Vestido Cobra

How can traditional designs be kept alive? The work of the Mexican designer Carla Fernández demonstrates how fashion can preserve tradition and still be groundbreaking.

While most internationally successful fashion designers focus their creative work on aesthetic aspects, Fernández makes colors and shapes only a part of her complex design process. Her fashion is not supposed to be merely beautiful; it also considers social and sociopolitical questions. By incorporating Mexican styles and production techniques into contemporary fashion, she seeks to bolster the cultural self-confidence of her home country. To this end, she looks for artisans in various regions of Mexico who are masters of centuries-old production techniques, and she places orders with them. Yet this is not the only reason her clothes are socially and politically relevant — she’s also breaking away from traditional role models. 

Fashion is not supposed to be merely beautiful; it also considers social and political questions

One example of this is the Vestido Cobra, a multifunctional piece of clothing from her 2017 summer collection. It’s designed according to the Mexican principle, which dictates that woven fabrics are never cut. Instead, they are fitted to the body’s form using folding techniques whose complexity is reminiscent of Japanese origami. The fabrics are held in place with plaited cords or woven belts. In the villages, the different folding and knotting methods are passed from generation to generation and are a part of local and family identity. For the Vestido Cobra, Fernández used a combination of different folding and knotting techniques to ensure that it can fit everybody, whether as a maxi dress, a short dress, or even as a jumpsuit with trousers.

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Still, Fernández is not just a specialist in Mexican fashion. She’s also part of the global haute couture scene. For her, this double role is not a contradiction. She sees it as a chance to build bridges between completely different worlds. A small but not unimportant detail of the Vestido Cobra demonstrates how fashion can refine traditional methods. Thanks to the folding and knotting techniques, it can be worn by people with different body types, and even — in a highly contemporary twist — by both men and women. It is a garment that questions traditional clothing and gender hierarchies and unites the diversity of an entire country.

Friedrich von Borries, born in 1974, is an architect. He teaches Design Theory at the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg and runs the Projektbüro Friedrich von Borries in Berlin. The relationship between design and social development lies at the heart of his work, which exists in the border zone between urban planning, architecture, design, and art. “As scholars, we try to understand the world. As designers, we try to change it.”