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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum opens its first-ever fashion exhibition
Carla Fernández: Eagle Warrior Suit Charro Collection Autumn/Winter 2009 Model: Ramiro Guerrero Photo: Mark Powell Location: Casa Barragan Mexico City.
BOSTON, MASS.- The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum announced today the opening of a dynamic new fashion exhibition by Mexican artist and fashion designer Carla Fernández. The Barefoot Designer: A Passion for Radical Design and Community, which is on view from April 17th, 2014 through September 1, 2014 in the Museum’s Hostetter Gallery, explores the traditions and techniques of indigenous Mexican artisans and how they can be applied to modern fashion and styles.

“Collaboration is at the root of Carla Fernández’s practice,” said Pieranna Cavalchini, Tom and Lisa Blumenthal Curator of Contemporary Art at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. “Her work combines a passion for beautiful clothing with a deep respect for the artisans and communities she works with. Fernández has been gaining international recognition for her extraordinary approach which documents and preserves the rich textile heritage of Mexico’s indigenous communities by transforming it into beautiful contemporary clothing and proving that tradition is not static.”

This first-ever fashion exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum explores the development of a new visual fashion design language that Fernández has built across two decades. She uses a method dubbed “the Square Root,” which is based on the Mexican tradition of making clothing with squares and rectangles. The process places the emphasis on the forms of fabric and the delicate, thoughtful construction process, which is based on whole fabric, rather than cutting in curves and molding to the body.

Fernández says her work is a metaphor for today’s Mexican fashion revolution. She believes that the future in Mexico is handmade and the ‘roots’ of tradition can be used to create forward thinking design and to call attention to the careful indigenous techniques used to create her garments.

“For me clothing is the first language,” Fernández said. “As soon as I see someone, I can read the code that he or she wants me to translate in the way they dress. I dress in a certain way because I know people will read me as well. That’s why fashion is so powerful. Maybe you will never meet that someone, but you will admire them on the street because of the way they are attired and the care and originality they put into their clothing.”

The Barefoot Designer is multi-faceted exhibition consisting of garments, textiles, drawings, photographs, performance, video, workshops and source materials demonstrating Fernández’s multi-layered design process. A key component of that process is her design workshop Taller Flora, a mobile laboratory that collaborates with Mexico’s indigenous communities. New radical designs are generated while preserving the traditional textile techniques. This is a sustainable business model based on close collaboration with and recognition of local knowledge and talent.

Color, mobility and creativity are the signposts around which The Barefoot Designer is conceived and structured. During her career, Fernández has worked with many indigenous communities throughout Mexico. The exhibition highlights the styles and techniques of five States: Chiapas, Yucatan, Campeche, the State of Mexico and Mexico City. Designs inspired by each region are color-coded according to geographical area.

“It’s eye-opening to see the five regions of Mexico represented and learn about the origins of indigenous style,” Fernández said. “You can really see that although some of the regions are very close to each other, their cultures are completely different. If you blend their work with contemporary design, you can make fashion out of tradition and it’s not static. It can be moving and revitalizing.

Mobility and collaboration can be seen and felt throughout the exhibition: in its installation, multiple films and monthly dance performances, as well as, its workshops for the public. The garments and mannequins are positioned on life-sized, mobile displays. Fernández has also activated the garments through a live and filmed dance performance by dancers Raushan Mitchell and Silas Reiner, bringing to life the notion of “clothing as canvas.”

The collaborative approach with artists and artisans from different disciplines is characteristic of the way Fernández works. The Barefoot Designer includes short process videos of weavers, embroiders, and carpenters by photographer and filmmaker Ramiro Chaves, as well as fashion films produced by Chaves in Boston and Mexico City. Also, a series of fashion shoot photographs by photographer Graciela Iturbide are on view.

A large workshop table adds a hands-on visitor experience to the exhibition, featuring workshops in embroidery and tassel making, as well as weekly demonstrations illustrating the Square Root method. The exhibition is also complemented by master weavers, pop-up studios by Boston-based designers, and a waistloom workshop with two indigenous master weavers from Chiapas. Fernández will run a two-day clothing workshop as well as workshops with the Gardner’s School and Community Partnership Programs. The table also includes examples of textiles, books, and iPads illustrating the embroidery techniques and weaving processes used by the different communities.

“I want people to understand that you can find happiness many different ways, and one way is by creating goods by hand and making things unique to the artist,” Fernández said. “Discovering the process helps people to understand how these different worlds work, because you fall in love with the artisan, and then you fall in love with the piece. You can create a whole economy based on the artists, and how their work is made.”



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