Zachary Fernandez: From OSA Fashion Design Student to Project Runway Jr. Finalist to Intern at Marchesa in NYC
Written by Ivanna Woods
Nearly four years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting the now 17 year old Designer Zachary Fernandez at Erica Varize’s 'Sew What' Sewing Camp in Berkeley. At that time, I sold jewelry and worked as a Stylist while building my name as a Freelance Writer. I had a vendor booth set up with an array of unique styles of jewelry I had for sale on display. Many of Ms. Varize’s students were in attendance at this holiday event, and Zachary happened to be one of them. At 13 years of age, he was already a star student designer, and it showed. I recall taking note of Zachary as wise before his years because of how well prepared he was. He brought a young lady about his age to model a dress he made around the holiday event for all attendees to see his work. He came up to my table, we spoke briefly and was such a delight to speak to. I saw the brilliant potential in his work and of course his positively delightful energy made it so easy to adore him. Meeting him and his lovely model was such a joy that I simply had to put a piece of jewelry on the young lady and take a picture with them to remember that special moment.
Fast forward to October 2015. One evening, I was watching Project Runway the commercial break was the ad for the first cycle of Project Runway Jr. I squealed in delight because Zachary was in the trailer and I remembered him rather vividly and was simply elated for him - let alone I always root for Bay Areans on tv shows. That’s when I knew I would tune in to PRJr. and eventually reach out to interview the astoundingly talented teen designer on his experience on the show and how his life changed thereafter. Sometimes life brings you full circle to a place you have been before just to show you how much you’ve grown - and grow personally and professionally Zachary certainly has.
Fashion Xchange is a magazine about the business of fashion that highlights emerging as well as established industry talent. Zachary is the perfect sort of talent to shine a light upon because he is exactly what FXM is about. He’s young, ambitious, humble, intelligent, goal oriented, introspective and on the pulse of the fashion industry. Fernandez is moreover an intuitive young man and this interview is an account of hen I asked him what he thought about the business of fashion, he stated “I love the business aspect of the industry because it’s always changing and fast paced. Taking into consideration what I learned from being on Project Runway, through school and my own research - business is all about marketing. It’s all about how fashion is presented to the public and that’s why fashion shows have become so popular because that’s what sets the tone for the entire brand. With these shows, they want to set a tone and create a fantasy people want to buy into. People see the giant editorials, fashion films and shows and want to have a piece of the image they create. So people go out and buy a purse, a lipstick or a perfume so they have a taste of that luxury and of that fantasy. That’s what so interesting about how the fashion industry is integrated into people’s daily life. No one really goes around wearing these avant garde couture pieces, but you see them on certain people of influence and those images influence the really strong commercial presence that that name brand has.”
Zachary Fernandez collection Project Runway Jr. final presentation show in New York.
(Image courtesy of A+E Networks)
Zachary apparently has always been a driven and rather mature young person. His love for fashion and design has been virtually lifelong. “I always focused on the future and wanted to be an adult since I was like 7 years old when I dreamt of running my own company and doing my own thing. It’s the drive that I’ve always had to better myself, to better my position and to create my own story that lead me to want to work hard. Eventually, I took the leap from sketching on some scrap pieces of paper to designing and creating things because I had this ambition and I had people around me that supported me.”
Without a doubt, support is one key component that can catapult a person to the next level, especially when you’re as appreciative of your family as Zachary is. It’s essentially imperative that both aspiring and established artists surround yourself with positive, like minded people who support you on your road to success, and this young man has tons of support that has elevated him along his journey thus far. “I have so many people that love to help me. I go to an arts school so I have great teachers, I have great group of friends who are all artistic as well. And so having that energy around me it’s really inspiring and it’s something I know not a lot of people are able to get because they may not be around that sort of mindset on a daily basis. My mother, my father, my grandmother and really my entire family have been extremely supportive in everything I’ve wanted to do and they always have what I need so I can do what I love. I haven’t really ever been told no when it comes to my art or even how I want to dress myself. I think that’s what is so important. They just let me be an artist.”
Most recently, Zachary participated in his school, The Oakland School for the Arts (OSA) 5th Annual Fashion Show entitled “The City Collections”, presented for three nights - May 18th-20th. Each year OSA high school fashion design students are given a theme to use as inspiration for their collections for the annual show. Students range in experience from kids who have been sewing since they were very young to absolute beginners. This year the theme was "Cities" and each student chose a city based on its’ architecture, history, style and/or politics. Students thoroughly researched their chosen city, drew word maps and sketches, made samples and created finished fashion drawings for each piece of the collection. They even interviewed people from their perspective cities as well. Sixteen students in total had a solid 6 weeks to build a 2 - 6 piece collection. Each student also decides upon the designs for hair and makeup for their models, chooses music, lighting and choreographs how their models will walk the runway. The entirety of the show was a multi-media presentation to of video, fashion and art of many kinds to delight the senses. Inspired by the earthquake that occurred in Kathmandu in Spring of 2015, Zachary took the time to research the city’s rich arts culture, vibrant color schemes, pronounced angles, and overall details that were really inspiring to him. “I chose Kathmandu, Nepal,” Fernandez says. “I chose it because it was something so different from what I normally do. It’s a really great watching point for how I want to approach my collections in the future. So by choosing a city a little different from what I normally would have done is what really helped me push myself.” Zachary’s 6 piece collection was entitled Kathmandu Renaissance’.
