A pioneering force in Latin American haute couture, Silvia Tcherassi is the global fashion designer behind “casual luxury”, a hard-to-define yet unmistakable aesthetic that mingles the traditional with the avant-garde.

Tcherassi began her career as an interior designer but quickly married her creativity with her love for fashion. From creating T-shirts for her friends early on to designing luxury hotel interiors today, Tcherassi’s artistry has come full circle. She shares the journey with her mother, sister, husband and two children, who are an integral part of her brand and business.

We sat down with Silvia Tcherassi to talk about her ascension to the lofty climes of high fashion, the family that keeps her grounded and how she plans to sustain the success she currently enjoys.

Silvia Tcherassi: A Colombian Fashion Trailblazer
Silvia Tcherassi [centre] on the runway, image courtesy of Silvia Tcherassi.

How did you move from interior design to clothing?

After I graduated with a degree in interior design, I started appliquéing T-shirts, sourcing exotic materials from the cutting floor of an accessories company. My friends, who were the benefactors of these early experiments, loved them and kept asking for more. Soon enough, word spread and people from elsewhere started calling. The sudden popularity of my designs was unexpected but encouraging: I realised they were the basis for a new adventure. So, I designed pieces to complement the T-shirts. It all happened organically – there was no business plan. I developed my vision, brand and a collection all at the same time. The demand was unprecedented, so changing my concentration to focus entirely on fashion was the obvious choice.

“…My work is opening doors for the next generation of designers, and that’s a great reason to keep pushing.”

Was there a breakthrough moment?

Showing my collections at the top European fashion weeks in Milan and Paris was an epiphany of sorts. I realised I could compete with the world’s top brands. Creatively, these experiences were an incubator – I yearned to translate my vision beyond fashion, and suddenly, I had the inspiration to do so. I became aware of the fashion hotel, a concept pioneered by Armani, Versace and Bulgari. With my background in interior design, designing hotels was a natural progression. That’s how Tcherassi Hotels and, soon after, Tcherassi Home Collection began.

A second breakthrough came when I received the Order of Arts and Letters for my contributions to the fashion industry. This reward is added motivation; my work is opening doors for the next generation of designers, and that’s a great reason to keep pushing.

Silvia Tcherassi: A Colombian Fashion Trailblazer
Bag by Silvia Tcherassi, image courtesy of Silvia Tcherassi.

What does casual luxury, your brand’s defining quality, mean to you?

My approach is relaxed: I strive to create effortless luxury without pretension or excess. Prêt-à-porter designs feature haute couture materials and techniques that mix traditional and avant-garde elements. It’s been part of the brand’s DNA from the beginning. When I first presented my collection at the Milan Fashion Week, critics described my designs as ‘prêt-à-couture’. To me, the concept of casual luxury means easily elegant, calm and fluid.

Silvia Tcherassi: A Colombian Fashion Trailblazer
Silvia Tcherassi boutique, Image courtesy of Silvia Tcherassi.

Your work has changed perceptions about Latin American fashion. What message are you hoping to convey?

My presence as the first Latin American designer to present my collections in the official calendar at the Milano and Paris fashion weeks speaks volumes. It’s an accomplishment I share with the entire LATAM region. I was not there as a Latin creative director of a European brand; I was presenting my own brand, and my collections garnered global recognition because they were made in Colombia. The message is: luxury fashion with international appeal can be designed in Latin America.

“My mother, who co-founded the company with me, established the pillars of our organisation…Her vision and experience are a guiding light in my career.”

What role do the other family members play in the business?

They are a blessing – we trust each other implicitly, and the business benefits because we share a common purpose. My mother, who co-founded the company with me, established the pillars of our organisation and served as the CEO for two decades. Her vision and experience are a guiding light in my career.

My husband’s support, as well as his engineering expertise in processes and planning, are indispensable. Our international operations are my sister’s domain. Her pragmatism and transparency inspire the entire organisation. Now, my children also play an active role: Mauricio on the business side, focussing on sales, marketing and innovation, and Sofia on the creative side.

Was there any pressure on your daughter to follow in your footsteps?

Absolutely not. She understands the concept of legacy and her responsibility to family, but she works in fashion because it’s her passion. Sofia was raised in the ethereal world of fabrics and mannequins; it’s her environment, and she loves it. When she was just a child, she started designing accessories. Now, she is a creative powerhouse with a perspective that is uniquely hers, which is critical. Sofia has almost finished her studies at Parsons and has already worked with The Row, Oscar de la Renta and W Magazine, among others.

Silvia Tcherassi: A Colombian Fashion Trailblazer
Silvia Tcherassi Hotels, image courtesy of Silvia Tcherassi.

How did you make the transition to designing hotels?

My background in interior design meant branching out into the world of fashion hotels was the logical next step, and the concept has allowed me to transition from fashion to lifestyle.

The first hotel, Mansión Tcherassi, was entirely experimental – a test to see whether I could translate my vision to interior design. We created some trademark elements, like vertical gardens, and developed an original approach to textures and finishes. We also incorporated a selection of design accents using haute couture materials and techniques.

After the success of the first hotel, we decided to open a second larger hotel with 42 rooms, two restaurants and additional amenities. In doing so, we incorporated the unique characteristics and singular approach of the first hotel on a grander scale, but calm elegance remained the essence of the project. Tcherassi Hotels capture the same spirit of effortless casual luxury that distinguishes my fashion collections. We created spaces to inspire, attempting to redefine the traditional concept of indoor-outdoor to provide a frame for unforgettable experiences.

What do you hope to see in the brand’s future?

Until 2017, our strategy focussed on growing our boutiques and ateliers, of which there are 13 and two, respectively. We already have an international presence and will continue opening our namesake boutiques in key cities around the world, following our successes in Madrid and Miami.

For the last few years, my son Mauricio and I have been working on the wholesale side of our business. The strategy has proven immensely successful, and now, our brands are available in legendary department stores around the globe, including Bergdorf Goodman, Harrod’s, Selfridges, Saks and Lane Crawford. We’ve also entered premier multi-brand boutiques across the US, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. We’re always looking for collaborators to develop our fashion and hotel brands further, and at this point, a line of fragrances is the next logical step.

Maintaining our relevancy for future generations is a priority, and innovation is the only way to achieve the sustainability we’re looking to generate. For this reason, we are constantly searching for new ways to use materials as well as exciting opportunities and partnerships.

We have a responsibility to keep one eye on the future, and the next generation is better equipped to do so. My millennial daughter and son have a mandate to continue our expansion – they are the key to its future.