Mexico City Fashion Week is nothing like its New York, Paris or London counterparts, nor does it want to be. Now in its 11th year — 2016 is the 10th anniversary with Mercedes Benz as sponsor — venues are not hastily erected in car parks, but carefully selected to represent different aspects of the city, from runways set within the cloisters of a 16th century convent to the printing presses of national newspaper “El Universal” and in the kitchen of the Sheraton Hotel, where models walked the metal countertops swathed in textured black capes.
The creative directors behind Mexico’s edgiest brands are taking their cues from traditional aesthetics and culture (such as customary embroideries) and combining them with political themes and eclectic streetwear such as ripped denim and cropped tees, basketball jerseys and long Tehuana skirts, as worn by Frida Kahlo. The result? Collections filled with gender play and contradiction, where the men’s clothing especially can be worn by women, and vice versa.
These modern designers operate independently, but often work together on satellite projects designed to further develop the local creative community. For example, for her first ever runway show during Mexico City Fashion Week, Marika Vera introduces prints in collaboration with Mexican visual artist Maria Conejo. In her new project titled CIHUART, Cihuah designer Vanesa Guck’s collaborated with artists.
Mexican designers have also embraced social media and digital platforms over traditional media — if you make a comment on a brand’s Instagram account, chances are the designer manages it and responds personally — to present an aesthetic that’s rooted firmly in the landscapes and cities of Mexico, yet created with the global community in mind.
Here, six designers who are redefining Mexican fashion.
Roberto Sánchez describes his five-year-old brand as a project of personal exploration. Playing with structure to create his signature silhouettes and never-too-serious aesthetic, he counts MIA, Leigh Lezark, Gerodon Nicol and rapper Rye Rye among his clients. For his spring 2017 collection, Sánchez drew inspiration from his friends and muses, incorporating their personal style with his own memories of their relationships. Sánchez shows during Mexico City Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week and retails in boutiques in Australia, Japan and the US. His next project is to release his own perfume line based on his memories.
How did you get your start in fashion? I started 10 years ago with a brand called Teamo. My friend and I started the brand as a way of building our bond and to share my dreams and fears.
What were your first pieces? I started with pieces that were basic but with an artistic touch, such as prints that I would create, embroidery or unique fabrics. I would always be inspired by the streets of Mexico and how people here experiment with their clothes.
What values are core to your brand? I always like to have fun. My philosophy is that Roberto Sánchez is only looking to enjoy every moment and make the best out of it – it’s a way of experimenting with my surroundings and emotions. I care about the quality of the materials but I’m not trying to focus too much on that; my main goal is to visually transmit a message with the garments.
What was your inspiration for the looks shown this week? The main inspirations of this collection were my best friends, which is why every look is unique and individual. Every look is a compound of human elements such as love, lies, passion and work.
Marika Vera, director and designer of SIGNATURE by Marika Vera
Stylist and fashion designer Marika Vera established her eponymous luxury lingerie brand in 2010, selling her silk, hand-made pieces in small boutiques in London, LA, NYC and Sydney. Four years later, Vera launched her diffusion line SIGNATURE by Marika Vera, designing erotic lingerie and outerwear garments with delicate and minimalistic lines at her atelier and by-appointment-only showroom located in the heart of Mexico City. The line is available at New York outlets includin Journelle, Brooklyn Fox Lingerie, and the Museum of Sex.
Why did you decide to design both lingerie and outerwear garments? I wanted to reinvent lingerie. I studied the market, the competition, I saw a gap in the offer of interesting loungewear and bodysuits that could actually be worn outside the bedroom. Lingerie is an intimate product; and there are intimate things to talk about. We are destroying the world and within the over-consuming, fast-growing fashion industry that exists today [I can] create consciousness and empower women – we work with non-profit organization Mexico Vivo to raise money for sexual education programs.
What were your first pieces? My graduation collection in 2008 was a mix between silk, masculine loungewear and mesh lingerie. Then in 2010 I launched the brand with 100 percent silk kimonos, negligees and teddies.