As if Zachary’s design resume isn’t lengthy enough before the age of 18, Zachary was a Finalist in Project Runway Jr. and had the once in a lifetime opportunity to showcase at New York Fashion Week Fall 2015 at the age of 16. When asked about his experience showing at NYFW, Fernandez states, “It really was like a whirlwind experience. I don’t remember a lot of it because I was so tired. It was so cool and everything I wished it had been and more. I’m just excited to keep doing that. My collection wasn’t the strongest and I definitely have learned from that. I feel I was lacking the vision then but moving forward I’m very happy I’m able to create something I’m inspired by and that tells a story and creates the fantasy I love to do.”
Zachary may have quite a number of accomplishments under his belt, but every young person faces a time when they must look for internships that will help nurture their craft even more intrinsically. After PJR, Zachary began looking online on various designers’ websites for things to do for the summer of 2016. San Francisco didn't have many opportunities so he began researching for internships in NY, applied to a few and Marchesa was the biggest.
He applied on a whim and didn't think he would get it but heard back from them a couple weeks later. Their response was so shocking to him, he wondered if it was legit. The background check proved everything to be legit and Zachary happily accepted the position. Marchesa is a brand specializing in high end womenswear that was established in 2004 by Keren Craig and Georgina Chapman. "This is such an amazing opportunity I didn't expect to get so young. Once the internship was secure, we went through the process of finding me a place to stay. I'm really excited that my family helped me, they all came together and found me a place. I'm actually staying with my Aunt who lives in Manhattan. She's a distant Aunt and my grandma was trying to find me a place and called all of her family members and it so happened I was able to stay with my Aunt for the summer.”
Zachary Fernandez's "Nepal | Kathmandu" Collection at the Oakland Schools of the Arts design show. (Images courtesy of Robert Silver Photography)
As for what Fernandez expects to do interning at Marchesa? “I don’t know what to expect. I could be sweeping floors all day long, I don’t know but I would love to do that. I’m just so happy that I've been given this opportunity and that it’s something so amazing to add to my resume. I just can’t wait to observe these industry professionals that create these amazing, high end, couture gowns. That first hand account is amazing. So many people wait a long time to get an opportunity like this. The fact that I’m getting this internship so young is truly a blessing. I just want to be able to witness their craft and see what I can learn from it. Marchesa is such a diverse brand with ranges from ready to wear to high end, red carpet couture gowns. I think this is such an amazing and perfect opportunity for me!”
Truly, the Marchesa brand is so vast, they range from Resort to Handbags to Jewelry to Fragrance - but clearly Couture stands out and calls the most attention to Zachary’s intrigue. “I love Marchesa’s take on femininity and their take on power. I think that their looks give a woman such grace, power and sophistication and that’s something I’d like to bring to my clothing as well. The brands also get spread throughout so many different price ranges, and lifestyles - I think that if I’m able to learn about all that, it would be just amazing.”
It may be safe to say that people think getting an opportunity to compete on a show such as Project Runway Jr. is sheer luck, but Zachary likes to hashtag his work on social media a lot, using tags such as #TeenDesigner and #DesignerZachary to get noticed on social media to make his work discoverable. PRJr. found his page and asked if he wanted to audition. He asked them to message him through his website to check up on their credentials, they did and everything kind of snowballed into the audition process. "I love to plan ahead for my future and all the goals I have. I like to plan 10, 20 years ahead, but with both Project Runway and with the internship with Marchesa, it happened unexpectedly. And it happened really quickly. It was kind of surreal for both of them.”
In the future, Zachary looks forward to not only being a ready to wear and couture fashion designer, but has goals of becoming a full fledged brand and dreams of conceptualizing his own high fashion editorial work. “I love editorials and creating that sort of high end, couture image. I see myself creating editorials in the future that portray fashion in a very fantastical way. I love how Carine Roitfeld of CR Fashion Book creates her editorials where there’s a storyline to them. There’s this darkness to it but also this underlying etherealness to it as well that makes it very interesting.”
Without a doubt, this young designer has been gifted with a great range of talent that he has had the opportunity to display in school at the Oakland School of the Arts and Project Runway Jr. When asked about any advice he has for young, budding entrepreneurs like himself, Fernandez states, “In order to get where you want to be, you must have determination and a good work ethic. I look at friends that work hard and are deeply invested in their craft and they’re able to accomplish so much. I also have extremely talented friends that have gifts that go unused due to lack of hard work or obstacles in their way. I think that’s what separates a lot of people. You can have the most talented person, but if they don’t take the initiative then it’s hard to accomplish much.”
What can we expect from Zachary’s future designs? “I’m experimenting with silhouettes and different fabrics and fabric manipulation. There’s always this elegance and this drama with my clothing and I think that’s why I love to design and I love to create these fantastical, very elegant, very mature pieces. I’m being a designer and not just a seamstress. I want to create clothing that’s inspiring to me so that’s what I’m going for.”