As our Hispanic Heritage Month celebration comes to an end, our final featured creative and tastemaker is Tanya Ortega, a Mexican-American Fashion Stylist based out of New York City. Originally from El Paso, Texas, Ortega began paving her way in the fashion industry when she moved to the Big Apple back in 2014. She has gained a notable clientele roster including Vogue Mexico, Vogue Brasil, and Vogue Spain, her work reflects her unique taste and unmatched expertise. Luxury giants Gucci, Dior, Tommy Hilfiger, and Tiffany and Co. have benefited from her editorial creative direction, along with beauty, fine jewelry, and tech brands such as Olivia Palermo beauty, IT cosmetics, Kiehls, Marli, and Apple leaning toward her vision for commercial campaigns. To add on, she’s seasoned in celebrity styling on the red carpet for MTV’s Video Music Awards, Oscars, Met Gala, CFDA Awards, Golden Globes, and Tony Awards, and has styled for music videos such as “Downtown” by Anitta featuring J Balvin.
Ortega and I took the time to sit down and speak on her journey in New York as a woman in the fashion industry, her Mexican culture, and so much more.
Tell me about yourself, Tanya.
I’m from El Paso, Tx. A special border town in every sense of the word. I moved to NYC 9 years ago to become a fashion stylist. My dad is from Mexico City and my mom is from Juarez, Chihuahua.
What inspired you to be a stylist and what made you move to New York in 2014?
Ever since I was a little girl I liked clothes and especially sewing. My mom used to make all my clothes from scratch and I would watch as she bought the patterns and fabric from the store and I’d sit with her and sew little key chains, pillows, anything I could get my hands on. Because of her, I knew what a magazine was and it was a special thing to me because it was something I could relate to my mom. I knew my mom always liked fashion so I grew up with that influence naturally. As I got older it stayed with me.
I loved watching The Rachel Zoe Project. Me and my mom used to sit and watch it together and I remember being just completely obsessed. I also loved Mary Kate and Ashley as well as their show and clothing line. Any time I could get my hands on anything fashion-related, I did. My great aunt and grandma also used to sew, naturally, as it’s super Mexican to do so.
I don’t think I knew what a stylist was, to be honest, or it even being a popular position people knew about back then. You had your fashion editors at magazines like Grace Coddington, Tonne Goodman, and Carlyle Cerf, doing all these amazing shoots but they were always magazines so I guess it never registered to me that styling was a career I could pursue or even what a freelancer was.
I started working at Forever21 when I was in college as a visual merchandiser and that was my first introduction to really learning what a fashion directive was mood boards and so on and so forth. I had to create and put together clothing sections that were visually pleasing and followed company fashion key directives such as specific prints, colors, vibes, and fabric silhouettes for each section I created. That’s when I realized I was better at putting things together and coming up with a creative vision than being a fashion designer. Although I was good at sewing and really enjoyed it in school. But being more of a visual architect was really where my strength was.
My dad is a flight attendant and I was blessed enough that I could fly anywhere I wanted for free on standby. With that said, I started flying to NYC to intern for fashion weeks and during the summer with different stylists just to get some kind of experience and knowledge. I genuinely didn’t know what I was doing or really knew many people, I definitely winged it hard. It was not a super easy fun time. I went through a lot, emotionally and physically. To this day I sometimes don’t know how I did it or even endured. I knew NYC was my home from the first time I visited back when I was in middle school. I came to NYC for 24 hours with my dad and I was just mesmerized. From that day forward, I knew I was going to do anything I could to move to NYC one day.
How did New York treat you when you first arrived?
New York was bomb! It HAS been bomb to me. Easy? No. But it has been super good to me since the day I moved. The pace of life was very much my type of pace and I loved the buildings, skylines, everyone’s authenticity in dressing, thinking, and hustle. Since I moved, New York has really hugged me hard. She’s a bitch at times but who isn’t. Nothing hard comes easy and New York is not one to mess with. I have nothing but core memories of New York. She has been such a blessing and opened all these avenues for me I didn’t even know existed. I learn something new every day. And I guess that is the beauty of New York.
How do you feel you’ve broken barriers as a Mexican-American stylist in Manhattan?
I don’t really know if I’ve broken any barriers yet as a Mexican-American creative in the city. I mean I know that there aren’t many Hispanic creatives holding spaces up top within high-end fashion publications, however, I never saw anyone who looked like me growing up other than Nina Garcia at Elle. But that’s one person. I’ve been a contributor for Vogue Intl titles for the last 8 years. Working for Vogue Paris for 3 years I was probably the only Mexican assistant there as well as for Vogue Brasil. I don’t know if that is a barrier but it wasn’t easy getting there or even finding the opportunity to be there.
I think as a collective we all still have some road to go in breaking barriers. We are doing it but I don’t see it fully there yet. And naturally, all these things take time. I hope I can be part of it as I keep evolving in my career.
Who was your first ever celebrity client or major editorial spread that you’ve done and how did it feel to take part as the lead stylist in that gig?
