From the cut and sew clothing items she crafts, to the hand poke tattoos that line her arms and legs (many of which she inked herself), SF-based designer Vanessa Torres is definitely no stranger to style. Originally from Ecuador, Torres now creates eclectic clothing in the Bay Area for her brand Or Die (OD). Self-described as a “fashion designer slash puzzle maniac” Torres brings a sense of unique, high-energy liberty to the clothes she makes, her bubbly, open personality shining through effortlessly.
Why did you move to America?
I moved away from [Ecuador] at 18, just as I wished to do when I was younger. It's a long story and somewhat effed-up. Basically I didn't feel like I was being true to myself for a while. I had molded myself into becoming what my parents wanted me to be for the longest time. I decided that I wanted to be me (I know lots of kids feel this way too), so to set free I have always finessed my way in getting what I want. I moved away cause I wanted to find myself; I wanted to struggle; I wanted to know what it's like to have full control and responsibility over my life choices, etc.
How did you get your start in fashion design?
Initially, I wanted to get into interior design and architecture. I knew I loved designing and crafting things, but I don't know how I ended up pursuing a career in fashion. I went to school for it here in SF. I started about 2 years ago, around the idea that I pretty much love building, crafting and figuring out how to do things. That's what fascinated me about fashion design - the fact that I had to make the puzzle pieces in order to proceed with the masterpiece.
How would you describe your art?
All my art revolves around the juxtaposition of everyday observations. How something so perfect can be chaotic. Basically, everything revolves around the concept of a failed utopia. I'd say that what I do correlates with my life lessons. For example, you’ll know if I'm going through some bumps on the road cause I'll openly create my failed utopian version of it and speak it out loud.
What inspires your work?
My inspiration comes a lot from fictional characters I meet in books. I know it's pretty random, but I'm one of many that are obsessed with Chuck Palahniuk and swear that, when I read his books, it opens a whole different dimension in which I dive and live and have these tight-ass friends, and we do things like crashing cars and traveling in time. I think I'm more inspired by the lifestyle and a whole world that my alter ego lives in, that's a whole different story too.
How has where you’re from influenced your art?
Honestly, where I'm from, there's not really a way to aspire a living off an art. So, if you're not a doctor or a lawyer or some corporate thing, it's really hard. Something about my culture, and I mean not looking at it in the literal way, but that's a failed utopia right there. I remember how happy I was being with my family. And although there's no wealth like in the US, there is that family connection and love that has been so hard for me to find elsewhere. Poverty can show you a different type of wealth.
Why do you currently pursue it?
There's a voice within, my artist voice wants to scream and scream. Fashion speaks boldly and is one of those things that connects us worldwide. It allows us to express and relate and stunt and be whatever, which is what I love about it. I want to create not only clothes for my people to express themselves through but also a community in which they belong. It’s their home. It’s them 100%.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on a set of things that are all upcycled and 1 of 1. Which I'm really excited about because they are experimental pieces, and it’s my way of fixing my current artist block.
What do you have planned for the future?
So, OD (my baby) is what I want to push forever and ever until it's actually a thing. I'm not widely-known, and my production runs pretty slow since all my work is done by myself on my free time. What I mean for it to be a thing is that I'll have a consistent run of items every season, with a variety of sizes and colorways. Someday we'll walk into a cute store in NY and find OD right there — or even my own lil’ store, maybe several of them, all over the world. Who knows.
What exactly is OD?
OD is handmade apparel / youth streetwear and accessories currently only sewn/crafted by me. OD stands for Or Die, a satirical name. It came about from my two favorite letters, and then I was like, wait, this could me two of my favorite words too! And then bam, or die or die. Do what you love or die, no other options.
OD is the absolute correlation and expressions of my bad luck being young. My way of getting through dumb things in my life is just by being satirical about them. OD is for all the kids who, reckless or not, push social boundaries, speak their mind, are proud of their heritage and most importantly, understand the power of unity to create positive change.
OD is the attitude. It's the determination, holding your identity close to your heart.
What’s one thing not many people know about you?
That I'm a dork and I love dinosaurs. And I have terrible luck in love. And I look like I'm on drugs, but that's just my regular neurochemistry. And I also tattoo... by hand.
Oh, and I'm spiderman.