BOGOTA, Colombia — “We’re interested in showcasing a different side of Colombia, one that’s detached from its folklore and tropical spirit,” says Vanessa Gómez, a long, lean and pale figure with shaved head and piercing eyes, who — together with partner Nicolás Rivero — designs a fashion brand here called A New Cross.
Dabbling in the avant-garde and anchored in Bogota’s underground scene, A New Cross is probably not what the outside world expects from Colombian fashion. A minimalistic aesthetic influenced by punk and rock subcultures, theirs is a brand that has grown in popularity in Asia and in Europe, where the duo holds a showroom during Paris Fashion Week.
Brands with Latin American provenance often evoke kaleidoscopic images of sensuous style, framed either by tropical glamour or an exuberant kind of coquetry. While this typecast may seem accurate enough for designers like Johanna Ortiz — whose frothy Caribbean-infused confections are popular with retailers like Bergdorf Goodman in New York — designers like Gomez are a reminder that fashion creativity in Colombia is incredibly diverse and that there is more than one route to success.
“Colombia is incredibly rich in talent and craftsmanship. Sadly, until recent years, Colombia-based talents have been obscured due to violence and corruption,” says Nina García, the Colombian-born fashion critic who has held the role of fashion director at the American editions of Elle and Marie Claire.
“Fashion is a mirror of our society and, in recent years, Colombia has experienced a huge political, economic and cultural change,” she explains. “Cities like Medellin have been going through an enormous healing process. Steps like the rescuing of Ingrid Betancourt [and] cracking down on money laundering have, in effect, curtailed drug wars. And finding peace with the FARC [rebels] have all helped move the country forward in a very significant way. All these changes have been reflected in fashion too.”
In a new era of peace and prosperity, Colombians are now on the international fashion radar.
Colombian-born designers like Nancy Gonzalez, Haider Ackermann and Esteban Cortázar made an impact on the fashion capitals years ago, but in this new era of peace and prosperity, others are now finding their way on the international fashion radar. Besides Johanna Ortiz, Garcia cites names like Edgardo Osorio of Aquazzura, Paula Mendoza and Melissa Losada Bofill and Marcela Velez, the duo behind M2Malletier.
That Ortiz was chosen to be featured in the windows of an iconic luxury department store like Bergdorf Goodman is testament to the greater confidence felt in Colombian design. Ortiz, whose Tulum top was a best seller after being worn by New York socialites, will showcase a collection as part of Colombiamoda, Latin America’s largest fashion trade show which starts tomorrow.
The annual event will hold its 27th edition in Medellin, a centre for the country’s vast, integrated garment and textile industry that exports apparel, footwear and leather goods worth $790 million annually. According to Carlos Botero, president of Colombiamoda and Inexmoda, international interest in the fair has been growing. Last year, it welcomed more than 1,700 international buyers from over 50 countries and he estimates that combined domestic and international revenues from sales made at Colombiamoda will grow 7 percent this year to around $340 million.
“Like many countries in Latin America, Colombia has a rich culture in terms of art and its artisans. Because of its history, the country developed a strong economy with established designers that have their own local boutiques and loyal clients,” says Kelly Talamas, the former editor-in-chief and recently appointed creative director of Vogue Mexico and Vogue Latin America.
Colombia gained an unprecedented spotlight in the pages of the magazine under Talamas’s direction, thanks to her appointment of a local editor position. She also expanded Vogue events in the country and initiated a collaboration with Colombiamoda and Vogue Talents Corner to promote emerging Colombian designers.
“Many Colombians are well traveled and have a keen eye for design and style. They’re a proud culture, which celebrates its unique style so you’ll find that designers here innovate and create very original collections that translate well in global markets,” she adds, explaining that she recently moved from Mexico City to Bogota in order to increase the magazine’s presence in key Latin American markets.