Designers creating one-of-a-kind handmade products
As one of Colombia’s top fashion designers and style ambassadors, Silvia Tcherassi has built a fashion and lifestyle empire, whilst keeping a truth and close to her home roots. That’s what her brand is all about – Free spirited Latin roots with a high dose of color, texture and sophistication.
I’ve known of Silvia Tcherassi’s work ever since I was a schoolgirl in Bogotá and watched local red carpet events in order to catch one of her vaporous gowns worn by the it-girl of the moment. Tcherassi’s atelier is now based in Miami as her business has grown to having stores in the US and Mexico, thank to her novel proposal for elegant women who traveling from the Caribbean coast to the colder urban cities, and go from the beach to a gala on the same day.
Whilst she imports the highest quality silks, wool and laces from Italy and France to use on her ready-to-wear and exclusive bridal collections, Silvia also cherishes the work of Colombian artisans and manufacturers. It’s no wonder that her Wayúu mochilas have made such an ethnic fashion statements, and reached exclusive e-retailers like Couture Lab, L-Atitude or even the offices of Vogue in New York. In the following interview, Tcherassi tells us how she balances the traditional work of La Guajira-based artisans and pushes it forward into modernity with Swarovski crystals and sizing interventions. The minaudières, clutches and pouches of the season have nothing on these!
I think everyone that sees your collections, your stores, and hotels will definitely get a sense that you are making very unique products – outside the mainstream of fashion – but at the same time are very relatable to your Colombian heritage.
Thank you, the work of a designer in to have a vision and be able to translate it in a cohesive and articulated way… and, of course, my culture is part of my DNA as a person and as a designer, and it is always reflected in my collections.
Your clothes and accessories are made with such attention to detail and quality that they feel almost couture-like.
I like to incorporate haute couture techniques into my ready-to-wear, use innovative materials, and look for a balance between the aesthetic and functionality of my clothes. Your comments remind me of the good critiques I received on my debut in Milan fashion week; some reviews said my collections were more of a pret-a-couture.
How would you define your stance in the fashion industry?
I would say it’s solid and in full expansion. It’s cemented on the constant innovations and versatility, strengthening the process of going from a fashion brand into a lifestyle brand.
What are the qualities that you praise the most about your designs?
As you said in the beginning, the attention to details and a coherent vision, but also a spirit in constants innovation, which makes me explore new materials and develop new techniques. Those ‘relevant’ qualities are what make of your fashion and your brand relevant.
What are the specific crafts that are involved in to your clothes and accessories?
My production is based in Barranquilla, Colombia, and many of the people that work with me have been here since the beginning and understand that my creative process is very organic and experimental. The majority of the fabrics I use are created especially for me in Italy, according to my guidelines. Many accessories are also developed in Italy, the same way. The rest is proudly made in Colombia.
Has your own vision as a designer ever made you want to collaborate with people who praise quality and craftsmanship, over quantity?
As a designer I believe that collaborations are doors always open to explore new ways, which will enrich and enhance the products, the people and the brands that take part in them. In each collaboration you must know which are the attributes that you want to enhance, and, at the same time, work so that your strengths help to the development of a successful product.
How did your desire to collaborate with artisans that manufacture handmade mochilas, bracelets, etc. begin? Is it more limited to your accessories?
I received an invitation to intervene in a Wayúu mochila by BeLive, a non-profit-organization that helps several Colombian foundations. The mochilas ended up being a total success and was bought by a famous art collector. From then on I dove into the universe of geometry and patterns, the sublime color palette, and y started working with the artisanal communities involved in this project. That’s how an artisanal piece turned into a luxury piece – the official present by many Colombians to celebrities and foreigners, and the best exponent of the beauty of our traditions. I’ve developed bracelets and clutches using the same concept, y I continue to explore new products.
Can you tell me about the relationship you have with the Wayúu artisans?
It has been an interesting exercise, because, as a designer, I respect their work and the intrinsic value of each piece, but I also want to use specific forms, proportions, colors, and a very defined color palette. They have been opened to these suggestions, and that why these processes are so enlightening. Each time that one of these pieces gets into my studio, it requires hours of non-invasive until it reached its final result. That is why each piece is unique and inimitable.
How did you approach artisans to manufacture your designs?
Through the same organization that invited me to take part of the first auction.
Is it easy to have control over the samples?
With time we have optimized the creative process of the ‘naked’ mochilas’ that are the canvas to our own intervention. In the beginning it was hard, but I think that’s normal and it’s part of the learning process. That happens in any new discipline you approach.
In countries like Bolivia, Peru, Colombia (and many other developing countries) it is common to find artisans and tribes of people practicing their own crafts for hundreds of years. However, their products are not praised as they should, because of their lack of modernity.
I believe that because of globalism, and the adoption of tribal and ethnic trend in international catwalks, this has changed a lot. These pieces with history and tradition have become real object of desire.
Silvia Tcherassi mochilas don’t look like an original Wayúu mochilas, they look very modern thanks to the rhinestone, lace, beads finishing and color patterns. How was the process of bringing these traditional accessories to a high-fashion market?
As I told you, the end result of our collaborations is a product with a non-invasive artistic intervention. I try to be respectful of the object, enhance its most prominent attributes, but it is the selection of materials to be intervened, the length, the replacement of the cord, where the input and the vision of the designer rely.
Do you collaborate with artisans on a regular basis, or only for accessories designs?
Ever since they arrived to my collections, these collaborations have stayed. They are part of my permanent accessories collection, regardless of the season.
How has your collaboration changed or helped some of their businesses?
Beyond the constant acquisition of their products, I think that the most important job that we’ve done is the internationalization o their work, the transformations of these pieces into luxury items, they valorization in terms of style and fashion. They have gotten the befit of it, and I hope that they take advantage of it all.
Are these collaborations important to you on an ethical/personal level?
Totally! As a designer, as a woman and as a person, I feel proud when I get to an international event with my mochilas and, right away, people start asking me about them, so I have the opportunity to tell their story, which starts in La Guajira.
I’m sure that the fact that you collaborate with artisans has elevated their craft into a more contemporary level. Now a day, having a South American mochila bag is as much of a luxury product as a handbag crafted in Italy. Do you agree? Do you think artisanal products carry that sense of luxury?
I believe that the luxury product has to have great quality, and embody, at the same time, an original vision and be able to tell a story. My mochilas reflect that approach. But there’s not just one definition of luxury, and ultimately it is a very subjective concept… the important thing is that the pieces are valued for their intrinsic characteristics, for the aesthetic pleasure that they provide.
All images are courtesy of Silvia Tcherassi