By Adelmi Ysita
Boyle Heights Beat
A gasp went through the crowd as four men –arms dipped in black ink– dropped red roses and stomped on them, leaving the flowers in frayed disarray.
The scene happened last July in front of about 80 people at the Reef in downtown Los Angeles, site of René Camarillo’s third fashion show. His designs showcased gender neutrality, as all items were menswear pieces with feminine touches. The 23-year-old designer described the collection as an ode to the LGBT community.
“The roses represent difficult love,” Camarillo said. “To step on and crush the rose meant a difficult sexuality and love life.”
Raised in the El Sereno neighborhood, Camarillo was influenced by his affection for and connection to the Eastside. While suffering from self-harm, he found an outlet for his pain in fashion.
July’s fashion show highlighted the designer’s brand “Destacarse,” which means “stand out” in Spanish. Camarillo chose this name because “my pieces and my whole clothing aesthetic [are] very interesting. That motivates me because it influences me to get bigger and bolder and stronger.”
The show featured 15 different outfits, many that included white tops and dresses with black denim bottoms. The crowd murmured as Jesús Suatan, 18, a long-time friend and model of Camarillo’s, became the first male to model a dress.
“His designs for this collection were a lot of gender-neutral clothing [and had] a lot of flair and [were] flowy, which I really love,” Suatan said.
Besides designing clothing, Camarillo works as a designer at Matteo, a luxury home goods company based in Boyle Heights.
As an up-and-coming designer, Camarillo uses his own money to fund his clothing line and serves donated food and drinks at his events. His goal is to improve his sales.
He’s found some obstacles to making a name for himself in the fashion industry, such as lack of capital. He also believes that he was handicapped by growing up in El Sereno, where he says art and creativity are not as appreciated as in affluent areas, and that his youth has kept him from being recognized for his work and talent.
Camarillo is not planning on continuing a career in fashion design, but would like to own a small clothing store. He sees fashion as “very superficial” and says it’s difficult to get products to the market.
“I have a love-hate relationship with fashion,” he explained in an e-mail. “I don’t want to contribute to the fashion industry, but I love designing and inspirations. I never want to stop sewing. And I will continue to learn.”
He became interested in fashion design and began experimenting with sewing machines and design when he was a student at Woodrow Wilson High School. “I definitely didn’t like the clothes I was wearing in high school,” Camarillo said. “I definitely had a lot of emotions in high school, and I used those emotions to create things.”
When Camarillo was a senior, he and Suatan became good friends. That same year, Suatan, then 14, modeled in Camarillo’s first fashion show.
“It was phenomenal,” Suatan said. “His sense of style comes from the purest intentions and has always been avant garde. Wherever we would go, people always stared at him. That inspired me to find my own sense of style.”
Camarillo says he’s inspired by the “poetry” in Alexander McQueen’s clothes and aims to do the same with his own designs.
His designs include unusual pieces, such as a skirt covered in razors. He says the skirt symbolizes his “battle scars” and was inspired by time spent in a mental hospital in 2014 after he injured himself by cutting.
After recovering, Camarillo was inspired to design a collection titled “The boy who jumped the golden keys.” He designed clothes with moss sewn into them to represent his growth after receiving help at the hospital. Fashion has become an outlet for the emotional pain that he had previously sought to assuage by harming himself.
“Moss are drawn toward light, so that was a little symbol that I had to find my own light as well,” Camarillo said. “You need to get up, you need to start life all over again [and] you need to go find your own source of light.”
Camarillo has donated his time to Barrio Action Youth & Family Center, which strives to empower young people to succeed academically and socially. In 2016 he worked with youth as a mentor and director at the Lou Costello Jr. Recreation Center, helping kids design their own clothes, which they could keep.
“We did a zoot suit-inspired fashion show there, which was really fun,” he said. “Growing up I noticed that I never had anyone artistic in my life that could inspire me and push me to open doors. I want to be able to do that for other youth.”
Adelmi Ysita is senior at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School. She has been figure skating for 10 years and enjoys competitions. She hopes to attend a four-year university and major in journalism and communications.
All photos provided by René Camarillo.