “Look, if there’s someone like me who likes to wear this then I’m just going to make it.” Someone who wears my designs is a guy who really understands clothes and tends to wear colors: a little bit of a sartorial type. Even though some of my jackets can be made out of cotton and are washed and more relaxed, the look is very tailored.
Fall 2012 Carlos Campos
And where did your latest collection come from?
My inspiration was the novel “Love in the Time of Cholera,” by Gabriel García Márquez. The story is about this guy who waited fifteen years to tell this woman that he loves her, and I found that so classic and so romantic. I wanted to create pieces that were classic and wearable and at the same time kind of romantic.
Do you have a favorite piece that defines the collection?
They’re all my babies, but I have to say the trench coat with camel and blue color blocking is one of my favorites. I can’t wait to wear it. One of the things about me is that I feel like I’m very faithful to my original idea. When I sketch something, I know that I’m going to make it. I construct my own patterns and I even develop my own colors, so I cannot design without an original concept. The concept will lead me to the whole idea. The way I sketch a piece is the way it’s going to look on the runway, and so far, I’m very faithful to that.
Fall 2012 Carlos Campos
What got you started in this industry?
I’m originally from Honduras, and my father was a tailor back home. Since I was eight, I was sewing with the machine, and when I came here on my own, with no family, at age twelve, it was a natural progression for me to try to continue what my family had done through all these years. Now, when I think about it, it’s hard to believe that I did that, but I was lucky enough to work with an apprentice in a tailor shop for a couple of months in Brooklyn, and by the time I was fourteen or fifteen I had rented an apartment here in New York City.
Has your father inspired your career in any other ways?
He was very uniform and his fashion made such a cool statement without even trying. He would wear the same pair of shoes for six months, the same pants for four weeks, the same shirt and the same color. I’m the same. When I like a pair of pants I wear them all the time until I wear them out, and it brings up a lot of good memories for me. He was the first one in the family to get into fashion. Back then, there was no university of fashion, but he always wished he could take it to the next level. I didn’t understand what he meant back then, but now I get it. Taking his craftsmanship and work to another level is something that I’m able to do now, which is very cool.
How do you mold your collections with the current trends?
I should be ahead of the curve, and I’d like to think my designs are that way, but it’s up to the consumer to judge. It takes time for people to accept where the future of fashion is going, so when you see a trend for the first time you say, “It’s too bright. I would never wear that.” This season we did a lot of color blocking, and people say that’s the trend. But as more people wear it, then it becomes mass market, which is something kind of cool. I like when people are buying into my idea. I think that’s the gear of fashion.
Fall 2012 Carlos Campos
What’s next for you?
Oohhhhh. There are a couple of collaborations pending, but for now I’ll just continue to work on my spring 2013 collection. We never stop. We’re always doing production for spring and fall. I’m already designing for next year and getting a clearer vision of where the brand is going to go. I want to take a trip to Argentina because lately I’ve started to see a lot of Argentinean gauchos, and so that’s what I’m feeling right now — sort of “American cowboy,” but I don’t know yet. When I have an inspiration, I really investigate it and make sure no one has done something similar, and I like to go to different countries and check out the real culture. It’s going to take me some time to make the decision. Once I have the idea clear in my mind, then I’ll sketch the collection.
How do you define success?
I always say this, and I keep saying it: Success for me is where you are right now, not how the competition is doing. I came to this country with nothing, and just to be able to have a business in America makes me, in a personal way, very successful. From where you start and where you are right now, that’s what defines a person being successful.
And how can our readers contribute to that success?
They’re already part of it if they read this story and they take their time to really look into our fashion and how we approach style. I like to think that when we design clothes, we change people’s minds in a way. It happens to me all the time. People inspire me. And when someone cares about my work, it gives me validation. It always inspires me to become a better designer and deliver a better product.