How has your brand evolved since you launched? In 2013 I got into the front cover of GQ UK with Rihanna wearing our Lula Fortune bodysuit. That same year, I lost everything: my employees, I had $30,000 of debt, I even lost my domain marikavera.com that I had owned since 2007. When I launched SIGNATURE by Marika Vera in 2014, I needed to work with affordable fabrics and because I don’t have to worry about high production costs or paying 10 employees. I live in the best moment, now – I have fun, experiment and try to stop thinking too commercially.
What kinds of fabrics, textures, structures and themes are key to the brand? I work with mesh, see-through fabrics and crêpe, creating items that have a sensual element into them, exuding femininity and sensuality. My pieces and collections are named for powerful female icons. I work a lot around my own body and the cuts I apply to it. I also try the pieces with my boyfriend; we enjoy each other a lot.
What is most popular with your customers? The harnesses were really popular for the launch of SIGNATURE – lots of girls are wearing them – and that was a key factor for word-of-mouth communication of the brand. Bodysuits are my best-sellers and most profitable pieces.
Andrés Jiménez, designer of Mancandy
Andrés Jiménez combines technical materials such as latex and nylon with denim, leather, and cotton to create Mancandy’s gender-fluid, sophisticated streetwear. Within Mexico, you’ll find Soumaya Slim, Rita Marimen, Eiza Gonzalez wearing his creations; Iggy Azalea, Bibi Bourelly, Maluca are also fans of the brand. Mancandy’s online store, launching mid-November, will include home products, fashion, and objects and Jiménez is also working on a special line of products for eBay – the sponsor of his SS17 show during Mexico City Fashion Week – as the first Mexican designer to run a shop on the auction site.
Why did you decide to design ready to wear? I have always liked making garments that can be used every day. I don’t think that fashion should be for a single event or a single occasion – all the moments of life are important. I have the philosophy that you dress well every day of our life; even if I’m going to the 7/11, I want to look cool.
What have been the defining moments for Mancandy since you launched the brand in 2008? I’ve always been a music lover, so one of my favorite moments was when Mexican singer Julieta Venegas wore a purple tank top dress from my first collection for MTV Unplugged. I think the main challenge has always been to convince people in Mexico that fashion dresses are not only gowns.
You were one of the few designers to show looks for men on the main runway this week. Do you think menswear is under represented at Mexico City Fashion Week? A bit. I think fashion should not be segmented. What must be considered is the concept and design. Today nobody cares whether it is male or female – they care about the quality, design and price. My creations are for strong personalities, genderless minds, and art lovers who value uniqueness.
You closed your SS17 show by performing your first music single, reggaeton track “Dispuesto a Ti”. How does music complement your work as a designer? As a boy I wrote songs and sang and dreamt of being an artist. Music is always part of my creative process: on my way to the gym at 7 a.m. – I love boxing, too – until I lie down to sleep, I listen to music. Mancandy represents my tastes, my dreams, my lifestyle – I am Mancandy – so I wanted to share this with my brand followers. It’s is something that comes from my heart, like my designs.
Vanessa Guckels, Founder and Creative Director of Cihuah
French designer Vanessa Guckels trained as an architect in France and Spain before establishing what she calls her “French fashion brand, born in Mexico” in 2013. The name Cihuah comes from the indigenous Nahuatl word for “women” in recognition of indigenous women and their traditional crafts, ancient knowledge and culture, and as a nod to modern creative, independent and entrepreneurial women. The interplay of architecture with the human body is central to Guckels’ work – in 2013 she collaborated with architect Pablo Kobayashi to create The Concrete Dress, shown on the runway and then exhibited in Siqueiros Museum, Mexico.
Why did you decide to go into fashion after studying architecture? The transition from architecture to fashion was years after finishing my studies. I worked for several renowned architects, and then I wanted to change the scale of my work and apply my architects’ tools in the construction of garments. I conceptualize the garment as an architectural space where the body interacts more directly with its envelope.
What characterized your early work? My first pieces were very geometric and often incomprehensible to the fashion industry. I was not creating simple clothes but real, small spaces.
Who is your target customer? I design for women who want to look different. The Cihuah woman is masculine and feminine at once. She is a real beauty – strong and charismatic.
What kinds of materials do you work with? Neoprene fabric, technological fabrics… Fabrics that retain volume. But also cotton, linen and silk.
