With the fountains, the salsa music and the constant chatter that is the white noise at any fashion week—including Colombiamoda—I knew a conversation with the Mexican-born NYC-based designer Christian Cota might be a challenge. I suggested we go to a nearby service hallway backstage at the Plaza Mayor in Medellín for a quick chat. Cota is this year’s invited international designer—and there’s big buzz about his debut in Medellín. (Next season, Colombian born Haider Ackermann has the honours.) Here’s a snapshot of my chat with this thoughtful, loquacious, engaging and witty man.
1. Is this your first time in Colombia?
“Yes, and it’s also my first time showing outside of New York. I’m trying to expand to Latin America and Europe, so I thought this would be a good platform to launch from. There is so much going on here. I’m also using the show to create a few new pieces that highlight or transition me into what I’m planning to do for spring.”
2. And what is that going to be?
“For spring 2013, you are going to see lots of fabrics that are hand-painted but adapted digitally. This season, I worked with a group of indigenous women from Mexico, about an hour from Cancun. I spent about three weeks there and we worked on embroideries with them, and then I took these designs and made them abstract. I want to make sure there is an artisanal feeling but also a very clean aesthetic. I have learned that in NYC you have to clean it up. Girls want colours, but it has to look modern.”
3. This would also be your first time working with Colombian models. Your thoughts?
“I have to say, I was nervous that there would be a lot of changes because of the proportions, and I didn’t bring my sewing machine [laughs]. But they are very professional. I adore Colombian women. I know there has been a culture of wearing more makeup, having bigger hair—well, bigger everything—and that everything has to be perfect. But now they are doing the “undone” thing, which is the modern way. You can have a perfect braid, but then you mess it up. You still have girls here who have a little bit more [pauses] attributes, which is great, but if you are looking for ‘lean and mean,’ you can find it here too. Silvia Catalina Lianes is in my show—she’s lovely and very professional.”
So how did he become Blake Lively’s go-to guy? Check out Question #4.
4. Back in NYC—where you’re one of the go-to designers for young actresses—who are you most proud of having dressed and who would you like to dress?
“Blake Lively of Gossip Girl. She was my first one. She didn’t have a stylist, and she called me at 7 o’clock one morning and said ‘I have to be on Letterman tonight!’ Leighton Meester is another one. Selena Gomez also wears me. I’ve dressed Shakira, and, of course, Lady Gaga is very exciting. I also adore Rose Byrne. She is smart and intelligent. I love how she goes from dramatic to comedic in her film roles. She’s got a real presence. I want to dress Keira Knightley and then Carlota Casiraghi [show jumper, Vogue cover girl and Monaco royalty]; I want her to phone me and invite me to the castle!”
5. Tell me about your influences.
“My family. My grandmother wanted me to do fashion, and she was a woman who would never repeat anything. She always embellished or refined everything she wore. She passed away a year before I really made it, and she used to tell me “Christian, whatever you decide, always make us feel and look elegant. Don’t make us feel vulgar.” So even today, if I feel I am showing too much, I will ask myself ‘Would Grandma approve?’”
Bonus question: How about your mother and sister?
“Now, she was conservative, but my mother was more free-spirited; she would do a little of that ‘mess-up’ thing. She was very social and held many gatherings, each one with a theme. She would get me to help her decorate for those gatherings. My sister is the practical one, the one who will say ‘Christian, what are you thinking?’ She’s the only one who tells me the truth. And my father. Look, I am wearing his shirt as a tribute to him. He passed away a month ago and it’s been very hard. My family—they are all very special to me.”
Turns out I’m not the only one to notice how fashionable the men are here. Cota—who was dressed in red rolled-up pants, a blue suit jacket and his father’s shirt—said he had to up his colour quotient when he arrived. (Hence the hand-painted Ferragamo loafers he was sporting.) “I brought all my conservative clothing here to Medellín, but what I’m seeing on the street is—well, the men are out there with the style! I feel the need to throw on some prints and colour to fit in! Maybe I need to pull my women’s clothing out for an extra splash of colour!” [laughs]