One of my most special shoots was my Vogue Mexico beauty cover. I absolutely loved everything about it, the creative board, team, talent, and how it turned out. It was also my first cover and that was huge for me because it was with Vogue Mexico and it was just a personal sentimental accomplishment for me. To me, it signified the beginning of a successful career and a light of hope that I am talented and good enough. Huge motivation to keep going. Getting a cover spread is not easy and I can’t wait to do another one. I think it’s important to love your work and I definitely love that story we did.
Have you ever experienced any hurdles throughout your career as a Mexican-American stylist? If so, what were they and how did you overcome these hurdles?
It’s hard to get your foot in anywhere. Even harder as a woman and Hispanic, with international titles and clients. I don’t think I’m naive to say that the side of the industry I’m in is heavily European-dominated. I think one of the biggest hurdles for me is landing those international clients and titles, not just local and Latin. I can do all types of creative jobs, not just American and/or Latin. So really landing those key ones that will help progress my career where I see it going is important, but it’s not easy.
Getting the attention of people that drive the industry is also not a simple task. You have to work to stay relevant, connected, and be in the scene and it can many times be socially exhausting.
Although you were born in the US, what was it like to grow up in a Mexican household? In your opinion, what are some similarities and differences between Mexican culture in the US/ and overall New York culture?
Growing up in El Paso, Texas is super special because aside from being a border city I got to grow up in a Mexican household but also be influenced by Texan culture so I kind of got the best of both worlds. I got the Mexican roots from my home and Texan influence from my friends and environment. I always like to say I’m Texican. Obviously growing up in a Mexican household you learn what family means to you, there’s nothing compared to homemade food! Church every Sunday and then I would get my “Domingo” which usually was $5 or $10, just like an allowance.
What are your favorite types of clients or jobs to style and why?
My favorite types of clients are the fun ones! Lately, I’ve really enjoyed tapping into the men’s side of the industry. It has brought me much joy, it’s something different, and for some reason less stressful in some ways. Campaign jobs are always super fun because they tend to be bigger productions and I really love working with DRAMA. A vision that includes set design, wardrobe, mood, and makeup changes…I love all that.Editorial will always be in my heart. I love to be able to execute a creative direction I have in mind and love to collaborate with people as passionate about imagery as myself. Creating impactful images and visually pleasing images are my faves. I think it’s super important to be a lover of your own work and for the most part most of the images I can create editorially end up framed in my apt or my phone wallpaper. This is where I get to really dream.
Who is one of your Latina inspirations and why and how have they shaped you to be the professional you are today?
Selena Quintanilla is obviously #1 — I grew up with her music and her story which really hit a personal note for me as she struggled as well trying to find the balance between being Mexican and also, American. Beyond her music influence, it was her persona, spirit, and character that I always really admired and strive to be like. She was also a chameleon in terms of fashion and really just was adamant about being her most genuine self and not caring what the outside world thought. She was a hard worker, beautiful inside and out, and so talented. Her life and music resonate so much with me and I really see how much of an influence and blueprint she still is to this day even after 20+ since her passing, which is insane. For someone to have that much of an influence and effect on a general population like her.
And, #2 would be Karla Martinez De Salas — I’ve had the pleasure of being an active contributor for Vogue Mexico over the last 5 years and I’ve really seen how passionate she is and how active she is in pushing the cultural vision forward. The way she has re-shaped Vogue in itself but also the vision has been truly impactful. When I was about 18, I read an article on her and her sister in our local magazine back in El Paso, as we both are from El Paso and she at the time was working at W Magazine. I remember feeling so inspired and like my dream could be attainable because someone else who looked like me could reach those heights of success and be embedded in this high fashion industry. That left a huge impact and when I got to meet her and work with the team in 2018, it just really was full circle for me. Thankful to her for seeing something in me and giving me the opportunity to do my first stand-alone editorials for Vogue Mexico and start my solo career there, which was and has been an honor for me as it is also a personal touch for me. She has been such a pioneer and positive influence in the industry and I hope she sees and knows that. Her courage and vision are powerful and I’m always excited to see her keep blazing us through collectively as Latinos/Hispanics in this world.
What advice do you have for aspiring stylists, especially Latinx and newcomers to NYC who strictly move into the Big Apple to pursue a career in fashion?
Make yourself available and be kind. Talent is important but that doesn’t really come first. Being open to help, learning, and taking constructive criticism is key. It will help you observe and learn how this business works. Talent comes second. Reach out to whoever you can because really these opportunities come from networking and connecting with people. I love having interns and assistants whom I can enjoy working with, and who are consistently helpful and open. Those are the kind of individuals I love to mentor and show them the ins and outs. And I would also say don’t take it personally if you reach out to 10 people and no one gets back to you. Keep knocking on doors, keep circling back to the same people, reaching out to more until you have 1 or 2 that get back to you. That’s really just how this industry works. Don’t get discouraged, as it takes time and patience to get it rolling. Once you break in, it all just comes at you fast. Lastly, being helpful and kind will get you consistent work and internships.