UW-Stout News Story

Art major’s career looking bright after sunglasses hit market

December 29, 2011

It’s a paradox that Luis Santiago hopes will take care of itself in the near future: He can hardly afford to buy the very product he has designed.

At $125 retail the fashionable Rainy Days line of sunglasses “are pretty expensive,” said Santiago, a University of Wisconsin-Stout student.

The price, however, reflects the significance of the accomplishment for the senior from Maple Grove, Minn., an art major with an industrial design concentration. With a semester to go at UW-Stout, he already has a finished product on the market.

What’s more, Rainy Days has appeared in a Beyoncé music video, “Party,” and the sunglasses are for sale on a fashion website and in at least one New York retail outlet. They even debuted in September — with Santiago in the audience — on a runway during New York Fashion Week.

How did all this happen? Santiago used skills developed at UW-Stout along with a New York connection to jump-start his product designing career.

Santiago owes a little of his good fortune to an insider tip. In August 2010, a cousin living in New York recommended Santiago to the fashion models Coco and Breezy, identical twins, 21, who grew up in Minneapolis. They have a line of fashion eyewear and accessories on their website, www.cocoandbreezy.com, and were looking to expand their product offerings.

Coco and Breezy, whose real names are Corianna and Brianna Dotson, asked Santiago for design ideas. “Their style is very different, very out there. It’s not a regular sunglass,” Santiago said.

Santiago has always liked the umbrella as an art form, so he used it as a basis for some sketches. He quickly came up with a style that features colored glass in a distinctive curve above the rim. “I tried to keep it fairly simple and true to their brand,” he said.

The initial feedback from Coco and Breezy was positive, he said. About two months later, the models said they were serious about producing the line.

After another four months — in January 2011 — Santiago got a phone call from the models’ manager saying they were moving ahead to production and needed a 3D model and engineering specifications to be sent to China for production.

Santiago had the skills, after three years in UW-Stout’s School of Art and Design, to complete the project. “UW-Stout has definitely given me the tools. Product design is a lot more than sketching,” Santiago said. “The program has great teachers who are really pushing us.”

Jennifer Astwood, an assistant professor, isn't surprised by Santiago's success. "Luis demonstrates a great understanding for trends occurring in industry," she said.

In August, he saw the final product for the first time in 12 color variations. In September, he went to New York to see Coco and Breezy and other models debut them in front of about 200 spectators, including celebrities, and media in one of many New York Fashion Week shows.

Rainy Days is for sale in two colors, black-white and black-wood grain. The models are donating $1 from each sale to the Megan Meier Foundation to stop bullying and cyber-bullying. Go to www.cocoandbreezy.com.

A website for Stark Fashion called the line “a new collection for the fashion forward who love a bit of retro edge.”

Coco and Breezy have worn the sunglasses during cameo appearances in the Beyoncé video and in commercials in France for Renault automobiles.

Santiago is working on other prototypes for Coco and Breezy, adding that for now he is their lead designer. He could wind up in New York after he graduates, he said.

His goal is to eventually have a Luis Santiago brand featuring a variety of products. For example, his senior art show in December at UW-Stout featured a backpack designed for urban use. He has always loved sketching shoes, a hobby that led him to UW-Stout’s art program.

“I’ve always wanted to design wearable products. Rainy Days has really helped with my portfolio. It’s a pretty big step,” he said.

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