“I don’t believe in limitations on what a designer can do. There’s a vast flexibility within my work and my future.”
The child of a Mexican immigrant father and an Irish mother, Chavarria, 56, was raised in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where he was a keen observer of the subtleties of stylistic expression in his community. “I didn’t even think of it as fashion, but I was obsessed with how people presented themselves,” he says. “As I got older, I realized that you could connect with cultures and groups of people via the way you dress.”
WILLY CHAVARRIA was born in rural California. With a focus on commercial art, he studied graphic design at the Academy of the Arts and eventually found his home in the creation of fashion. He has decided to commit his talent and skill set to amplify human dignity. His mission is to raise the underrepresented through art and design.
There is a sensitive and cinematic approach to the WILLY CHAVARRIA collections. His concept blends the emotion of art and modern politics into a reactionary story of the human will. WILLY aims to uplift and inspire through design, to be a voice for the voiceless, often partnering with organizations to promote social justice. Inspiration is taken from both biographical elements of Willy ‘s life, often infusing nods to his Mexican-American heritage, and also from the beauty he sees in the streets and culture around him.
“I’ve worked in big companies, seen all aspects of how to make clothes and sell them,” he says. “When I started my brand, I understood that was my opportunity to do something personal. At one point, I didn’t even know if the brand was going to be clothes. I just knew I wanted to use my work as a catalyst for positive change.”
The brand began to receive attention after creating controversial and poignant runway presentations. World renowned stores have since carried the label, such as Barneys, Dover Street Market, Bergdorf Goodman’s, and Browns. Willy was named as a finalist for the International Wool mark Prize in 2018. In 2021, Willy was one of 10 winners of the CFDA Vogue Fashion fund. IMG and the state of New York announced Willy as one of ten recipients of a small business grant in 2022. Willy won the 2022 Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Award in Fashion Design in September of 2022. Later that month he was also named as a finalist for the American Menswear Designer of the Year by the CFDA.
Stepping outside of his comfort zone is a primary source of motivation for Willy Chavarria—we can expect plenty more twists and turns from him. “There was a time in my 40s when I’d worry about staying relevant, but it’s easier to evolve when you’re older. It’s easy to be edgy now and take those risks.”