Latin America; its alchemies and nuances. With sharp phrases, the great lady of American intellectual fashion threw out clues on how a local fashion culture is created. She spoke, for example, about the importance of creating icons.
Because we are a country that can be considered part of the traditional fashion periphery, Colombia often looks outward to connect with the pulses of global fashion. But because that system has been losing its customary boundaries, and because fashion today is more democratic and decentralized, Colombia is one of the many countries that has entered the quest to create its own fashion scene.
In that landscape, I sow with this little essay a provocative idea called caribbean chic. I trace some of its possible icons. And I evoke with this idea the eclecticism that characterizes the creatures we were born and raised in the Colombian coast – as well as in other areas of the country. But a rigorous reader will question, almost immediately, what is meant by ‘Caribbean’. And there are, of course, major problems in defining the word.
Caribe can refer to pre-revolutionary Havana, with chess floors and Tropicana glitter; to Sonora Matancera and its big band flavor; to the seventies images of La Fania bursting with colorful, eccentric costumes in characters with New York’s Latin neighborhood accents.
Caribe can be the image of María Félix, glorious, full of golden jewelry or enigmatic and hairy in images of old Mexican cinema. She can be Celia Cruz, with her magnificent ebony skin, jet-black, dressed in orange and ivory.
Or it could be Carmen Miranda’s fruit accessories and maximalist necklaces. Or Rita Moreno’s light, curved skin and classic Hollywood look. Or La Lupe, with her mulatto, scandalous and feverish nature.
The Caribbean can be Silvia Tcherassi’s “Callecitas”, whose bright and colourful digital images of Cartagena or Barranquilla can be read. Or it could be Bianca Jagger, wearing a suit of male dyes, all white, in the era of rock n roll and disco.
The Caribbean can be Cartagena de Indias, with its magenta flowers that fall like waterfalls from colonial balconies crowning houses in lavender, coral pink, pastel yellow or vivid turquoise. Or it can be the deep pulse of the champeta, which sinks its roots in the lively darkness of Africa and is recreated, day by day, in the tropical ingenuity of the poor and urban suburbs.
Or the exquisiteness of the Venezuelan woman who loves feminine delicacy. Also the sequins in the carnival days of Barranquilla. Caribe can also be Estrella Morente, with her Mozarabic beauty, whose flamenco songs are adorned with lace, fans and floral motifs.
Caribbean can be a geographical point, an adjective, a state of mind, a color scheme or a whirlpool of images – Arabian tiles, colonial columns, fruits and flowers, hand fans, white dresses, the golden of the afternoon. Caribbean chic is a style that combines elegance, which is a form of simple and slow beauty, with the colorfulness, eclecticism, flavor, magic and humor of the Caribbean.
To navigate the proposal of a style called caribbean chic, the reader should be indulgent with the writer. Writing in fashion often involves naming things through playful abstractions, using words that encompass partial realities.
Roland Barthes explained this much better than I can here. But the idea of this style, which comes from my own biography, is also inviting. That in Colombia we create concepts or styles that identify us as what we are – that caribbean chic, or other similar ideas, initiate a conversation, whose ultimate goal is to give form and name to our own aesthetic alchemy.
The Colombian landscape today requires that we invent new indexes for our fashion and identity.
New York is a city that demands to create a framework. You share space with thousands of strangers in the most minimal of situations. The energetic fluids of the sea of anonymous that your mind and your look find, day by day, drain and agitate the spirit. Therefore, those who live here know well why sometimes black is the best option.
For the Japanese, black is a way of veiling identity, of hiding it in a subtle neutrality. At the heart of fashion there is always a contradiction: the desire to stand out and also to belong to the tribe of the well-dressed. So black allows you to navigate the sidewalks with the feeling that you can survive New York.
But a master of fashion design once told me that personal style is about the ability to connect with what makes us unique.
When I started digging, and I found myself, maddeningly mortal among so many fashionistas, among so many New York faces, I discovered that perhaps what made me slightly unique here is that I come from the Caribbean, a place that is as sophisticated as it is informal, where in my particular case, Argentina, Italy and Lebanon can be brought together; where the Creole and the black meet the Spanish and the flamenco.
Expressing this in my stylistic messages meant being more faithful to myself and recognizing that in this city that pulsates without measure, my stamp is not being an urban and minimalist creature, but a woman of the Caribbean.
I have often reproached the woman of the Colombian tropics for giving in to cliché clothing to adorn herself in the conditions of a hot climate.
Over time, I have understood why these teams are so important. Silvia Tcherassi once told me, sitting in her atelier, that the Caribbean, with its colours and its moods, inspires women to use certain textiles and certain shades. Sometimes, when it comes to fashion, we forget how fundamental the climate and the body are in the way clothing practices are constructed.
Linen and its necessary lightness to face more than thirty centrifugal degrees at midday. The vibrant and fiery colours in the textiles that fly over the skin without sticking to it. The herringbone platforms to enjoy the effects of the heels in the humid afternoon fever.
The frequent use of white, the absence of jewelry during the day, the need to move around in sandals. Over time I have come to understand that the Caribbean climate has effects on the psyche of those who dress for its sunny humidity.
Today I understand more why women there, – who before seemed to me without taste or ingenuity to dress, – repeat certain forms, colors, silhouettes and solutions to dress. It is also true that the way a place is dressed is based on what the local market offers and the images that serve as a mental reference for the daily moment of choosing how we look.
Even so, this little essay aims to advance those options that are customary for the tropical habitat. It proposes to shake up what is already conventional.
It proposes that women, with a little bit of rebelliousness and looking to reflect themselves, dare to invent their caribbean chic – an alchemy where fringes and pearls, flowers and hand fans, prints and graphic motifs, pastel and modern pieces, dresses with more modernist finishes, inspirations from son, salsa, flamenco, indigenous fabric can enter.