Updated: Nov 15
By Alexia Hill
When a person hears the word “tradition,” they might think of certain foods, places, holidays, heritage, historical events, or maybe even significant pieces of clothing. For world renowned costume and fashion designer, Carla Fernández, tradition is critical in the world of clothing, but it is not static or stagnant.
Fernández focuses on using authentic Mexican and Mestizo techniques to create high-end fashion as well as costume design. Techniques used include: Rapacejo application, counted-stitch and raised embroidery, double-sided embroidery, leather fretwork, ikat and foot loom rebozos, mixed techniques of hand painting and waist loom weaving, according to her website.
“This is something that has to do with sustainability, respecting the lands, and it doesn’t have anything to do with not evolving, it’s the contrary because you understand the land, you understand your planet, and you understand your community,” Fernández said. “Taking maybe six months to weave your clothing everyday, to take care of the cotton or the sheep that give you the wool, how your brain develops when you are weaving, is the way that we were meant to be on this planet Earth. It was not meant to be using something, taking away from the planet, like the resources and throwing them away. That’s why I say that fashion is ephemeral.”
Fernández, who has been designing since she was 20 years old, said her fashion career began when she was a teenager with her interest in picking outfits and how she wanted to present herself. She also explained a source of inspiration was shopping at second hand markets in Mexico where she saw garments from a multitude of different ethnic groups.
“I jumped to make my very first work or passion, which was to make costumes for dance. I wanted to be an opera costume designer or a dance costume designer,” Fernández said. “I started with dance when I was very young, designing for the independent contemporary dance houses, working on their attire and their clothing. And from dance, I jumped to fashion, to having a fashion house.”
The Carla Fernández Fashion House is based in Mexico City and has local artisan communities approach them to collaborate, which is how some collections have gotten started.
As creative director of a fashion house, Fernández carries the responsibilities of many hats in the company. Her main duties are creating designs, researching, communicating with different Mexican or Mestizo communities to determine who will be making the designs, and planning and preparing for any fashion productions that her company would like to put on to promote new collections.
“We have other jobs that I love that we change like public policies to have better conditions in work, or better conditions for the country to work with audiences. So that’s why I say that we are more than what we think about ourselves, more than designers or cultural agents, because we do many, many things,” Fernández said.
Clothing, according to Fernández, has this exuberant power to it. She explained that clothing continually inspires her to keep designing because it acts as a sort of universal yet secret language that gives humans so many ways to express themselves and their values and ideals.
“We express ourselves every day through clothing. It’s an open book, I read you the way you’re dressed,” Fernández said. “I don’t know you, but I see you on the street and I more or less understand what you want to transfer to me culturally, politically, aesthetically, through your attire. And for me, that is the power of clothing.”
Continuing her original passion for costume design and dance, Fernández teamed up with Ballet Arizona for their upcoming production of Juan Gabriel. Juan Gabriel was an esteemed Mexican musician, known for being the first non-classical musician to perform at Mexico City’s illustrious Palacio de Bellas Artes in 1990, according to Ballet Arizona. A mutual friend of Fernández gave Ballet Arizona her name as a point of contact for costumes.
“I am in love with music, dance and fashion, and he[Juan Gabriel] represents all that,” Fernández said. “It’s a beautiful project to approach the Latino community to the classic ballet. I think it’s a wonderful idea and who better than Juan Gabriel? I am very honored that our fashion house can do these costumes for them.”
Fernández explained some of the work that goes into making it, such as researching Gabriel’s contemporary sense of fashion and his fashion history, as well as determining the materials used to create these pieces. Similar to the designer’s love for authentic Mexican designs and styles, Gabriel was known for wearing bold stage costumes influenced by different cultures such as the Charros, North Mexico, Oaxaca and more, according to Fernández. He was “a stage man and he knew how to wear it.”
“Dancers dance and they have various specific requirements more than anyone, because you need to know they need to open their arms, be able to lift the dancer and turn around,” Fernández said. “So, the materials are completely different, the confection is completely different, as you have to also design for the stage which has a very different theme. Maybe the embroideries have to be bigger or they are reacting to the light. The fringes cannot be too long, because the dancer gets stuck in them.”
Founded in 1986, Ballet Arizona is an extensive ballet dance company that puts on nationally acclaimed productions as well as hosts dance classes. Revitalized through the artistic direction of Ib Andersen over the last 20 years, the company is dedicated to preserving classical dance while breathing new life into them and creating original pieces. Fernández said she is grateful and honored for the opportunity to work with Ballet Arizona, Ib Andersen and Leonor Texidor, Costume Director.
“More so in ballet, you’re going to listen to the music, you see the dances, you’re going to see the movements you see all the time. But you also see the clothes’ movements,” Fernández said. “And what is very important for me and this production is the movement, so these garments are made in collaboration, also, with the artisans that do these amazing techniques, you know, which is very important. And so you’re going to see not only the garments, and the fashion, you’re going to see Mexico and these beautiful techniques on stage.”
Photos from Ballet AZ