I felt a bit like Daisy Buchanan when my eyes met the gaze of the tall, dark, and handsome specimen of a man entering the lobby of the Valley Ho. Oscar De las salas sauntered into the 1950's modernist building, positively owning the space with his presence. Dazzling me with his crisp navy and white striped shirt. Coifed and tucked with perfectly tailored navy chinos. Finishing the dramatic look with classic Ray Bans, and a straw fedora. Rising to greet the larger than life character, I mused to myself, "You always look so cool."
Oscar De las alas is without a doubt, a winsome local celebrity. At the end of my interview I felt it might be more prudent of my time to inquire what the distinguished gentlemen does NOT do. Some of my favorite endeavors of Mr. De La Salas include former catalogue model, board of directors for Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and working heavily with charities such a St. Jude's Hospital, American Cancer Society, and South West Center for HIV/AIDS. After researching the legend for two weeks, I couldn't wait to conduct our interview and photoshoot.
AYW. Oscar, you are self-described as an architect, a creative director, a former model, a stylist, product ambassador, and a fashion writer and critic. That is quite an extensive creative pedigree. Is there a figurative hat you wear that feels like your greatest strength? Or do you feel that each of your creative endeavors feed one another?
ODLS. The interchanging hats that are part of my endless search and conquering of anything that requires design-strongly combined with my deep appreciation for the decanted use of sophistication and style.
Throughout my life, I’ve had the opportunity to professionally present my points of view and evaluating design, while trying to present a new style to a broader audience. Being part of a large production, and working in different types of projects that require a unique visual component, or being creative with a production under budget constraints. I’m usually tasked with producing sensible timelines, while maintaining a keen vision of design. That keeps the theoretical narrative created from it’s insertion. It’s a continuous exercise, but also it’s exhilarating to bring all these components together.
What is the glue binding all these factors? A figurative hat I wear called ‘Director of Design’, (Design Director, Project Manager, Executive Producer, or similar), with which I step back and see how all the pieces fit together to make the moment happen. At least, I think I do.
AYW. I know that you were born in Barranquilla, Columbia. I’m curious why you selected to reside in the southwest. Moreover, why do you remain in Phoenix, Arizona (versus moving to a hub city like Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York)?
ODLS. I was born at a multi-ethnic industrial port-city by the name of Barranquilla, and the same town where Shakira and Sofia Vergara were born, to name-drop a little. It is a diverse and culturally rich city situated on the northern plains of where I called home for 25 years, Colombia.
My years of postgraduate studies in the Arts and Architecture drew me to the land of my family heritage in Spain, and to the University of Salamanca in the middle of Spain, where I had dreamed of studying since I was a teenager bursting with ideas in design and architecture.
Working in Spain at that particular school gave me the opportunity to free-lance in several amazing locations in Europe and the Mediterranean, as an architectural intern at a multinational interior design company. My constant search for design driven projects took over my weekend hours, where I collaborated with a group of freelance creative advocated as a Set Director. Being the tall, dark Colombian, that position expanded into my role as a standing-set-model, when the real talent did not show, or the fashion coordinator (back then) when a stylist for the shoot was not available, or it was too expensive, I would step in and provide a vision and craft. I would serve as coordinator or even director, and when there seemed to be no solution, step in with my perspective and judgment–even directing photography for the editorial–and provided amazing finals to the model agency tied to the project. At that time, it was all an experiment for all of us and we collected all our creative forces to offer something of beauty. A group of design advocates and lovers that needed an outlet, and it was all done with the little resources we had. Some of these friends changed careers, and one of them is one of the most acclaimed Peruvian fashion photographers of the modern world.
As the term of my intern work was ending, the draw of the American Dream was bright and seductive. And a colliding group of synergies and luck brought me to the Sonoran desert.
I decided to complete my masters with my thesis titled “American Modernism from the Eye of Frank Lloyd Wright” and the depth of the subject naturally brought me to America. To my luck, my former boss from when I was involved in the building of the American Embassy in Bogota opened his home to me if I ever came to Arizona. Since the famed American Architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s School of Architecture, TALIESIN WEST, was located in the Valley of the Sun–I took him up on the offer and arrived in Phoenix.
A week or so later at a family cocktail party. Fresh from Europe, I attended and met a project manager who needed an interior and architectural draftsman, and needed help. I took the opportunity to stay, and completed my thesis project. The position expanded with the company. Loving the U.S., I decided then to stay, work under a visa and start the naturalization process.
Fate seems to anchor me here in the desert. Several years later, I had a chance to move to Chicago, but I met someone for whom I chose to stay in Phoenix–the man who is now my husband. Fate or love, either way, I am the winner.
AYW. That sounds like a romantic path led by kismet. I'm glad you were rooted to this area and moment. Oscar, your calling card lies within your impeccable sense of style. What are who inspired you to connect with fashion?
ODLS. Thank you! – I am happy to be a FORD/RBA talent and to work with Mrs. Sheree Hartwell at the FORD/RBA agency. She is a brilliant support for my work and we share similar style. She leads an incredible team of professionals that are the force of the agency.
I think my style is a sum of many factors. Most of them are life experiences, or a learning process through what I call “the academy,” and a very formal training within the world of design, architecture, fashion and history. Perhaps the result of my passion for reading, help me to create a very specific written vocabulary when it comes to style.
My style is a mix of what I have picked up from travel, during my face-to-face encounters with high design, and a recollection of scenes from my childhood. As a boy, I vividly remember reminder and lessons from my father (who worked for a menswear tailor when young) and my grandfather keeping up an appropriate appearance-tucking my shirt, buffing my shoes, always ironing my shirt, wear linen in summer, flannel or wool in winter, tailoring makes the man-a strong sense of style and respect for others which is communicated in how you dress.
