After I spent some time in San Juan, I soon realized that Sanjuaneros like to dress well, especially when they go out. What I didn’t know at first was that many of the fine outfits I saw came from local designers.
Fashion, and high fashion in particular, has come a long way in Puerto Rico, and San Juan is its unquestioned hub. The clothes you’ll find in the city range from basic beachwear to sophisticated couture, and generally speaking, sexy is always in.
Among the local designers who have flourished are a few names that have helped launch Puerto Rican fashion on the global stage. While they’re not household names in your neighborhood, many of these designers have dressed celebrities and entertainment icons who certainly are.
Of course, Puerto Rican designers borrow much from their Latin roots, but that doesn’t mean you should expect cheaply made clothes with tired tropical patterns. The designers I’ve met and spoken with are serious about fashion. Many of them headline the annual Fashion Week in San Juan, which are significant productions covered by international media outlets and usually attracting plenty of industry buzz.
Here’s a closer look at five of San Juan’s best fashion trendsetters, and where you can find them:
Born in Yabucoa, David Antonio is a homegrown star with a reputation for keeping his looks fresh and innovative. Each season brings a new line, and his work has been featured at fashion shows around the world. He’s especially known for his men’s line. Antonio’s boutique is at Avenida Condado #68 in San Juan (787-725-0600)
Beloved by many locals as well as by models, singers, and TV personalities, Cappalli’s designs run the gamut of women’s wear. Her distinct style is easily recognized for its meticulous attention to detail and use of lace. A Lisa Cappalli blouse or pair of jeans hangs in many a Sanjuanera’s wardrobe. You can browse her distinctive clothes at her store at 206 Calle O’Donnell in Old San Juan (787-289-6565)
Known as much for dressing beauty queens as for his sophisticated casual and formal menswear and women’s clothing, Nono Maldonado is one of the bolder voices in Puerto Rico fashion. He also designed the interior of the sophisticated and chic Chateau Cervantes Hotel. His boutique can be found at Ashford Avenue #1112, 2A in Condado (787-721-0456).
When your celebrity clientele includes Beyoncé, you know you’re at the forefront of fashion. Stella Nolasco specializes in modern casual clothing for young women. I attended a fashion show of hers a few years ago, and I came away more than impressed. You can visit her and browse a small selection of her couture clothing at her boutique and atelier, located at 161 San Jose Street in Old San Juan (787-723-2897).
An internationally known women’s-wear designer who will attend to you personally in his boutique, Harry welcomes customers by appointment only. Robles assembles most of his pieces by hand, and while he is known for his evening creations, he has recently dived into giving daily wear a bit of added glam; You can reach him through his website or by calling 787-727-3885.
For men, one of the more useful, elegant and pleasant fashions is the guayabera. These stylish, loose-fitting shirts make for the perfect garment for the tropics. Guayaberas are traditional clothing for men throughout the Caribbean because of their comfortable fit. They come in casual and eveningwear designs, and can be found at stores throughout the island.