Originally created 07/30/05

Fashion world receives spicy Latina design



NEW YORK - With a swath of bright color here and the shimmer of an extra-large gold hoop earring there, the Latina look is everywhere.

"There are tons of stereotypes out there, but young Latina women in the fashion market are young, fresh and full of ideas," says Thalia, the Mexican-born pop singer who also oversees a line of clothes for Kmart. "Maybe we're a little more colorful ... and there's always a little spice, a little flavor, and something flirty."

Styles included in the upcoming Thalia Sodi Collection for fall are burnt-out velvet tops, sweaters with metallic thread and a black-and-white striped shirt with tropical fruit appliques.

Thalia isn't the first to embrace her heritage.

Hollywood stylist Phillip Bloch, who has dressed Mexico native Salma Hayek, notes that some of the fashion industry's top designers are Hispanic, including Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera and Narciso Rodriguez.

Mr. Bloch also points out some long-lasting Spanish and Hispanic trends: the bolero, the tango skirt, floral embroideries and the sleek hairstyle of a bun adorned with a flower.

Dominican-born Mr. de la Renta probably weaves more hints of Latin flamboyance into his collection than his peers. His runway parades almost always include a dance dress with tiers of ruffles in a bright pink, yellow or green sandwiched between more sophisticated daytime suits and regal gowns.

But unlike Mr. de la Renta, who caters mostly to a socialite-and-celebrity crowd, Thalia wants to be at the forefront of courting the Hispanic market as part of the mainstream market - and at the mass level.

The 2000 census counted 35 million Hispanics. Since then, Hispanics have passed blacks as the nation's largest minority group. Kmart, for one, seems to have confidence in the Thalia brand, expanding its presence from 335 stores when it launched in 2003 to more than 1,400.

On this day, Thalia is in a clingy bright-green top, slim jeans, an armful of gold bangle bracelets and Gucci stilettos. She says it's a look that is approachable and wearable for everyone (save the very pricey shoes).

"I don't want others to be afraid of my clothes as 'too Latin' or 'too weird,'" she said. Jeans are the best sellers of her Kmart line, and the top that has become her signature is a blend of cotton and spandex.

The Latina influence is in the details - the glitzy trim, the snugger fit. Otherwise, Thalia says, the fashion sensibility of Hispanics isn't that different from anyone else. They like the mix-and-match, high-and-low wardrobe that you'll find women wearing in practically every corner of the country.

A vintage shell-covered Ver-sace dress hangs in Thalia's closet with her rock-climbing and yoga gear, and there's also handcrafted Mexican shawls next to Christian Lacroix scarves. "I'm super eclectic. ... There's so much fashion to love and so much of fashion goes in cycles," she says.

Thalia got her first fashion gig in 1993 designing a line of lingerie when she was mostly known as a Spanish-speaking soap opera star. Through her Kmart deal, the collection includes womenswear, childrenswear, eyewear, jewelry, shoes and other accessories.

Makeup for Latinas, however, is the domain of Monica Ramirez and her company Zalia Cosmetics, which claims to be the first beauty collection specifically made for Hispanics and their skin tones.

Ms. Ramirez launched Zalia in 2003 after working 10 years as a makeup artist and finding that Hispanic women were frustrated with the options offered to them.

"Most products have a lot of pink in the them, which looks unnatural and unhealthy on olive or yellow undertones. Many people thought traditional products felt too heavy or didn't blend in, or they would leave a line at chin or neck," she says.

"Most major cosmetic companies now do offer more shades, but with Zalia you don't have to search through 100 different foundations to find the one for your skin tone."

Many white women have started using them, too, she reports, because the yellow-based foundations tone down redness, and Asian and southern Europeans also are using the foundations because they also tend to have olive and yellow undertones. Black women are drawn to vibrant eyeshadows and lipsticks - in shades called Cha Cha, Guacamole and Cafe con Leche - which show up well against their darker skin, Ms. Ramirez says.