I pull from recurrent images of family influencers. My always-working aunt, who owned a costume atelier and workshop where all the Barranquilla socialites went to create the wardrobe and fill their suitcase for their exotic travels. I am exercised in detailed observation, with large doses of emulation, paired with precise attention to the exhausting choreographies, put into effect of the sophisticated life, of the established millionaires or stylish patrons. Growing up, I did an incredible amount of reading, where the subject always includes vast amount of narrative of history.
One of my favorite books is written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and when you read a simple page, you will see how his hyper-realism, simply transports you.
Lately, I admit to an obsession with documentaries, intellectual interviews, and even talk shows. I guess, from my history, my environment and what I input to the hard drive of my brain–it all adds up to influence my personal style.
AYW. Please tell me about the brand that you are currently an ambassador for.
ODLS. At the beginning of the summer, I jumped on the ambassador program by an international male fashion brand by the name of Suit Supply, since the brand has that classic touch with a very modern silhouette, and I am crazy about the materials for all seasons. And it is very affordable. It perfectly matches my style and vision of the day-to-day cosmopolitan male: a man who has to have a selection on his closet with very flexible looks to mix & match–but who also craves refined materials and is attracted to a the classic styles.
What seems interesting to me, is how I am influenced when I travel by the suit, and how often the suit is a part of daily life in other parts of the world. But what I love about this brand and style-at this time in fashion-it dresses a man in a statement of power and style. That makes this a good choice for the modern, relaxed style of Arizona as well.
AYW. What do you do to shake up your routine when you feel creatively stale?
ODLS. I push myself to go on a trip somewhere, and leave my environment and habits for a few days. I find that changing location, and the overall setting helps you to look at life differently. From the sounds and smells of those new surroundings, the unique meals and dining, the touch of the sun of your skin, the smell of the air, the rain or the breeze-it all changes my mindset, when I simply change my surroundings. I find myself rejuvenated and wearing an open mind to keep creating.
AYW. Oscar, while I was trying to coordinate our interview you were traveling with your husband. Is traveling a passion of yours? If so, where are your two of your favorite destination points?
ODLS. In my past, traveling was a requirement for work and later an emotional escape to keep a previous relationship strong.
Today, it is a way to change the environment where we live, it gives me opportunity to disconnect and reconnect with my other half, and see friends we do not see very often while here in the city, due to our professional responsibilities. The past few years, we travel to Coronado, California, where we were married, and where we now have a new great group of friends and acquaintances. It is a small, connected town existing in a bigger city and it is a stark contrast to the disconnected, indoor-lifestyle, which defines the summers in Arizona.
When possible, I go back home to Colombia to see my family, and that is a destination that I will never change. I find myself at peace and at ease where my beautiful Caribbean touches land. It is not only the landscape of my Caribbean sea that I fell in love with first time I saw it, it is more than that; It lies with its people. The candid loving, happy, extroverted, free-minded and constantly unapologetic story-telling people that have that multicolored aqua/teal waters as their backyard.
I feel at home when I am by the Caribbean, and that stirs my inner core (even though, I like cooler weather in which to live).
AYW. What are your career goals for the next five years?
ODLS. As everything in life, we plan and create a timeline that hopefully happens. I can offer a peek into two fronts that I am currently working on, in my two fields of work:
1. Within my design career, I am planning a significant expansion of my interior architecture expertise by creating signature projects with a luxury brand, partnered with a local colleague architect. The possibilities are very exciting as we expect to forge something new.
2. In my design and fashion focus, I would like to be a voice for style and help people see the opportunities in which style, fashion and design can expand their lives. This may sound outlandish, but I aspire to be the Charlie Rose of design and style, with an outlet to discuss and share ideas with people hungry for comprehend how beauty and design can enhance their lives. That may be through my blog or perhaps, in a broader media environment. I have seen how help with one’s style can positively impact them, as with such organizations like Dress for Success, and it is inspiring for me to see how someone’s life can change with a little insight and support.
AYW. How do you keep yourself motivated? Further more, how do you hold yourself accountable for your career?
ODLS. My motivation comes within my constant need to produce, the continuous need to create, the constant search for the new, the cutting edge, the avant-garde.
Technology motivates me, development motivates me, and intellectual minds motivate me. I aspire to anything that has to do with science, advancement and future that are the new frontier. It all brings back the creative in me.
RETROSPECTIVE, or “looking-back” is a practice that helps me to squarely see my progress, to see where I came from and see the wins and mistakes I have made along the way. It is a mandatory exercise, but my accountability comes when I get in front of a bigger challenge than the one I already have worked to resolve-when more of me is needed and I am ready to give 110% and more…again.
AYW. When do you feel like your most confident self?
ODLS. Oddly enough, I feel like I am myself when I am on stage or in front of camera or audience, but with a little twist. I feel confident when I know the subject, when I know the facts are real, checked and precise. When I have studied the entire subject, when able to communicate what is needed, and able to debrief the pieces for everyone to comprehend.
My most confident self is when I am around those that are my core, a very selected group of friends I know for a long time, and of course, my family.
The other confident level? When I am naked. (Giggles)
AYW. Ha, ha! Fair enough. What can't you live without?
ODLS. I could not live without beauty.
Thank you for being a Sillin Fashion Muse Oscar. I am enamored by not only your incomparable sense of personal style, but your ardent quest for knowledge, commitment to serving your community, and your ardor for finding the beauty in life. We wish you the very best of everything in your flourishing career, passions, and for your husband and family.