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’
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!