Years before Dior’s artistic director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, collaborated with Mexican artisans for her 2024 cruise collection, Mexico City fashion designer Carla Fernández was highlighting the couture-like techniques of her homeland with her ethical label.
Working with 200 artisans in 16 Mexican states, she designs modern clothing using traditional crafts under her elegant brand.
Gold leather embossing on the curved sleeves of Chimalhuacan’s elegant black “Charro” cowboy cloak. Handbags made of carved leather jaguar masks are made in the same way as the “Ticuanis Dance” masks of the Nahua culture of Guerrero. Cotton dresses with colorful fringes are woven on a backloom in Michoacan as they have been since pre-Hispanic times. It all feels like a home in Contessa, the “It” district of Mexico City, or in SoHo, New York.
“Everything is made in the communities and shipped to Mexico City, and sometimes it goes from one state to another through cross-pollination, so the fabric might be made in the state of Mexico and painted in Michoacán, or the pompons come from Chiapas, and then we finish the product here,” she says of her collection of Sculpted suits, coats and dresses that use Mayan, Aztec and Mexican milagro symbols and other details in contemporary ways, “sometimes the product is already ready-made.”
This fall, the designer will be the subject of an exhibition at La Galerie du 19M, Chanel’s Metiers d’Art center in northeastern Paris, entitled “Carla Fernandez: The Future is Handmade.” It will be open from Tuesday to December 17, showcasing her work with Mexican textile, embroidery, wood and leather artisans alongside French suppliers – some dating back to the mid-19th century – who specialize in embroidery; feathers; Plissé fabrics; Pearls. Shoes and gloves for fashion and ready-to-wear houses.
“Carla Fernandez’s approach to contemporary fashion, which reflects the region she comes from, has universal appeal, at the intersection of textiles, crafts and visual arts, and resonates particularly with the core concerns of 19M and its gallery,” Camille Houtin, director of La Galerie du 19M, says of the curation. Exhibition.
“The house blends craft, research and activism. It offers a critical and engaged perspective on the ethics and aesthetics of the forms that dress us. In fact, I wrote an entire manifesto on fashion as an act of resistance against standardization and mass production,” says Hawtin, adding that the manifesto is used as a backdrop in the exhibition.
“For me, fashion and textiles are the first language we communicate with,” says Fernandez, whose work has been shown internationally at the Fondation Cartier in Paris, the Denver Art Museum, the Isabel Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and numerous venues in Mexico. Including the Humex Museum.
The Fernandez collection, which retails from $29 to $1,309, is available at its three stores in Mexico and its online store. Its brand is a certified B Corp, the first fashion company in Latin America to receive this designation, and is mission-driven.
“The main purpose of the brand is to enable the artisans to get more work in their villages. Because many of them have to change their cultural and manual skills and go to the cities in search of better paying jobs. Then they have to leave the children. The 14-year-old girl takes care of the two children.” “They are six and four years old,” she says of the domino effect on society. The goal is to restore dignity to craftsmanship. “If you are a craftsman, people recognize you in your community, and respect you, because of the money and the skills, and the interest in traditions that started thousands of years ago.”
As part of the exhibition, Fernandez collaborated with some French artisans based in the 19M area. The first part of the exhibition features five pairs of shoes designed by custom shoemaker Massaro, based on her partnership with the Nájera family that makes Tecuán jaguar mask bags.
Charros hats have been redesigned by milliner Maison Michel, with stunning oversized proportions, and the glasses are designed in collaboration with goldsmith Goossens.
“These cultural exchanges allow each party to listen to the other, but also to experience another world in order to understand the specificity of a person’s gestures and letters. It is a real dialogue between the hands,” says Fernandez.
Over a beer in the stunning Mexico City home she shares with her husband, artist/architect/activist Pedro Reyes, the designer reflects on the moment when Mexican craft seems to be getting more attention in fashion circles.
“Mexico has incredible artisanal crafts, so it is endless and vibrant. “We have 68 living languages and, after China and India, we are the most culturally aware of indigenous people in the world,” she says. “Mexican crafts have always been seen for their beauty. Now I can see a trend, Dior is making it, a trend that is growing with collaboration. But 30 years ago, there were very few people doing this in Mexico, which is a mix of new contemporary design and artisans, and they do designs with artisans, which is crucial because Mexico has a lot of cultural appropriations.
Born in Saltillo, Coahuila, Fernandez began making dance costumes when she was 18, and from there moved into the world of fashion. She launched her label in 2002. Performance remains a core part of her work, which is often featured in theatrical events and short films.
The pandemic was difficult for the designer, who had to close many stores.
“Our clothes are so fun… We struggled but it was nice because we didn’t have to lay off any staff. We burned through all our savings, so we stayed in business for three and a half years. “But little by little it started coming back.”