FASHION DESIGNER CARLA FERNÁNDEZ ABOUT LIVING WITHIN INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES

by: Alicia Chua

For fashion designer Carla Fernández, garment creation may make up the bulk of her work, but it's the process of documenting and learning about Mexican pattern making that ultimately gives her the rush she desires. Collaborating with indigenous communities around Mexico, Carla regularly integrates their knowledge of traditional textile making into her design process, producing a sense of richness you rarely find in today's world of fashion.

Soon you'll get to see her designs up close, since the designer will be presenting her Spring/Summer 2017 collection in Singapore, during The O.P.E.N at Singapore International Festival of Arts 2016. But first she shares with us the origins of her label, and what we can expect at her show come 30th June.

FASHION DESIGNER CARLA FERNÁNDEZ ABOUT LIVING WITHIN INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES

Hi Carla, can you tell us more about yourself and your label?
We have been studying traditional patterning and cutting from Mexico for the last 25 years, and we work with different communities to spread innovation in design. We collaborate with indigenous communities that want us to help them develop new designs, believing that fashion is not ephemeral and tradition is not static. We go to these communities and observe they way they live; we sit down with them, see what they do and base ourselves in the traditional and ancestral methods they use, then we collaborate by introducing new changes.

Do you remember the moment that inspired you to start your own brand? How did the idea of turning Mexican textile techniques into contemporary designs come about?
My father was the Director of the Anthropological Museum in Mexico, so I was very lucky to be able to accompany him when he was out doing his work. These opportunities allowed me to see and understand Mexican culture really well. And my mother has always been a fashionista: she was the first one to use hot pants in her hometown. So I think the mix of my father being a historian, museum designer and anthropologist and my mother being a fashionista gives you a clear vision of where my sense of fashion comes from.

FASHION DESIGNER CARLA FERNÁNDEZ ABOUT LIVING WITHIN INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES

For those who are unfamiliar, what would you say is the most unique aspect of Mexican pattern making?
Pre-Hispanic fashion is only made out of squares and rectangles; not only for the Mexican garment, but also for many other places in the world. When the Spanish came, people tried to turn indigenous garments into copies of tailored clothes the conquerors were bringing in, but they kept using squares and rectangles. This is what I call “The Square Root”, which is the square of Mexican patterning and the roots of the traditional pattern from Mexican clothing. So you could have a pair of pants, and even if they’re stitched you can see they’re made from squares and rectangles, even if they’re fitted to the body.

*Carla will be teaching this square root tailoring method in a workshop for families and teens on 3 July 2016. Details can be found in The O.P.E.N Guide here.

Having worked closely with Mexico's indigenous communities, what is the greatest lesson you’ve learned that can never be taught at fashion schools and institutions?
For me, working with indigenous communities has a lot to do with learning, especially since we live in the city. And I have seen how happy you can be living in these communities. I have traveled a lot and seen how many people in different countries base their happiness on consumerism. We all need a change and that’s what we work for, to make a fair trade with communities.

FASHION DESIGNER CARLA FERNÁNDEZ ABOUT LIVING WITHIN INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES

We know you feel strongly about preserving tradition. How do you think visiting these communities in person has helped with that?
Clothes are like charms. Fashion has the power to make people feel good about themselves. But to teach, first you have to learn. You have to understand before introducing new and coherent designs in conjunction with a community. That is how radical designs will be able to preserve traditions.

You'll be presenting 'Dances And Ceremonies: Spring/Summer 2017' at the Singapore International Festival of Arts this year. Could you give us an insight of what the collection is all about?
This collection is inspired by traditional dance, and we're collaborating with two amazing dancers from New York, Silas Riener and Rashaun Mitchell, for the show. They're portraying healing through movement and dance, with a story revolving around our new collaborations with communities in the state of Puebla.

Rather than a fashion show, I decided to work on a dance performance with Silas and Rashaun, who have danced for the Merce Cunningham Company in the past and are now making amazing routines. We previously worked together and it keeps getting better and better.

This show has to do with healing and shamanism. There are different ways of traditional healing around the world, and most of them have to do with love, care, silence, music and chanting or dance. I’ve been doing a lot of research, and this is what I’ve seen and read as a constant around the world. Silas and Rashaun will work based on these premises. There will also be eight models from Singapore with whom we’ll work with for this dance/fashion performance.

Carla's collection will be shown at The O.P.E.N on 30 June 2016, 10pm.

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