HOW THIS BED STUY BASED FINE ARTIST AND DESIGNER BRINGS A UNIQUE VISION TO EVERYTHING SHE TOUCHES
BY CATHERINE GIGANTE BROWN
Whether through carefully selected bits of wool, hand sewn pearls, or price tag fasteners thoughtfully affixed to plastic the natural and the manmade blend in an unlikely fashion in garments designed by Maria Jose Ordonez. And, however transparent and transcendent, they are but one part of her creative output. Jose (aka “Joshe”) explained of a particular piece of design work that, “The idea was to create a conceptual dress that made a connection between two worlds nature and the one that pollutes. The plastic tags represented materialism, which I wanted consumers to consider.”
For someone so young (just 25), Ordonez’s scope of work is impressive. It spans photography, video, clothing design, and fine arts, as well as what she terms “dressing” a fashion shoot by choosing background materials and other aesthetics, as a dresser would. “I call myself a creative strategist, simply because everything I do involves creativity,” she explained. To Ordonez, narrative is key.
“When I’m designing a piece or crafting a look, I want to tell a story,” she detailed. “It’s not just about making something pretty. I care about the story behind it.”
As part of that “story,” Ordonez’s work as a fashion stylist often includes clothing from artisans especially from her native Ecuador. “So much today is mass produced and as a result, ancient techniques are dying,” she said. “This is why I try to incorporate handmade goods.”
Her respect for hand hewn crafts brought Ordonez to the United Nations in 2017, when she was invited sit on a panel addressing sustainable development, yet she was quick to relate that her first vocational thoughts involved neither fashion nor design.
“I wanted to be a historian or a journalist,” she said. “But I also frequently made my own clothes. In Ecuador, there’s no H&M, so if you want to wear clothes you see on TV, you have to make them yourself,” adding that it was her father who suggested pursuing a career in fashion design.
“I just didn’t see a future in [that industry],” she said. “But he convinced me to try for a year. From day one, I fell in love especially with how fashion can make a positive impact on people’s lives.” She journeyed to New York to be a volunteer during Fashion Week and was struck by its energy and merge of cultures. “I immediately felt at home here.”
So, when it came time to pursue her master’s degree, Ordonez chose Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. “Other design schools seemed to focus on being famous,” she said, “but Pratt was more concerned about practicalities. They were extremely supportive, and gave me scholarships as well as funding to start projects.” One of those projects, Loop Fairtrade, is a digital platform that connects artisans from low income communities to designers here in the city.
It wasn’t just Pratt that recognized Ordonez’s talents. She won the XPOTEX national fashion design competition in Ecuador two years running. “It was a live event,” she said. “We had to both design and create clothing on the spot. Super intense, but a lot of fun.” Another event she participated in, Runway by Modalab, had the support of companies like Vogue Mexico and Mercedes Benz, which fueled recognition on an international level.
“Right now, I’m focused on three things: fashion, technology, and culture,” she said. “I’m always looking for ways to merge fashion with technology, and am currently working on another digital platform that connects travelers going to South America with shoppers abroad,” adding that “as a young female and a Latina developing technology startups, it’s di cult to be taken seriously when you walk into a room of older men to pitch a proposal, but I’m working hard to change that perception.”
Most recently, Ordonez partnered with Cartel & Co. on photos hoot production. She also supports a number of non profits that create community programs and educate, explaining that “many Ecuadorian women who’ve been in the U.S. for decades have forgotten how to weave. So, this year, I launched the first toquilla (a flexible and durable fiber derived from jipijapa tree leaves) straw hat workshop in the U.S. I’m very proud of that.”