Santiago Gonzalez, the son of luxury handbag designer Nancy Gonzalez, died in his sleep Friday, his mother confirmed via Instagram on Monday. He was 40.
"It is with great sadness that we reach out to you today about the passing of our beloved Santiago," wrote Nancy. "Santiago was a creative genius, he was a rare talent, with a great passion for his craft, his art and his family."
A post shared by Nancy Gonzalez (@nancygonzalezofficial) on Mar 27, 2017 at 3:50pm PDT
Hailing from Cali, Colombia, Santiago and his mom founded the Nancy Gonzalez handbag brand in 1998, known for its luxe crocodile designs in candy colors, sold at stores such as Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and Harrods. The family owned its own farms in Colombia, where most of the exotic skins came from.
He most recently served as president and creative director, leading the charge in the brand's global expansion, including the launch of its first-ever shoe collection last year. The label, which counts Gabrielle Union, Tracee Ellis Ross, Diane Guerrero and Laura Prepon as fans, received the Brand of the Year award from the Accessories Council in November 2007.
He also started the Santiago Gonzalez collection in 2010, offering a range of luxury men's accessories and leather goods.
"He was a great man with great humanity, generosity of spirit and kindness with a depth not often seen. He was one of a kind," added Nancy. "Whilst it is tremendously sad, we want to take the opportunity to thank all his friends, associates and clients on his journey and we will continue to honor him with the brand."
Santiago was influenced by travel and fine art. After attending prep school in the U.S., he went to Babson College in Boston for business administration and then Savannah College of Art and Design to study fashion merchandising and art history. He started the Nancy Gonzalez brand while attending SCAD and traveled between Savannah and New York until graduation.
A passionate collector of contemporary art and design, Santiago often mingled at art events in L.A., including the Museum of Contemporary Art and LACMA Art + Film Galas.
A post shared by CHINA CHOW (@china_chow) on Mar 25, 2017 at 6:15pm PDT
"He was a star," wrote Project Runway judge Nina Garcia. Model China Chow, daughter of restaurateur Michael Chow and designer Tina Chow, also took to Instagram to pay tribute to her close friend.
"My Wonderful Friend. And now my Angel. You were and will always be family to me. There is nothing I can say that will ever come close to adequately expressing the gratitude and never ending love that I have for you. I will hold you in my heart always," expressed China. "Thank you and Sweet dreams my Little Prince."
Santiago is survived by mom Nancy and sister Cristina.