In the Mexican fashion designer Carla Fernández’s collections, there is a wealth of color and texture. But the real treasure behind each garment is the inspiring stories Fernández’s touch brings to life. She lives and works in Mexico City with her children and husband, the artist Pedro Reyes. Immersed in nature, art, and culture, Fernández spends her time dedicated to her traveling design laboratory, which aims to preserve the craft behind traditional Mexican textiles.
Whitewall spoke with Fernández about celebrating her heritage, embracing tradition, and advocating for change with sustainable practices.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us a bit about your designs, and how they embrace Mexican material, technique, and tradition?
CARLA FERNÁNDEZ: We are a mobile design laboratory that travels throughout Mexico and visits indigenous communities, especially cooperatives of women who create textiles by hand. When we began our work with these groups of indigenous artists, who asked us to collaborate with them to develop new designs, we realized it would be impossible to apply techniques of Western clothing construction to their work.
The first obstacle was the language. In a group of 20 women, often none or perhaps only one of them spoke Spanish, making it necessary to find an interpreter. Centimeters and inches were another often-uncomfortable cultural convention—the women used fingers, palms, and forearms as units of measurement . . . not to mention the pitting of sewing by hand against the sewing machine! It is more natural to use the codes already dominated by these women.
To familiarize ourselves, we had to spend a long period observing their systems. If we wanted to teach, we first had to learn. In this way, a parallel process emerged, an organic pedagogy based primarily on the visual: a hybrid between mimesis and clothing designed from a square pattern. In one community, we demonstrated how more than 40 ethnic groups in Mexico use the same system. In three or four sessions, the artisans observed the possibilities of this very base to create new designs. We’ve named this endemic system The Square Root.
WW: Your recent collection was based on the past. Why?
CF: The future, which was planted long ago, comprehends the universe as an organism made of organisms, which tends toward its own care and permanence. Mesoamerican pre-Hispanic cultures understood well that the origin of everything is in the depths of the earth, and that our existence cannot be conceived without considering our relationship to the planet.
There is no difference among the spaces of our spirits, those of our food, or those of our work.
Man takes care of earth and earth takes care of man; earth cares for itself and man cares for itself. We are all sisters. “To take care,” which is the idea and deep sentiment encompassing all this, is also the underlying concept in this collection. From there, caring for texture, color, and detail is inseparable from the understanding and care for the other.
The team collaborated with 19 communities of artisans from all over the country to produce these unique pieces that comply with the purpose of the milpa—to nourish everyone equally, each of its parts in every way. From there comes our commitment to bring the collection to being, using strict principles of fair commerce. In this way: community and care. In this way, and only in this way: encounter and affection. In this way, and only in this way: the seed of a future we begin to feel and work toward. A future that was planted long ago.
WW: Tell us a bit about your view on sustainability.
CF: We believe in creative expressions whose impact is only aesthetic, political, social—never environmental. Zero waste is an implicit initiative among fashion designers around the world to utilize all the materials acquired for our creations, without leaving waste or leftovers before they reach the customer. From the roots to the final creation.
WW: We loved Unite, the recent installation that you and your husband, Pedro Reyes, presented at Design Miami/ last year. Tell us a bit about collaboratively working with your husband and how your creative energy flows.
CF: Pedro and I consider how objects, experiences, and systems can create a sense of belonging, but also call people to action. Masons, doctors, welders, artisans, teachers, and financiers have all played a part in our participatory performance.
WW: Tell us a bit about your home and studio—a gorgeous space of concrete and vermilion, Mano-Sillas and Eames chairs, books, and plants.
CF: Our house is mostly of concrete; our furniture is of our own design. We have a great love for books, so it incorporates a beautiful bookcase as the centerpiece of our living room. Pedro’s workshop is also incorporated in our home, and a lot of his art is part of our home.