Houston has entered a creative renaissance, at least if the designers pouring their fresh perspectives out onto the city’s streets is any indication—and surely it can’t be a coincidence that legendary Houstonian Beyoncé would title her latest album in sync with the rise of her hometown. From streetwear to couture, the city's fashion realm is bursting at the seams with new-age designers, including up-and-coming style architect Luis Ruiz. Since the debut of his contemporary label Petra Stellam during the summer of 2019, the 22-year-old Houston native has achieved incredible feats, from launching two successful collections to showcasing at New York Fashion Week.
Any designer can recall their first step into the style scene, and for Ruiz, his journey started with a school elective mishap. The then–Pearland High School sophomore was misplaced into an entry-level fashion design course that would quickly reveal his life's passion. In that course, Ruiz was given a new appreciation for the construction process, from drafting sketches and creating patterns to exploring fabric manipulations like basic seaming and pleating. The serendipitous moment helped cultivate and polish his sewing techniques and skill, which would later pave the road for his current collections.
After crossing the stage in 2019, Ruiz fixated on starting his label, Petra Stellam. Although ardent to fully immerse himself in the fashion industry, he hit a crossroads after his September New York Fashion Week debut later that year. As a featured designer in the RAW Natural Born Artists showcase, Ruiz created an arsenal of looks in reworked vintage denim, among them a pair of patchworked jeans ranging from light to dark wash and accented with a distressed seam on the front and an open, sleeveless denim collared shirt detailed with frayed pockets on each side of the chest. While it may have been a signature achievement for the young designer, it also initiated an intricate shift in his design process.
"I ended up scrapping the whole collection. It just didn't feel right," says Ruiz. "When I design, it's literally like instinct. If I design something that feels natural, I'm like, OK, this design is perfect. Other times if I try to create something and it doesn't feel complete, I try to think about it. What needs to be fixed? Is there anything I can take away or I can add? Eventually, I get that feeling of this is how it should be, and everything starts to come together."
His newfound creative technique led to a confident showing in fall 2021, when Ruiz unveiled his anticipated ready-to-wear collection at the Millennial Merch Fashion Show. The assemblage highlighted his ability to distort and reimagine standard fall wardrobe essentials like a neon yellow mesh straight-leg trouser with built-in Bermuda shorts exposing just enough leg; a gray, long-sleeve midi dress with a modest neckline subverted by a risqué under-breast circular cutout; and a crisp, white, heavy knit turtleneck sweater riddled with slits all around.
"I worked a lot on leaving the seams open, giving cutout effects, and experimented with the proportions of certain looks and how the garments complemented each other," Ruiz says of the collection. "I reconstructed the pattern pieces to make it more revealing or free—just a little more playful than a basic sweater."
Not only is Petra Stellam providing innovative and exceptional pieces, but it further exemplifies sustainability by sourcing and assembling materials per order, eliminating surplus.
"Petra is sustainable in every way when designing and finalizing the garment,” Ruiz explains. “All the materials are specifically sourced, like the vintage jeans used at New York Fashion Week, and all the garments are made to order. … I try my absolute best to ensure that when I do buy, it's vintage."
This summer, Petra Stellam returned to the runway, debuting the Materials, Stories, and Other Objects collection.
"The name is very literal because, throughout the collection, there are a bunch of garments that aren't cohesive,” Ruiz says. “So each one has its own story—but at the same time, it is cohesive because they're all dresses.”
Fashion-forward Houstonians gathered at the blooming Celebration Garden in Hermann Park to watch models strut along the outdoor runway with a leading-edge design paired with random objects, such as the gradient button dress accessorized with a Danish cookie tin like the one where your grandma would store her buttons and sewing kit. Standouts included a wrap dress constructed of recycled pattern paper, an asymmetrical peplum dress assembled with plastic bags, and a sophisticated chocolate midi dress elevated with pleated tulle at the waist and ostrich feathers along the neckline and shoulders.
"The designs for all of them felt much more natural, like it just happened instantly," Ruiz says about the collection. "The rope dress was one of the designs where I wasn't too sure how to construct it because I'd never done anything like it. While messing around, I wrapped it [the rope] around the dress form, and the idea just kept evolving."
Still buzzed from the success of his latest showcase and collection, Ruiz reflects on the progression of Petra Stellam and how he continues to draw inspiration from the world around him—even the most mundane objects.
"Petra is made for anyone who enjoys and appreciates the craft of design and techniques that go into a garment. I want them to admire aspects like the artistry that goes into each piece,” he says. “I want to let it be known to the public what separates [Petra Stellam] from other Houston brands."