How have you seen the market and your clientele in Mexico City evolve since you launched? The fashion market in Mexico is in a period of real expansion and growth – more people are buying Mexican designs. My customers love my creations, are loyal to the brand, and respect it. I think I have managed to change certain habits, certain dress codes and some preconceived thoughts in México.
Barbara Sanchez-Kane, designer of Sanchez-Kane
Barbara Sanchez-Kane’s menswear-focused collections combine chaos, emotion and political commentary with Mexican art and traditional crafts. Her latest collection “Citizen Sanchez-Kane” explores a Mexican society in which women dominate and men must fight to regain their identity. After graduating with a degree in fashion design from Polimoda in Florence in 2014, Barbara Sanchez-Kane launched her brand Sanchez-Kane last year, presenting her first collection “Courage of the Brave” during Los Angeles Fashion Week October 2015 and showed Citizen Sanchez-Kane at FASHIONCLASH festival and VFILES in Paris and New York Fashion Week in 2016.
How did you get your start in fashion? I always felt like an outsider growing up in Merida Yucatan, which is a small southern city in Mexico. It was too conservative, too typical and way too homogeneous. After graduating from a convent high school I studied industrial engineering, just because it was expected of me; after experiencing health problems I reevaluated my life and what I wanted to do and six months later I was on my way to Florence to study at Polimoda.
What were your first pieces? One of my first pieces- which means very much to me – was from my graduate collection. It’s a vest that says: MOM APPROVES!
What have been the big milestones since you launched? There is nothing glamorous about starting your own label, especially the financial part; the only thing is to believe in yourself and keep going. My favorite moment after all the months of hard work is finally seeing your design in a show. It’s just fucking magical. Meeting such talented people like getting advice from Mel Ottenberg is surreal and Ellen Degeneres talking about my designs made my day.
What kinds of fabrics, textures, structures and themes are key to the brand? My Mexican heritage plays an important part of my design process, as well as reflecting a 3D version of my diary. I love playing with non-traditional materials for clothing and hard structures. I think my engineering degree did influence me… We need to portray our perception of beauty, even if it contains brutality, fear, ugliness and our darkest selves and stop worrying too much about pleasing everyone.
What were some of the inspirations behind your Citizen Sanchez Kane Collection? You can always find the silhouette of a woman in my collections, and this collection was born after I dated a women involved in the LGBT movement when I was living in LA. I choose to use a pillow as a headpiece – actually this collection was going to be called in “bed with a feminist” – and it all came down to a poem I wrote: sleep-walking while waiting for her to return. The first thing I designed was the graphic design in collaboration with tattoo artist Patricio de Gante, using grabado en linoleo (linocut) visualized as “tattoos”, hand-printed on cotton canvas and denim fabrics. I used printed metal purse closures [over the model’s mouths] to visualize a man with empty pockets and used words such as “MALE TEARS” and “MACHO SENTIMENTAL” to represent a more sensitive man.
Alejandra Quesada describes her brand as “a casual colorful dream” for women that want to express inner freedoms. Her avant-garde forms and vibrant prints, whimsical, flirtatious motifs and contemporary use of Mexican embroidery and craftwork have established her internationally as one of Mexico’s fastest-rising stars.
How did you get your start in fashion? Growing up, I resonated with the arts, fashion, and textiles, so I decide to study fashion design In Paris and London. I had an opportunity to work with designers such as Isabel Marant, Tata Naka and Alexander McQueen, all of whom inspired me to create my own brand.
Why did you decide to design ready to wear? I think fashion documents history and humanity; it’s a way of capturing and expressing moments of life. I felt that by designing ready to wear I was able to tell stories that would make people happy.
What were your first pieces? My first collection was inspired by the Nahua indigenous community. It was a full collection with different embroideries and other hand-made traditional techniques. The collection was really well-received in Japan.
What do you enjoy most about having your own brand? My best memories come from my experience collaborating with friends such as singer-songwriter Natalia Lafourcade, painter Pedro Friedeberg and Spanish illustrator Ana Montiel. I love telling stories about existentialism, love and life. Fashion is a new industry in Mexico and scaling my brand globally has been an interesting challenge.
What is most popular with your customers? Print sweatshirts and shoes.
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