Oscar Lopez's first taste of fashion was at age 12, when he made a dress out of the curtains in his mother's bedroom in his native Havana, Cuba. (She wondered where they'd gone.) Fast-forward 25-plus years (which include an early attempt to emigrate to America that was stopped by the Cuban Coast Guard and a short stint working in Mexico as a choreographer for a group of female singers), and he's established a steady base of clients in Coral Gables, Florida, who come to him for everything from bathing suits to ballgowns.That persistence and drive led him to victory on the first season of Tim Gunn's reality show over runners-up Asha Daniels, Shan Keith Oliver, and Sam Donovan.
"There are always going to be external factors that try to interfere with your life," says Lopez, 41. "You cannot allow that. The most important thing is to stay true to the person that you are."
He abided by that mantra even when his mentor, Project Runway season two contestant Nick Verreos, initially called his work "glam cha-cha." It was his final collection of five looks completed in three days, including a cashmere cloak, jacquard skinny pants, and a silk georgette gown with cape detail, that impressed the judges—designer Rachel Roy, Marie Claire Senior Fashion Editor Zanna Roberts Rassi, and stylist Jen Rade, plus guest judges Heidi Klum and Neil Patrick Harris.
"I have seldom met a designer who is as deft and meticulous at execution," Gunn says. "One could have easily believed that Oscar had spent days on a challenge, not 10 hours." Roberts Rassi agrees: "His craftsmanship and speed were exceptional." With no formal design training, Lopez lets the materials guide his hand—a technique that seems to be working and a talent worthy of his curtain call.
TOP, SKIRT & BELTOscar Lopez. SUNGLASSES $425, Céline; celine.com for stores. BRACELET $415, Georg Jensen; georgjensen.com. RECTANGULAR RINGS $300 each, Jessica Biales; jessicabiales.com. SMOOTH BAND RING $460 for set of four, Maison Martin Margiela; (212) 989-7612. BAG $995, Pierre Hardy; (646) 449-0070. SHOES $655, Sandro; sandro-paris.com. OVAL RING stylist's own.
DRESS & CAPE (worn around waist), Oscar Lopez.NECKLACE $1,170, Christofle; christofle.com. BALL RINGS $140 each, Jennifer Fisher;jenniferfisherjewelry.com. SMOOTH RING price upon request, Coléoptère; coleoptere.us. SANDALS $99.90, Zara; zara.com. TOP & PANTSOscar Lopez.CUFF $400, Knight$ of New York; knightsofny.com.SANDALS $89.90, Zara; zara.com.
CLUTCH $1,090, Marni at Neiman Marcus; (888) 888-4757.
RINGS prices upon request, Coléoptère; coleoptere.us.