By Barrett White
Photos by Michael Joseph
Salvador Dalí once said, “At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.”
Local fashion designer Isrel Fonseca knew at an early age that high-end style was his calling. As a child, he cut his teeth at The Galleria, studying the works of the world’s most sought-after designers while holding a Häagen-Dazs from the mall’s food court in one hand and a pricey Neiman Marcus piece in the other. At home, he had dozens of sketchbooks filled to the brim with designs, colors, doodles, and testers.
“There was never a time that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” Fonseca says. “Other kids thought it was weird that I automatically knew that fashion would be my life.” His adamant belief that this would be his calling led him to learn fluent Italian and French—the languages of the industry—knowing that he would need to speak them at Fashion Week events.
In junior high, he ripped out an advertisement for New York’s prestigious Parsons School of Design from a magazine at the dentist’s office, and confidently posted the ad in his closet with a note that read, “Don’t forget to apply to this school in 2011,” anticipating his high school graduation.
In reality, Fonseca’s world moved much faster. Determined to dive headlong into fashion education after high school, Fonseca graduated a year early after studying in a dual-credit program, simultaneously receiving a diploma and an associate’s degree in science. “I was still sociable, but education was most important,” Fonseca says. “I always knew there was so much to learn.”
The rapid trajectory of his life came to a halt, though, when his standardized public-school education (as opposed to art school training) proved inadequate to qualify him for admission into Parsons. “I was crushed,” he says. “It was the first real rejection I’d ever received. I had never learned to create a proper portfolio or digital board. I had no training in how to apply.”
Never the type to accept defeat, Fonseca, like many other trailblazers (after all, J.K. Rowling was turned down by 12 publishers) powered forward to create a brand of his own, his own way. After earning a bachelor of fine arts degree with a concentration in fashion design from The Art Institute of Houston, he introduced a line of original clothing and accessories for women—in addition to an immaculate alterations service that is praised by fashionistas throughout Houston. “I feel like alterations are the algebra of apparel,” Fonseca muses.
With the help of Isrel’s boyfriend, Declan (now the acting creative director for the Isrel Fonseca line of men’s accessories), Fonseca offers a wide array of affluent styles to
In an industry that is propelled by mile-a-minute ideas, Isrel aims to keep his designs distinctive by challenging standards and pinpointing a style that will flourish under any condition—since you never can tell which trends will survive and which ones will die.
Fonseca describes his brand by saying that “there’s a mood to it.” The Isrel Fonseca brand provides a range of both ready-to-wear fashions and “exclusivewear,” a term that Fonseca coined. He envisions “the Isrel Fonseca woman” as a powerful presence decked out in a lavishly embellished wardrobe that is guaranteed to stop traffic.
Fonseca’s brand isn’t just about luxury, however. Always the gracious soul, he loves the city that fostered his creativity and was seen in June’s Pride festivities selling his limited-edition Pride bracelets for $15 each—with all proceeds donated to AIDS Foundation Houston.
You can find Isrel Fonseca at isrelfonseca.com or on social media at @shopisrelfonseca.
Barrett White is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.