Designer Victor Barragán Knows No Bounds

A portrait of Victor Barragán wearing a black hoodie and jacket
Portrait by John Ervin

When Victor Barragán started his namesake label in Mexico City in 2010, his preternatural talent quickly made him one of the most influential creative forces in the Mexican design community. But it was during this very period of ascent that Barragán realized his brand had the potential to speak to a greater audience—so he moved to New York to chase his dreams. Five years later, Barragán has made his mark on the North American scene; he was even nominated in 2019 for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award, a kind of formal recognition that his influence had indeed expanded.

Barragán has appeared on the New York Fashion Week calendar season after season since, delivering shows that consistently break the boundaries of traditional Hispanic culture, embracing fluid sexuality and sensual cyberpunk clothing, which serve as commentary on Mexican society. What the industry didn’t expect from the designer was his views on the whiteness of American culture—which is exactly what Barragán did for his spring 2023 presentation at New York Fashion Week. The show—packed with information overload from beginning to end—was filled with crushed, empty plastic water bottles; soda cans, and dollar bills covering the ground. The walls were plastered with old cartoons and newspaper clippings, with an added layer of graffiti on top. Metal fences that felt like barricades lined the makeshift runway.

Once the show began, models emerged from a port-a-potty door in clothing that screamed Americana. It was clear—from the patriotic colorways and star prints to plays on signature graphics such as the New York Mets logo; and many, many lip fillers gone wrong—that the crowd had been thrown into Barragán’s vision of America. “I just wanted to have fun and whatever happened happened,” Barragán says. “For me, it was all about whoever gets it, gets it. If you don’t get it, that’s okay. It might take a minute.” It was a show that held true to Barragán’s humorous nature, but it also reminded us that Victor Barragán is more than just his Mexican heritage. He’s been living in America for seven years and he’s here to talk about it.

Below, Victor Barragán recounts the journey of his brand, the message behind his spring 2023 collection, and how relocating to New York City changed the face of Barragán.

Barragán began as a small-scale, experimental t-shirt company in 2010, but since then, it’s evolved into a ’90s-punk, ready-to-wear line that has gained quite the cult following. How do you feel when you look back and see how much the brand has grown over the past 12 years?

First of all, I’m really surprised. I was in high school just doing t-shirts for my friends and definitely wasn’t expecting to become this big. Then, thanks to Tumblr and Instagram, people saw my work and gave me the confidence to try something new. I didn’t go to school for fashion so it was mostly an experiment where I mixed fashion, music, and art among friends. It was a big collaboration with a lot of people from my community. As the team grows, I want to establish more of a business epicenter—but not subscribe too much to the calendars. We’re a really small brand, so we can’t do as much. The most important thing to me is to have fun, take things slowly, and see where things take us from there.

In 2019, you were nominated for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award. How did this change you and your brand?

After I got the stamp of approval from the CFDA, the industry took the brand more seriously. But once we realized we were in the spotlight, that’s when I definitely felt the pressure. I was so happy and excited that people liked my work and to have this voice, but there was so much pressure that I felt like I was compromising my vision somehow. It was a learning experience about how fast I wanted to grow up, and if I was ready to do it. After a three-year period of really trying to make a business of it in an intense way, I found out that I want to have fun first—and then, if the business comes, why not? Having so many expectations sometimes can make everything very stressful.

What inspired your recent show, “Después Del Caos Viene La Luz (After Chaos Comes Light)”? Can you walk me through the thought process behind the clothing?

The main idea was to talk about my experience with the business as a Mexican designer—which is always how I’m going to be labeled, although it is part of my narrative. I felt a little trapped in always feeling like the industry is expecting something so specific for me and was tired of being put in this box. So I was like, “How can I talk about what is important, but in a new and different way?” The big inspiration for us were the decals of Woodstock ’99. Everything was so intense and aggressive, but at the same time, it was beautiful because it held so much meaning.

Nobody was expecting us to cast white-passing models because the brand has always done something different in the past—but we were going to talk about America. We needed to go off with this thing, and to be aggressive about it. I was honestly really nervous because some people weren’t going to get it, or weren’t going to like it. But I wanted to take the negative and reclaim it, which for me was really beautiful to show it that way. That was the main idea of the show: to have this conversation about all the hard topics. Don’t try to avoid what is out there. Things are going to change through the years, but we should always be talking about topics like diversity and inclusion. The show is a big commentary of my experience in the industry and living in New York.

The more I look back at the runway images, the more brilliant I think your collection is. From the subtle (and not so subtle) American political references to the seemingly white-passing cast to the “white trash” set design—what message do you hope you conveyed to the viewers?

The meaning of the show is to always pay attention and be more aware about what you are consuming. Typically, things look perfect on the outside, but when you dig further, you are going to see exactly what is going on. It’s always important to see the good and the bad. It’s the only way to learn. We’re talking about something serious, but at the end of the day, these are clothes as well. Don’t take yourself too seriously about how fashion should be. It’s a good balance of something serious, something funny, something maybe a little too extreme visually, but having a sensible side to it too. I didn’t deliver what was expected of me and to me, that was my favorite part. I felt a freedom that hasn’t been there since I started, and that felt good.

Photo by Collis Torrington

It’s been three years since you showed in NYC, so this was the first Barragán show I’ve ever attended. I was pleasantly surprised to see the immense amount of support from your loyal family and friends. What does “community” mean to you?

When I moved to NYC, my community definitely got stronger. I grew up with so much trauma, but in the U.S., it was a different conversation. I don’t feel alone somehow and I can resonate with more people who motivate me to keep going. They show me their support in many different ways and always make me feel really good about what I’m doing.

How would you describe your friends?

They're sassy—well, more like baddies—with an attitude.

Do you feel you have an example to set forth, not only for young Latinx designers, but to any young Hispanic trying to make it in their industry?

I do try and bring forth something positive. I get so many amazing DMs from people who don’t know me, but are giving me all this love because the work resonates with them. So in that way I feel that I have this power and responsibility. I just try to be conscious how my actions are going to affect somebody else. I know my work can be very intense sometimes, but it’s a part of who I am, and I think people can see the good in that.

What is the legacy you hope to leave behind?

Have fun. Enjoy the ride. There’s no reason to be stressed all the time.