The street-style scene at Colombia Moda isn’t the feeding frenzy you’ll see at New York, Paris or London. Instead of a gaggle of photogs hungrily looking for their next prey, you’ll spot the odd intrepid lensman casting about for subjects. Surprisingly, it’s not the women who usually catch their eye; it’s the men. There’s a fashion movement going on here and the boys are leading the way. As a nod to that trend, the organizers of the 23rd annual fashion week opened the three-day show with a men’s collection from well-known Colombian designer Lina Cantillo. “For the first time, men are spending more on fashion each month than women,” Clara Henriquez, director of Inexmoda, tells me the morning the shows are to begin. “Women may come out of the stores with more bags, but they’re filled with inexpensive items. Men have fewer bags, but they’re willing to invest in their fashion in a way that’s entirely new.” I see that “investment” almost immediately when I arrive at the Plaza Mayor, where the shows are being held.
So why are the men so stylish? Read on.
“What’s behind Colombian men’s interest in fashion?” I ask Santiago Marzola, an illustrator and fashion director for Culturaclick. “It’s not because we’re all gay,” he says, laughing. “I think it’s because of the ’90s culture and the fact that fashion tastes were imposed on women by people like Pablo Escobar. It was about being sexy—about being a Mafioso wife with big breasts and tight clothing. That’s what women were exposed to and that’s what they accepted as fashionable. Men didn’t have that imposed on them; they were free to experiment. I think that’s the social reason behind why Colombian men—especially from cities like Bogotá and Medellín—are more adventuresome with their styles. We also look to other parts of the world for inspiration—we’re not just interested in what our friends are wearing.”
Lila Ochoa, the editor-in-chief of Fucsia—Colombia’s leading fashion and beauty magazine—tries to offer her readers an alternative to this narco-influenced aesthetic. She agrees with Marzola’s observation about the role that drug traffickers have played in shaping many Colombian women’s fashion sensibility. “In the ’90s, women were told that the way to please a man—especially a rich man—was to dress in a very sexy way. Bling bling was in, and so were very big breasts. Even today, certain types of women, who either don’t work or are very young, think that they need to catch a husband and they need sexy clothes to help them do that. Young men today, however, don’t want to look like capos or traffickers. They want to take fashion risks.” While the women are behind the men style-wise, Ochoa says there’s been progress—especially with younger women who have a broader world view as well as more economic and social opportunities. “If you had been here even eight years ago, you would have seen that many women looked like—and I know this is a harsh word—prostitutes,” she says. “Eventually, they’ll catch up to these fashionable boys who live and breathe fashion.”