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FAST 2022: Ethan Cortez fuses streetwear, corporate styles in new collection

Third-year sociology student Robby Wong (left) and first-year pre-business economics student Ethan Cortez (right) sit on a bench in clothing from Cortez’s collection for the Fashion and Student Trends at UCLA spring runway show. Through taking traditional business wear and adding rips and loose threads, Cortez said his designs are an allegory for the stress placed on American workers. (Bryan Palmero/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Alexis Shenkiryk

May 23, 2022 6:27 p.m.

This post was updated May 25 at 10:14 p.m.

Ethan Cortez is getting down to business with his debut collection.

As a newcomer to the Fashion and Student Trends at UCLA spring runway show, the first-year pre-business economics student said the core of his collection is the distortion of traditional corporate wear, infused with elements of streetwear. By manipulating the proportions of professional silhouettes and adding surplus distressing of the fabric, Cortez said his thematic collection is a commentary on the toxic work culture in America. Through these eccentric modifications, he said he hopes to emulate the feelings of stress and anxiety felt by Americans working common office jobs.

“Before I started committing myself more toward the fashion industry, I was having an internal struggle of, ‘Do I really want to spend the rest of my life in an office having to wear suits every day?’” Cortez said. “I saw the stress it put on my dad and I was like, ‘Do I really want the same life for me?’”

The collection is complete with six different looks, and Cortez said he named each one after a stereotypical trope in the typical office environment, for instance “the head honcho” or “the pleb.” As for the design motifs that repeat throughout, he said the majority of the looks are baggy, inspired by the fashion of 2000s music videos he grew up watching. Also prominently utilized is a dual-sided multicolored knit fabric Cortez said he was drawn to, a material that will be showcased in half the looks to unify the collection.

[Related: Coterie Couture: On Wednesdays, we wear absurdist meme fashion as social commentary]

Beyond the clothes, Cortez said he intentionally chose dark trap music to create an eerie runway ambiance, incorporating an abrasive element to enforce the theme of his collection. However, he said the genre is simultaneously a personal preference and a reflection of the trap music he listened to in adolescence. Moreover, Cortez said he chose models on the basis that they could walk overly aggressively and at a fast pace.

From the initial trial run, third-year sociology student Robby Wong said Cortez gravitated toward him because of his natural gait, which coincided with the direction he wanted for his models. With the FAST show to be his first time walking an official runway, Wong said he venerates runway shows for their greater sense of formality and ability to showcase designs in motion.

“I really liked the look that he gave me,” Wong said. “There’s the juxtaposition between the average office worker – very put together – and then me, who has office attire on but it’s just really distressed and unkept. I always like how themes can contradict our sense of reality.”

Although Cortez veered toward the abnormal when designing his collection, he said he wants his pieces to remain wearable and therefore sustainable. Unlike other high-end fashion brands that produce a surplus of unworn looks, Cortez said he prioritized minimizing his waste, striking the balance between pushing the envelope of streetwear and making clothes that still can be worn daily.

(Bryan Palmero/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Cortez (left) stands in a hoodie and hat while Wong (right) models a distressed striped sweater over a button-down shirt and tie. Wong said he appreciates the formality of the runway format and how it allows the clothes to be showcased with an added element of movement. (Bryan Palmero/Daily Bruin senior staff)

[Related: UCLA student celebrates Indigenous heritage through handmade beadwork business]

Since beginning production of the collection in December, Cortez said collaboration has been constant between designers in FAST, especially in the form of dissecting ideas and motivating each other during the long stretch of design and reiteration. Another main collaborator is second-year business economics student Mohammed Abdelmuati, a friend and business partner of Cortez, who said the pair’s ideologies intersect at the common goal of marketing Cortez’s fashion label Part-Time Plastic Company. Whether it be in the form of driving around Los Angeles putting up posters or Cortez staying up late to send him original mock-ups, Abdelmuati said his designs and brand are about changing the culture of fashion by bringing high-end style to the street.

“Ethan shares the same sentiment (as Off-White or Louis Vuitton),” Abdelmuati said. “He wants to change the culture, be able to express himself creatively … and have people support his vision.”

In the end, Cortez said his future is rooted in the fashion industry, as he continues to hone his design skills and grow his fashion label. Specifically, he said he plans on finding new ways to recycle plastics into fabric, while also providing commentary on political and social change through his clothing. Through his collection and company, Cortez said he hopes to draw people to a shared purpose of creating reform in the United States.

“All my designs right now and all my future designs are about social commentaries, regardless of what they’re about in that specific collection,” Cortez said. “Clothing cannot just be about clothing anymore. They have to have meaning to the person who puts them on. If you just slap a logo onto something that doesn’t mean anything, but if you’re trying to convey a message or a story, it means everything.”

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