Los Angeles-based designer Juan Carlos Obando is in growth mode. He's planning a new jewelry line to roll out in November, the same time he launches e-commerce, and is expanding his company with a few key hires, including his first chief operating officer.
When Obando launched his collection at Los Angeles Fashion Week in 2005, he still had a day job as an art director in advertising, working with such clients as BMW, Coca-Cola, Disney and Sony. He taught himself fashion design by pulling apart vintage pieces and sewing them back together.
For the first few seasons, he was admittedly influenced by Tom Ford. As his style began to develop, his collections were often aggressively sexy, with lots of tailoring and an emphasis on hand craft. He singed, sun-bleached and even broiled fabric, all in the name of achieving interesting effects. And in 2008, he began showing his collection in New York. (Check out the evolution of his collections above. Left to right, a dress with hand-painted fish from spring 2006, a superhero-inspired jacket from fall 2008, sun-bleached frontier-style tailoring from spring 2010 and KISS-inspired leather appliques from fall 2011.)
But only when Hollywood discovered his talent, did he really discover himself.
"That Freida Pinto dress turned my business around," Obando said when he had breakfast last week, referring to the green, bias cut gown (above, right) the star wore in July 2011 to the L.A. premiere of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."
Perhaps because of his background in advertising, Obando was more than willing to listen to what his customers wanted. And beginning in 2011, he started to focus more on the evening wear that Pinto, Miley Cyrus, Viola Davis and other celebrities were clamoring for.
"Before that, my style was a bit dark," he said. "Now, I'm known for simple, streamlined gowns in bright colors. I have an evening wear company."
He's become a red carpet go-to for L.A.'s art, society and media types, too, including Willow Bay, Jacqui Getty and Katherine Ross, a fashion consultant and the wife of LACMA director Michael Govan.
"Seventy percent of my clients have come to me because of Katherine," Obando said. "She is intrumental in developing that strategic eye and picking the right celebrities. And she has helped so many L.A. designers -- Gregory Parkinson, George Esquivel and Johnson Hartig."
Obando, who is about to turn 35, is at a point where he can appreciate his creative journey "from what I thought my style was, to what it is, to what it needs to be," he said.
This spring, he was able to get his feet wet in the jewelry category by designing a few pieces (see above) for Atelier Swarovski, in stores and online now. (The Austrian crystal brand has been sponsoring Obando's New York Fashion Week runway shows for three years.)
For his own jewelry collection, which he hopes will hit stores in time for the holidays, he's taking inspiration from men's metal watch bands. He'll launch e-commerce at about the same time, with a selection of his signature gowns, as well as more separates, such as breezy blouses to throw on over jeans.
"It's funny as a designer how my vision has changed," Obando said. "Some people don't like the reality of what their vision becomes, but for me, I'm happy."
Juan Carlos Obando's collection, $1800 to $3500, sells at Barneys New York, Des Kohan in Los Angeles.
-- Booth Moore
Top photos of Juan Carlos Obando, Robert Durell /Los Angeles Times.
Second-row photos, left to right: Los Angeles Times; Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times; Jonas Gustavsson & Peter Stigter/ For The Times; Jonas Gustavsson and Peter Stigter / For The Times.
Third-row photos, left to right: Viola Davis wearing Juan Carlos Obando at the 84th annual Academy Awards Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in February. Credit: Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times. Freida Pinto arrives at the Premiere of 20th Century Fox's 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on July 28, 2011, in Los Angeles. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.
Juan Carlos Obando' Atelier Swarovski collection, from the designer.