“When I was little, I was really inspired by powerful women following a profession. To me, that woman was reflected by my mother,” Carmela says to me over Zoom on a Saturday afternoon.
Designer, Carmela Osorio Lugo, was born in Venezuela, and, growing up, she was inspired by strong women. Seeing her mother every morning putting on these powerful suits with strong shoulder pads made Carmela realize that she wanted to become that kind of a woman. “I wanted to become confident, independent, fashionable. I wanted to be respected the way my mother was when she was wearing these suits. She really inspired the aesthetic I design my clothes today.”
Carmela got a taste of success at a very young age. At only 20 years old she won the CFDA Liz Claiborne Award, one of the most prestigious awards in the fashion industry. From then on, the doors opened up to her one by one. “For sure, there’s no moment like the moment when I won my CFDA award, I was 20, about to turn 21, and being in a room surrounded by the most legendary designers of all times was incredibly special. I was right next to Raf Simons, Tom Ford, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karen. Even Rihanna and Anna Wintour were there, and for them to stand up and clap at my work, it was a moment I will never forget.”
Carmela is a driven and unstoppable designer. When she was in college, she interned for one of the biggest fashion brands in the world: Ralph Lauren. “What I loved with Ralph Lauren was the family corporation business that they had,” she says thinking back to her time there. “It doesn’t feel like an American corporation but more like you go home and work with your family. Also, Ralph Lauren himself was extremely nice and kind to me, even if I was just an intern. I had my own kind of personal style before I started interning for Ralph Lauren, but because I was so fascinated by their culture, their values, and what they meant as a company, I started to dress in Ralph Lauren”.
After Ralph Lauren, she continued enriching herself as a designer by joining Calvin Klein. “Calvin Klein was a completely different experience from Ralph Lauren. This time I got to explore my own capabilities as a designer. The difference was mostly that, with Ralph Lauren, the DNA was very clear, and we were all trying to achieve Ralph’s vision whereas with Calvin my work was mostly consisting of traveling to see different manufactories, to work on development, design etc. So, I feel like from Ralph Lauren I learnt the values a fashion house should have, and from Calvin it was more about me learning about the execution process and what it takes in order to make a successful collection.”
Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world. It is more polluting than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. With all the waste going around and the amount of plastic ending up in landfills, some sustainable designers are trying to make a difference. Carmela is one of them. “In this industry, we are not saving lives, what we do is simple; we create beautiful clothing.” She adds, “I want to create beautiful clothing for ALL women. However, at the same time, I want the way I create the clothing to be positive. I have always been a social activist and looking at the results of what other people buy (clothing) and how it affects the small third world countries really impacted me from the moment I saw the documentary ‘The True Cost.’ It showed me that making clothing, which is usually done with the aim of making people feel better, doesn’t achieve that goal because people who are making the clothes are working under unacceptable conditions. From my first collection at CARMELÁ until right now with Attire, I realized that I can be a fashion designer and a social activist at the same time.”
Today, Carmela is the head of design and production at Attire the Studio, a brand founded by the renowned Instagrammer Xenia Adonts. Just like Carmela’s own brand, CARMELÁ, Attire is a sustainable brand with each piece (including the packaging, tags, etc.) made from sustainable materials. Alongside that, it is a full-on transparent brand, meaning for each item you get to see the true cost of production. “I think in a certain way, COVID taught us we are in this world together and we cannot just think about ourselves as individuals because we’re going to shut down.” She continues, “so the customer has to think ‘what am I buying?’, ‘how can a shirt cost 5euro when a shirt has fabric, thread, five buttons, interfacing, lining, tags’ and this is only the material, I’m not even thinking about the person making this shirt right now. These are the kind of questions people need to ask themselves before they buy something.”
As soon as Carmela answered the Zoom call, I immediately noticed her beautiful neutral-toned top and blazer that she styled so elegantly with a stack of gold necklaces. Her Instagram account, in which she regularly posts her outfits as well as the pieces she designs for Attire reflects her simple yet eye-catching style.
Intrigued and utterly obsessed with her style, I asked her some questions:
If you could choose three designers, living or dead, with whom you could have dinner with, who would they be?
“For sure Yves Saint Laurent would be one of them. He was a genius with the way he interpreted the woman’s body. His suits from the 80s are something that has inspired me so much. When you see the Yves Saint Laurent women in the ads, you want to be [them]. You want to be powerful. There’s something about his tailoring, his vision and the fact that he was so young but still able to create something so unique has always fascinated me.
I also love Phoebe Philo from Céline. I think she is a genius. Throughout her whole career, from Chloé to then Céline, she really took simplicity to a whole new level. She managed to make women feel secure by just using a nice white shirt. Even what’s happening with Bottega right now is really interesting because it’s taking her vision to another level.
Lastly, even though it’s someone that I know, I haven’t had the opportunity to have lunch with him yet, that’s why I would for sure pick Ralph Lauren.”
In your opinion, which item should everyone have in their closet that will never go out of style?
“A button-down white shirt 110%, it’s a piece you can wear from day to night and the way you style it can look so chic and elegant and at the same time you look very professional and put together. A white oxford shirt, cotton with very sharp details on the collar, and beautiful buttons and finishes is definitely the way to go. “
Where do you find inspiration?
“This is a question I love when it is asked to other designers because it makes you think of theway you can find inspiration. For me, throughout my whole career, I always found inspiration on people: on societies, on cultures, on movements.
For instance, for my senior collection, I was inspired by construction workers. I always look at cultures and I try to dig and then see what compliments that culture. For example, I was really interested in the people that started the salsa movement and the artists that were part of that movement. There’s so much to get inspired by just looking and observing people. Cultures, people, ethnicities, and movements are what will always inspire me. “
Before saying goodbye, we played a quick game where I gave her two options, and she had to pick her favorite:
Jeans or leather?
Open back or plunging neckline?
Underdressed or overdressed?
Skinny pants or baggy pants?
Fall/winter wardrobe or spring/summer wardrobe?
Cardigan or blazer?
Blazer without a doubt
Neutral tones or colorful?
Neutral. But it’s funny because I used to be a colorful designer until my mentor for my senior collection, Juan Carlos Obando, told me that I had such amazing and strong silhouettes that instead of showing the structure of the garment I was covering it up with colors and embellishments. When he said that, something clicked in my head. He marked a very important part of my career that I appreciate now looking back. Now, I am 100% more into neutrals.
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