This is how one fashion designer overcame all odds to make a name for himself in the fashion world.
Joel Alvarez, who was born and raised in Miami, caused quite the stir at this year’s New York Fashion Week after covering models in barely-there tape ensembles on the runway.
But the first-generation Cuban American has not always led such a high-profile lifestyle, having previously spent months ‘living out of his car’ without ‘a dollar to his name.’
Here, FEMAIL tracks his transformation from poverty to finding global fashion fame.
Joel Alvarez, who was born and raised in Miami, overcame all odds to make a name for himself in the fashion world
The designer caused quite the stir at this year’s New York Fashion Week after covering models in barely-there tape ensembles on the runway
Joel Alvarez was at the ‘lowest point’ in his life when he got a lucky break
Back in 2008, Alvarez was living in his car and struggling to feed himself in what he described as ‘the lowest point of his existence.’
He said that most of his family had passed away, but he inherited a ‘small, run down property’ that was ‘not suitable for living.’
The designer continued: ‘The house smelled like a wet dog. It had pink water that would come out of the bathtub when I flushed the toilet and there were holes in the roof that were the size of a microwave.
But the first-generation Cuban American has not always led such a high-profile lifestyle, having previously spent months ‘living out of his car’ without ‘a dollar to his name’
Alvarez became New York Fashion Week’s most scandalous designer after sending models out on the runway this week in tiny pieces of tape
‘I mean, I could literally see the sky from the living room. I dropped to my knees and I looked up to the night sky and cried. I asked what I did to be dragged so low into the ground?’
But as he was cleaning up the residence, he miraculously discovered a box in the closet that contained $26,000.
He found out the money had belonged to his late grandfather, who put it away in the late ’60s for a rainy day but had never spent it.
‘After many years of what I considered “the toughest era” in my life, I quickly put the funds to work in hopes to correct my debts and turn my life around,’ he continued.
Pictured: Models walk the runway at the Black Tape Project swimwear event in 2021, which majored on purples, blacks and emerald shades of the metallic body tape
Now, Alvarez has become a staple at New York Fashion Week, regularly wowing the crowds with his incredibly risque tape ensembles. Pictured: Models wearing his designs at New York Fashion Week 2022
He has also turned his fashion week appearances into a lucrative venture, selling off tickets to his shows for up to $999-a-piece for a VIP backstage experience (pictured at Miami Swim Week in 2018)
‘I first put in a new roof and paid off the Ford Focus I was living in. I partied a little and gave money to my family and friends.
‘When you’re young, that amount of money seems like a fortune but I soon realized that $26,000 wouldn’t last long in this day and age.’
He said he put his last $1,500 towards the purchase of a camera, which was what ultimately launched his career as a fashion designer.
The designer launched his career in the fashion world – and it progressed at a whirlwind pace
Using his new camera, Alvarez started photographing some of the women who worked at his local Hooters, before he began connecting with Miami-based models over Myspace.
Within months, he was getting published in local magazines and continued to work his way up the ladder and eventually shot for huge outlets like Maxim and Playboy – still using the original Canon he had purchased with his grandfather’s money.
‘One day an out-of-town model booked me for a shoot and on our last look she pulled out a roll of tape and asked me to tape her,’ he explained.
‘I had no idea where to start or what she was expecting. So I just jumped head first and started taping her.
Alvarez began working with local dancers at Miami clubs, explaining that he began working ‘three or four nights a week’ taping up to six women
Speaking about his inspiration, Alvarez (pictured in 2021 during Miami Swim Week) said: ‘One day an out-of-town model booked me for a shoot and on our last look she pulled out a roll of tape and asked me to tape her’
‘The design was so incomplete and extremely tight. She looked like the Michelin Man who lost a fight with rubber bands.
‘But I kept at it because I kept seeing lines and I found the ability to compliment the body by adding lines and creating negative spaces that called to the viewers.’
From there, Alvarez began working with local dancers at Miami clubs, explaining that he began working ‘three or four nights a week’ taping up to six women.
‘I had to work fast and make designs that wouldn’t fall apart when they danced, this is where I developed most of my techniques,’ he continued.
Within a few years, the designer found himself being launched to viral fame when he worked on a shoot with a former Miss Puerto Rico at a charity event in 2017.
After posting a video of a former Miss Puerto Rico in his tape, Alvarez was inundated with requests to showcase his work (pictured on TV show Arrebatados in 2017)
Alvarez decorated her in a gold tape ensemble for – a process that he documented in a social media video, which quickly racked up tens of millions of viewers and gained him a new legion of fans.
‘The calls and emails started pouring in and my life changed yet again,’ he recalled.
‘It’s safe to say that The Black Tape Project has saved my life and now I am able to provide for my family, my circle and myself.’
Alvarez is now thriving in the limelight – and charging fans $999-a-piece for VIP experiences at his shows
Now, Alvarez has become a staple at New York Fashion Week, regularly wowing the crowds with his incredibly risque tape ensembles.
He has turned his fashion week appearances into a lucrative venture, selling off tickets to his shows for up to $999-a-piece for a VIP backstage experience.
The designer also sells rolls of his signature body tape in a variety of colors on his website.
Now, Alvarez has become a staple at New York Fashion Week (pictured on the runway at his show in 2018)
‘King of Tape’ Joel Alvarez creates the minimalist swimwear designs he’s become famous for live on stage – using just a role of black adhesive tape – at Faena Forum in Miami beachin 2021
The designer (picured on stage at New York Fashion Week in 2022) also sells rolls of his signature body tape in a variety of colors on his website
The most basic black hue starts at $9.99 a roll, while the more vibrant options – including metallic golds, blues, and pinks – cost up to $29.99 each.
But Alvarez does not limit his artform to just runway models.
He was previously invited to Vienna to tape legendary supercars – the Ferrari 488 Spider and Lamborghini Urus – at the Gumball 3000 street rally.
It was there that he won the accolade for Best Wrap Design before being offered a a collaboration with Lamborghini of Miami to tape the Miami Art Basel debut of the 2020 Karma Revero 2.0.
But Alvarez does not limit his artform to just runway models – and has even taped supercars in more recent months
Speaking about his journey in a previous interview that was shared to Instagram, Alvarez said: ‘I’ve always been more of an artist than a businessman.
‘And now I am a really good businessman because I learned the hard way.
‘I remember having my friends tell me you have got to take your artist hat off and put your business hat on…
‘But I don’t want to stop being an artist and I don’t want to change who I am and the way I think that my passion comes from my art, and the way I am comes a lot from the past that I have gone through.’
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