What does it mean to be a beautiful Colombian woman?
I can’t imagine what it’s like to walk a runway—never mind doing it in a lingerie-inspired look. Now for an added twist, imagine doing it in front of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. That’s the scenario that faced
Silvia Catalina Lianes when she opened the “Colombia Knows Best” runway show yesterday with her country’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, in attendance. My seatmate—a former top modelling agent—turned to me as Lianes walked by. “It’s not right to see such a skinny Colombian girl!” he said. “Where are the curves?” But it’s her lack of va-va-voom dimensions that may have led to her being signed with IMG—the first Colombian girl the agency has represented. “We’re so proud of her,” says Carlos Rios, the director of her mother agency,
Informa Models. “Not many Colombian girls have a chance to work abroad because they don’t look like the models who walk the international runways, but we have big hopes for her.”
Lianes is also hoping that her tall, lean looks will land her coveted contracts and runway shows this season. “People are surprised when they find out I’m Colombian,” she tells me backstage at Colombia Moda—the country’s largest fashion show, which is held in Medellín each year. “They think I’m Indian or Chinese. But I’m Latin, and I’m so proud of that.” The 19-year-old model recently moved to New York after working the circuit in Singapore and Indonesia. Since then she’s worked for Carven, Akris, Topshop and H&M, but walking the Chanel runway is her real dream. “Oh, I can only imagine what that would be like. One day, I hope,” she says. But meanwhile, she’s looking forward to her catwalk debut at New York Fashion Week in September. “I don’t know which shows yet, but I’ve been going to castings and it looks good. I have dreamed of this since I was 14 and went to my first casting for a fashion show.” Is she nervous? “No! Not at all! I’m so happy.” I guess that outlook explains her fearless debut in front of President Santos.
Karol Jaramillo is another Informa model who is carving out an international career in Paris. In her case, her Colombian assets aren’t always appreciated.
Karol Jaramillo was going to be a horse breeder until a modelling agent scouted her on the streets of Medellín. “I had no interest in fashion or being a model then. I was a cowgirl! I had another life. For me fashion was nothing, but now I love it.” But sometimes that love isn’t a two-way deal for the 24-year-old Paris-based model. “I don’t work the shows because I have boobs,” she says, laughing. (She adds later that they’re completely natural.) “That’s the problem. You have to be very skinny; you can’t have hips and you have to be flat. That’s my big sin, I guess. But I do commercial work with Adidas and L’Oréal, and lingerie lines like me. I have my own market, and that’s fine. I prefer to look feminine. The other look is too androgynous. It’s a very tiny view of beauty—a very gay view. It is like being a hanger. I hope that this changes.”
Jaramillo—not unlike many of the young women I’ve chatted with in Medellín—is noticing a change in the way women define beauty. They want to move beyond the exaggerated Barbie doll image people have of them. “We’re not a product to be marketed,” said one woman. “I hate it when everyone says that Colombian women are the most beautiful in the world. We’re more than that. We’re strong, intelligent, capable women and we don’t feel the need to look a certain way.” Jaramillo agrees with that sentiment but adds that some women still conform to what they think is expected of them if they want to be considered sexy. “They show more; they speak softly—they try to be delicate, super-sweet and so cute. That is how the
Paisa woman expresses her femininity.” While Jaramillo says she understands this is part of her culture, she adds that she and other young women are now free to move beyond that stereotype. In her own case, she prefers more masculine styling: jumpers, military jackets and strong accessories. “I don’t show too much—for me, I think it’s a little too vulgar. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen other cultures now, but for me that isn’t who I am.”