Invention of tradition

Carla Fernández finds haute couture in the Mexican mountains

Text by Mónica Isabel Pérez

Photography by Sohrab Golsorkhi-Ainslie

Styling by Bobby Hook

“I think the best-dressed Mexican women are in San Juan Chamula,” says Carla Fernández. “My dad used to work in museums and when I was a child we travelled around Mexico a lot. So I met a lot of indigenous communities and I’ve always been impressed by their style. It’s incredibly different from the concept of fashion we have in the big cities. They make wonderful colour matches, superpositions, layering, silhouettes, and of course they mix their traditional clothes with more urban elements. The first time I saw a woman wearing a huipil with jeans I thought, ‘This is so cool!’”

Most of Fernández’s collections are not presented on traditional catwalks. “My first catwalk was inside a museum. An art curator did my marketing strategy; my clients are art galleries and museum directors, and some are artists. They like sophisticated and unique clothes. I think of myself as more of an activist than a fashion designer. I want to tell beautiful Mexican stories that people can’t even imagine, and I love to narrate them through clothes. I want people to fall in love with the traditional dress of my country, with its geometry, its sensuality and its ambivalence, because this kind of fashion is simple and complex at the same time.”

Fernández has spent 10 years researching and cataloguing traditional Mexican costumes that are at risk of disappearing, and makes a point of paying and crediting the indigenous and rural artisans with whom she collaborates for their ideas. “The more I work, the more often I am surprised,” she says. “It’s amazing to discover how indigenous Mexican women create masterpieces like huipiles with just a little cotton and eight sticks of wood. It’s alchemy. Mexico is as sophisticated as Paris; it is just that our haute couture is not in the cities. It’s in the mountains.” Mónica Isabel Pérez

  • Carla Fernandez