A couple of season ago, Jean Paul Gaultier created an entire collection around the Moctezuma, after seeing an exhibit on the Aztec emperor in London. And while Gaultier did dazzle the crowd with his master tailoring, the somberos, gauchos and mariachi band felt more like a gorgeous exercise in camp than an homage to Mexican history. Based in Mexico City, Carla Fernandez is a designer all too aware of the chintzy pitfalls involved with folkoric references, and wants to edge those rich indigenous traditions in a more modern direction.
Fernandez grew up in the north of Mexico in a town by Laredo right by the Texan border, and used to buy traditional pieces from artisans who’d set up shop outside huge archeological attractions. Later, when Fernandez went to fashion school, she noticed that none of those intricate techniques figured into the curriculum at all. Unlike the Western model of pattern-making, indigenous clothes are based on a geometric system. Clothes are pieced together from large rectangular shapes, triangle and squares—the most iconic of which is called the Huipil. Fernandez has crafted Flora, her line of clothing using these traditional forms as a basis, and likes to think of her operation as a traveling laboratory. Working in collaboration with rural communities, there are Flora workshop dotted all over the country. And while the designs are ultimately part of Fernandez’s vision, the collaborative process helps feed ancients ideas into a new arena.