By James Foritano
Boston, MA – I’m breasting the largely anonymous and very hurriedly dressed crowds in a central corridor of the Prudential Center Mall, attempting, mostly unsuccessfully, to suppress frissons of distaste while muttering to myself: “I am not a fashionista! I am not a fashionista!”
Could it be that I’m channeling the same dissatisfaction contemporary Mexican designer Carla Fernandez felt as she balanced the dual heritages of her mall-haunting mom and her anthropologist dad — embracing both but with reservations?
With mom she popped over the border to Texas malls replete with fashion emporiums where both mother and daughter could glut their every desire for up-to-the-moment decoration. Can’t you just see each innocently twirling in the admiring eye of the other their newest global selves?
With dad, on the other hand, she haunted the hamlets of indigenous peoples who lived in fashions meticulously crafted to express not the latest but the longest moments in their tribal cosmogony. Cut, fold, dye and weave for a few months and, voila!, a garment for a precious few days of a yearly ceremony. Her dad must have salivated; his daughter must have moaned. How to bridge the yawning gap between authenticity and ‘hotness?’
Fast-forward to a university degree in fashion design, plus some long-nurtured memories of Carla’s dual heritage to witness the birth of ‘Taller Flora,’ a mobile fashion workshop that rolls from one indigenous people to another of Mexico’s richly diverse regions. Abstract the most portable, most universal elements of indigenous design, i.e. that geometry of rectangles and squares, which, ingeniously folded, minimally tailored, suits the most sophisticated urbanite as well the ‘no-nonsense’ lives of its busily close-to-the-earth creators.
Abstract the basic design, yes, but leave the workmanship (womanship, mostly) to the indigenous cooperatives. Leave the age-old techniques of spinning, dyeing, weaving on a back-strap loom right on the lands where they were born and thrive best. Leave the symbolism from the natural and spirit world evolved over millennia also where it best thrives, tightly woven into cotton, wool and silk as processed by the collective mind of the tribe, the personal insights of the craft-person.
Carla Fernandez has just opened her third store in Mexico City, she’s been honored by museums and cultural institutions around the globe, and was honored by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum last year as an Artist in Residence studying the textiles that Mrs. Gardner collected.
Now her creations can be seen both upstairs in the Hostetter Gallery and downstairs in the museum shop just across from the coat room. Try out the gallery, try on the shop wares, and decide for yourself just where, how, or if, spirit and matter, childhood ideals and entrepreneurial plans seam together.
There will be a plenitude of workshops, performances, lectures during this exhibition’s long summer for those wishing to further explore the mysteries and craft of fashion.
(“Carla Fernandez: The Barefoot Designer” continues through September 1 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 280 The Fenway, Boston. For more information, call (617) 566-1401.)