I became a Lila Downs fan when she performed in Santa Fe, NM perhaps over 12 years ago. At that time her fashion sense was pretty much ‘Dead Head’ exotic-hippie-Mexicana. I loved her long ribbon braids and pieces of traditional heavily embroidered Tehuana skirt fabric that she somehow managed to keep on her hips during her dynamic songs. Well, things have changed, baby – and now she has a designer (Mane’ Alta Costura of Oaxaca) making her still-indigenous based costumes, to my great joy, from traditional traje /regional clothing and textiles of Mexico. Since I’m a collector/documenter of Mexican traditional textiles, I certainly recognize the original pieces. But how they’ve been transformed! All I can say is , WOW! ! !. I’ve been collecting images of some of her most original uses of these beautifully woven or embroidered textiles and the creative ways they’ve been reconstructed into lavish and sometimes ‘over the top’ creations.
I hope you enjoy this slide show (many of the images are from past performances featured on Lila’s FB pages) and for those interested in “Living Textiles of Mexico”, I’ve identified the original village or region, where her textiles are from. After all, Lila’s mother is from Tlaxiaco in the Mixteca area of Oaxaca and Lila spent part of her childhood there, and currently spends part of the year in Oaxaca, living, performing and doing philanthropic work by supporting education for young rural indigenous girls. She knows the traditional origins of her clothing, most are from Oaxaca her home, and she’s proud of it! They are the very best of the best Oaxacan traje !
VIVA LILA – Fashionista Mexicana! VIVA the traditional trajes of Oaxaca!
Here’s a YouTube vido I just made for this post – and my favorite song – ‘La Cumbia del Mole’
After my last agitated post commenting on Mexican designers who don’t acknowledge their sources of ‘indigenous inspiration’ or give them any credit, I thought thought I might post Adele, of Latin Threads Trading, comments. She comes from a design company which has been working in Mexico for awhile – making high quality products for the mid range-market. (see link bottom of page).
“I agree with arguments on both sides of this discussion…it is a complex issue with no easy answer re. wages and respect of native traditions.
As for culture degradation, a friend who has worked many years in Chiapas with indigenous people once said to me, “The indigenous people see the commercial work they do for us as work, like going to a job every day. What we do with their product doesn’t matter to them as they have their own vibrant work that they do for themselves.” In my experience working with indigenous artisans, I would tend to agree. As for cutting up tired traditional garments and repurposing them, when I ask the indigenous women we work with what they do with their old and spoiled clothing, they tell me they throw them away. Why not preserve these remnants and enlighten the consumer with something that is both beautiful, cultural, AND functional?
It is our mission (Latin Threads Trading) to create sustainable employment at fair wages for indigenous artisans doing what they do best, the traditional crafts of their respective villages. It is a long road, fraught with problems on both sides of the equation, one that requires time, patience, and cultural sensitivity. There is no excuse for not acknowledging the contributions made by these people within the fashion industry, but that is another discussion.
But there’s good news! Designer Carmen Rion of Mexico City has worked with indigenous artisans in a number of her collections and happily acknowledges them. This seasons designs are inspired by the chales or mocheval/ capes of Zinacatan in the highlands of Chiapas. I’m including a video of the Pasisaje Mocheval Exhibit of some of Carmen’s most elegant and inspired mochevales at the Franz Meyer Museum in D.F. You’ll notice Zinacatan embroiderers in their full traje/costume enjoying the fruits of their labor. They were also included in the fashion show (See the second YouTube video). And although they might be too humble to say so, I’m sure they feel pride in being included.
This past Fall there was a bit of NEWs buzz about Mexican fashion designers during Fashion Week in Mexico. After viewing the slide show and reading the following article I have to make a statement about what I feel about the exploitation of traditional costumes and the artisans who have created them. The women weavers and embroiderers, whose work has been cut up up and pieced into some other garment in the name of fashion – are the real artists, whether they call themselves that or not, and whether they are credited by so-called designers.
In the article called “Indigenous Fashion hits the Runway” you will see pictures about what’s new and cool in Mexican fashion, and you might possibly identify Tehuantepec embroidery embellishing many clothes while older Isthmus huipil pieces have been patch-worked to create rather ‘minimal’ pieces of clothing. Far from the original ‘covered up’ and modest, but elegant, look of traditional traje these fashion statements are more than a bit vulgar to my textile researchers eye.
What is somewhat disturbing is the rather cavalier and self-absorbed attitude of the designers featured. In the designer statements there is no mention or acknowledgement about where these textiles originated or who the women are who made them. Whoa and how disrespectful is that? Not everyone mentioned in the article was as callous as the designers and there was even a comment toward the end, by one of the artisans,, who said that, ‘they are hardly paid anything for their work anyway’.
So what do you think? – Fashion or more insult to artists/artisans? You decide……. but I have to include the YouTube video by Lila Downs whose mother is from the Mixteca/Oaxaca and who wears traditional textiles when she performs. Some of these have been cut skin-tight to show her voluptuous figure but in no-way degraded to little patches of antique cloth to cover up breasts. In this video the Zapotec women of the Valle Central of Oaxaca, are also featured with their feminine dresses. rebozo head-wraps and aprons. Hooray! Somehow this shows much more respect for Mexican indigenous culture, traditional textiles, and the artisans who spend many hours/days creating them. Thanks Lila!