Double exposure

Photographs by Sinead Deane

Meeting the Estrada twins, fashion designers and reality TV personalities, for the first time produces a kind of “Alice in Wonderland” sensation: You’re not sure which is which or who is who.

Jesus and Antonio are both very wow – sleek, well-groomed, well-dressed and with those oh-so-equally-perfectly plucked eyebrows that make you wanna cry. They look alike, they talk alike, and I strongly suspect some sort of  invisible Siamese connection in their brains’ creativity centers that has destined them for success.

At 24, the twins have traveled both Americas, starred in major TV shows, rocked the New York runway, planted a flag in WAG country with their first boutique in Scarsdale, and are launching their new store, Marteal & Estrada, in White Plains next month. It’s named in part for new team member Marteal Boniello, a talented Syracuse University graduate, whose gentle and feminine vision is a nice counterpoint to the punk-rock aesthetic of the Estrada brothers.

But no more wagging around. Since this issue is dedicated to men, it’s time to tell the story of these young bros, whose life motto is honest and simple:  Veni, vidi, vici.

Living the dream

Tony and Jesus Estrada were born appropriately enough under the sign of Gemini – the twins – May 23,1988 in the picturesque, palm-lined city of Mazatlán on Mexico’s Gold Coast. Their mother, Antonia Martinez, was a model and muse for fashion designers. But being a single mom there was an everyday struggle for Antonia, who decided to pursue the American dream.

So when the boys turned 4, the family moved to San Diego. Like many immigrants, Antonia had to put her own career on hold and work night and day to put food on the table. Those first years were not easy, but seeing the sacrifice their mother made left the boys with a deep feeling of gratitude and a wish to succeed and make Antonia proud.

Jesus remembers that he and his brother always liked making clothes. First, they made dresses for Barbie dolls and later on for their little sister, Sarabi, who was born in San Diego.

“We have such a huge family, and everybody is into fashion,” recalls Jesus, who is five minutes older than Antonio. “When we would get together, everybody would be dressed up. It was always a competition.”

The decision to become fashion designers, however, did not come easily, at least for Jesus. He tried media art and animation, but as he says, “Sitting behind the desk, I realized I was more interested in what people wore, not what the professors were teaching.”

He quit the program and enrolled in Fashion Careers College in San Diego.

Unlike Jesus, Antonio never got a degree in fashion design. Everything he knows he learned from his brother, he says jokingly, thus saving fourteen grand a year.  He would read Jesus’ textbooks, prop the dresses for fittings and attend all the fittings. Stitch by stitch and measure after measure, he mastered the craft of tailoring and sewing.

They always wanted more – more knowledge, more opportunities, more recognition. “Project Runway” – the Lifetime fashion design reality show, hosted by Heidi Klum – looked like the ticket to all three. When Jesus turned 21, he applied and passed the auditions for the show’s seventh season. This changed everything for him.

“It was crazy. You were in the room with 15 other designers. Everybody was so talented and we all competed for first place. Maybe I was not ready for that experience. But this is how I learned who I wanted to be for the rest of my life.”

Antonio got equally lucky. He auditioned successfully for the Discovery en Español documentary project “Norte a Sur” and traveled North and South America for 30 days with four other talented contestants.

Meanwhile, Jesus was the fourth designer to hear Klum’s infamous “You are out.”  Although he was pretty upset, he was not heart-broken.

“Everybody wanted to shine,” he says. “Everybody wanted to take home the crown. I think being let go from the ‘Project’ was the best thing that could ever happen to me. I matured as a personality, I met new friends and I made so many connections. And as you know, it is all about who you know in this industry.”

Antonio was the first of the twins to move to New York City and open his studio. Jesus returned to San Diego where  he became a local celebrity, giving motivational speeches and serving as a guest judge at different competitions. He still dreamed of a career as a couturier, though. One day he received a call from Antonio, who had so many customers, he could not cope with the workload. Without delay, Jesus packed two suitcases and moved to New York City, laying the foundation for the House of Estrada, a studio and a store where the twins have created their collections as well as affordable and chic ready-to-wear clothes for their clientele.

In February of this year, the twins showed their fall collection, “Back from the Dead,” at Fame Rocks Fashion Week in downtown Manhattan. A punk-rock aesthetic and fresh tailoring tricks – the brothers used safety pins instead of sewing in some garments – garnered both praise and criticism from the public.

The Estradas, however, prefer not to stress out about the criticism and just move on.

“We are happy to be designers who always create what we want,” Jesus says. “We had so much positive reaction from the people. They call us creative and innovative. And this is true, we are fresh, and we are trendsetters, and people have to if not like, then respect this.”

And they do have a lot of followers – men and women of all ages and styles.  Business has been so good lately that they decided to open a boutique at 512 Mamaroneck Ave. in White Plains on Sept. 8.

“We are only 24 and we already own our business, of course, we are excited,” Jesus says. “We hope our mom is really proud of what we have achieved.”

Family guys

For the Estradas, family is everything. Their mother comes to all their shows, no matter the distance she has to travel.

“I’ve always known they were going to be fantastic and creative,” she told me at the Fame Rocks Fashion Week gala.

Mom has turned out to be a walking advertisement for her twins.

“She always wears our clothes,” Jesus says. “For years she hasn’t bought a new dress, because she doesn’t need to.”

Like most twins, he and Antonio share a bond that is unbreakable, complementary and ineffable.

“We are a real team,” Jesus says. “We do not even need to talk to each other to know what we mean. We just want to make each other proud.”

The Estradas often ask themselves how they can be so similar yet so different. They share similar tastes in art, fashion and music, with Alexander McQueen being their favorite designer, Lady Gaga a music guru and Victoria Beckham a fashion icon.

They take their inspiration from everyday life and arts. They admire bold European fashion and are set to bring more of that into their designs.

“We are edgy and we are always ready for experiments,” Antonio says, sending an email, tweeting and sketching a skirt at the same time.

Antonio is the more social-media savvy and PR-conscious of the two. He responds to emails and keeps all the schedules and paperwork in order. Jesus is more fluent in tailoring and sketching.

“As individuals we have our strengths and our weaknesses, but as a team we are invincible,” Jesus says, adding with a giggle, “well, almost.”

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