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Carla Fernández: A Modern Fashion Anthropologist

For Mexican designer Carla Fernández, going backward means moving forward. She has developed a revolutionary way of working simultaneously with ancient and modern techniques and motifs, while intelligently modifying the rules of global fashion.

Fashion designer Carla Fernández looks with an anthropologist's eye at the traditions and the immense treasure that Mexico can contribute to the world. She shares the country's textile traditions, transforming them into contemporary fashion design by collaborating with Mexican artisans and artists. “Haute couture is found in the mountains of Mexico, in the heights of Chiapas, in the Mixteca coast, and in the canyons of the Tarahumara, where people have 5,000 years of experience in their craft," says the designer. "Clothing made by hand is more than just fashion. It’s an expression of our essential humanity.” Fernández in fact lives and designs by the mantra that the future is handmade.

She is the balance between old and new; fast and slow

Fernández came to understand Mexico’s pre-Columbian way of constructing clothing through travel, research, and a passion for everything Mexican. Her design and contruction techniques stem from precolonial Mayan and Aztec practices and have a single common denominator—strict geometry. These old methods work on origami-like principles: squares and rectangles are taken directly from the loom and sewn together in a system that does not produce any waste. Fernández calls this system the “square root” and her inspiration lays in the garments that most Mexican women have worn for generations — rebozos, jorongos, enredos, quechquemitl, fajas, and more. But that’s just a starting point: Fernández not only innovates from tradition but also has her own approach to how she works with artisans throughout the country. She has designed a unique way of working in which ideas, tradition, and handcraft are all respected, credited, and fairly remunerated.

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Fernández’s products and processes embrace a multidisciplinary approach to fashion as part of the creative industries, and her activity goes far beyond her brand. She sees herself as part of an ecosystem that includes photographers, artists, activists, musicians, writers, DJs, chefs, and more. For example, for the 2017 spring/summer show, she chose a dance performance combining the craft and ideas of 11 tribes; the show was choreographed by dancers Silas Reiner and Rashaun Mitchell (both of whom have performed with the Merce Cunningham Company). Native art was also woven into the show's moving tapestry through five carved totem sculptures. The designer's new boutique in Colonia Roma, a hip, up-and-coming Mexico City neighborhood, is the perfect platform for bring like-minded creators together for new interpretations of cool.

She sees herself as part of an ecosystem that includes photographers, artists, activists, musicians, writers, DJs, chefs, and more

Fernández uses ancient local materials including indigo from Oaxaca and Coyuche cotton from the Mixteca. Wool yarns are dyed with mud in San Juan Chamula. There’s no cutting in pre-Columbian couture, a simplicity preserved today in traditional clothing despite the influence of European fashions, where wrapping the body is the primary principle. However, Fernández’s creations embrace the body intelligently by mixing geometry with innovations in patterns, cutting, and textures. The result is a contemporary style that is fresh, new, urban, and does not scream “ethnic.”

Wool yarns are dyed with mud in San Juan Chamula

Fernández’s work has gone beyond the realm of fashion design. She invents her own rules; setting trends and redefining old paradigms. She remains true to her mantra and firm in her belief that when it comes to preserving traditions, slow processes are the main differentiators and radical design the main accelerator. She has also compiled a robust archive of textile traditions for future generations. Fernández has demonstrated how textiles are a binding force and a new way to embrace the future. She represents the balance between old and new; fast and slow. The future is indeed handmade.

 
Carla Fernández was born in Saltillo in the Mexican state of Coahuila in 1973. She studied art history and fashion design. Early on, she specialized in traditional Mexican clothing: Preserving traditional craftsmanship techniques and ensuring they survive is at the heart of her work. In 2000, she founded her own fashion label. She is also the director of Taller Flora, a mobile workshop that travels across Mexico to document old weaving, embroidery, and dyeing techniques and to establish a network of craftspeople.
Marcella Echavarria was born in Colombia and lives in New York. She travels the world researching cultures, artists, local traditional craftsmanship, and global trends, working on these topics as an author, entrepreneur, and advisor for UNESCO and other clients.