Shantall Lacayo – Fashion Designer
By Emilia Mason y Jonathan Jackson. Photography: Flor Marenco
The original muse for a then 5-year-old aspiring fashionista, Shantall Lacayo’s Barbie was the first to have a wardrobe full of the talented fashion designer’s exclusive, one-of-kind outfits, and was no doubt the envy of all the dolls in Managua. 20 years later, continuing with that same passion that led her to design doll clothes from any little piece of fabric she could get her hands on, Shantall Lacayo has become a name synonymous with Nicaraguan fashion.
Currently residing in Buenos Aires and fresh off a successful hometown presentation of her latest collection ‘Oleos sobre tela’ (literally, ‘Paintings over fabric’), which showcased the paintings of Nicaraguan artists interpreted through her original designs, Lacayo has her sights set on redesigning the perception of fashion from Nicaragua.
Where did your love for fashion come from? And when did you decide to become a designer and make it your profession?
Since I was 5, I remember my grandma used to take me to Central commercial Managua to buy little pieces of fabric and I used to sew things for my dolls and Barbies. It’s been my real passion. It’s what I love the most…well, my mother is first, but I always loved designing clothes and I have known since I was 14, 13 what I wanted to be. But the thing is, is that the career of fashion designer wasn’t here in Nicaragua. My mother was a single mother and I don’t have a relationship with my father, and when I finished high school I didn’t have the money to go to New York or to go to another place to study fashion design. But I had my vision of what I wanted to do in the future so I decided to study marketing because I knew that it was going to help me, so I studied that here for 5 years in the UAM.
So when did Buenos Aires enter the picture?
When I finished high school and started at the university I began working with my first tailor, selling clothes with her. When I finished the university, I had the money to study what I wanted to. In December of 2007 I went to Buenos Aires to see what the design was like, because a friend of mine was going. I started researching the country and found it wasn’t as expensive as New York or Brazil but in design it is very good. I decided to go, but I didn’t want to leave what I had done for the past 5 years of my life. By this point, I had 3 people working for me and they had homes and jobs and I didn’t want to be like I’m leaving and that’s it. So I told my Mom we would keep working together. I learned how to draw with the computer so I could send the work to Nicaragua while I was studying in Buenos Aires and my mother would handle the relationship with the clients.
The first year in Buenos Aires was to learn about the history of fashion design and then the second year we learned about creating fabrics, about using patterns and techniques on fabric to create textures. I’m so happy that I studied what I studied and that I opened my mind and learned so many things that I never imagined I could.
Has your background in marketing helped you as a designer?
Well, I have friends in fashion design here and in Buenos Aires and I think that if you ask me what’s the difference between them and me, it’s not who is better or worse, it is that in my case I have another vision of design because I studied marketing. I love designing, I love that my pieces could be different and very crazy, but I could not stop always thinking about marketing, about growing my company. I have some friends who are happy just because they got an article in a magazine, or they win a contest or do a fashion show. And I feel like if you want to grow you cannot be satisfied with just that. You have to work and create and you have to try to always think about selling. I’m always thinking that people have to like it and people have to want it, because if people don’t want it or like it it’s just going to be there.
Where did the idea for your fashion show, Oleos Sobre Telas, originate?
When I started to learn how to do my own fabric with my own designs I started thinking about painters. I started thinking about how we have so many good painters here. I know there are many people they know many of the painters of Nicaragua and value them a lot. But there are many young people who don’t know anything about Nicaraguan painters. So I thought it could be a nice idea, it could be something very cultural, to work with the painters, to open the minds of younger people and let them know more about our painters. I think it’s wonderful. I mean Denis Nuñez, Ernesto Cuadra, they are all incredible and I’m very happy to have worked with them.
Do you think you have found your essence as a designer?
I have my style, the cut of the dresses, of the skirts of everything, but I haven’t found the essence. I would like it to be something inspired by my country. Maybe the painters of my Nicaragua, or maybe the Atlantic Coast, or maybe our fauna, maybe our flora. Before, I used to be inspired by what was new on the red carpet and I would see it and change my style a little. But now I think that as a designer you need to have some inspiration from your culture. Roberto Cavalli, he is recognized because of his style and that’s what each designer has. I want people to see that there is always Nicaragua in my designs. If I’m going to produce something it will come from here. I want it to be known as a product from here. I don’t want to be known as a designer that lives in Buenos Aires, I want to be known as a designer from Nicaragua, a Nicaraguan brand that opens a store in Buenos Aires as a franchise. Well, that’s the idea, but to do it there’s a long road to travel.
At the university I did my thesis on why the department stores do not sell clothes from national designers to help them and the country produce more. I interviewed many people from the stores and they said the problem was with the designers and the clients. The problem with the designers is they didn’t have the quantity or the quality of fabric. And the other problem is, you have a dress that is made here and another that is made in Hong Kong or even Panama, and the clients are like ‘Why am I going to pay the same price for something made here (in Nicaragua) when I can get Tommy or “Brand X”? So that is what we have to change. I’m trying to change people’s perceptions, so that you can see a dress (from a Nicaraguan designer) and you know that Benetton isn’t going to sell it, Tommy is not going to sell it, Kami, on the second floor of the Galerias is not going to sell it, but you still want the dress. That’s what I’m trying to do.
Any advice for those young people who have dreams but feel that here in Nicaragua they might not be able to make them come true?
What I would tell them is to fight and fight and fight, because you can do it. Thanks to God, I’m someone who learned, studied and had a good education but all I have got so far wasn’t just luck or just because of contacts and people who helped me. I’m here doing what I’m doing and getting what I’m getting because I have worked really hard. There are even people from my family who told me that it was a silly thing to be a fashion designer. Thank God my Mom always supported me. Sometimes people believe they are helping you not to make a mistake and lose money and time, but when you want something with all your heart, you fight for it, no matter what. And if you try, and go up and down, up and down, sooner or later you’ll get it right. That’s the way I’m living in Buenos Aires, going up and down, but that’s how it is. We need to keep dreaming… I had to study something else before having the chance and opportunity to really learn what I like, but I never lost my vision.