Bolivia is a country with enough cultural richness to make their designers feel inspired and is quickly building the necessary tools to shine within the South-American fashion scene. Fabiola Bernal Vargas is a student of UPSA (Private University of Santa Cruz de la Sierra), the only school in Bolivia that offers a bachelor degree in fashion. Presenting a delicately draped green dress at her school show, Fabiola flaunts the sewing and patternmaking skills that will take her far.
|Fabiola wearing a jacket that she made herself|
Fabiola was very serene with her words, and she seemed to have a lot of knowledge around the culture and fashion in Bolivia. Her black hair and slightly brownish skin seemed to make a perfect combination. The bad Internet connection only allowed me to see Fabiola’s face enough times to say hi and then I was just limited to hearing her voice.
Originally from Bermejo, and now based in Santa Cruz, Fabiola is a year away from graduation. Fabiola has been in Santa Cruz for three years after she took the decision to study fashion there. “I finally convinced my parents and they let me go to Santa Cruz. There’s this moment in which the dad doesn’t understand that his daughter wants to study fashion, but I made it, I made it.” I found Fabiola’s work through a fashion show that her school organizes once a year. When I asked for pictures of the dress that was in the show, she lamented not being able to make a proper photoshoot after the show. She sold the dress to a quinceañera - a girl who was about to celebrate her 15 birthday - and who wanted the dress straight away.
The theme for the fashion show was ‘Santa Cruz, That’s how I am’, inspired in the city of Santa Cruz, the fashion capital of this country. Fabiola explained how the next show might be on myths and legends of Santa Cruz. The great effort from this school to make the students connected to their culture is quite surprising. Above all, the school focuses on preparing their students from a business point of view, so much that they have accounting classes. It also insists that the students sew and pattern-make the work themselves.
Bolivia is the only country in South America bar Paraguay that doesn’t have an official Zara store to fulfill the need of fast-fashion. Fabiola doesn’t buy any clothes from Bolivian shops but she promotes Bolivian fashion in her own way. “Look, I’m going to be honest with you. Five years ago I learned to sew properly, with patterns and everything. Since I know how to sew, it’s rare that I buy from a shop, I have to like it a lot for me to want it. So, most of the garments in my closet are made by me. I dress by Fabiola. I sew really well.” Very excited Fabiola explained how much she likes to go fabric hunting with a friend of hers who also sews her own clothes.
Bolivia’s fashion design is in development. The richness of their culture and their attachment to it, make it possible for designers to keep looking inside their country for inspiration. Bolivia has 36 different ethnic groups and indigenous people make up 60% of the population. With that in mind, it’s easy to understand how their fashion is building up.
There are also fashion shows dedicated to ‘La Cholita Paceña’ an icon in Bolivia, an indigenous woman recognizable for her typical garments. I asked Fabiola about it and with a lot of knowledge in the topic she explained, “there are designers dedicated just for them, the garments that they use are extremely expensive, it’s very elaborated. Many of the garments they use are made by hand, hand-embroidered, they use techniques like macramé. The work made for them is very meticulous.” I was very intrigued to hear about designers dedicated to making garments for the cholitas, so Fabiola kept telling me more about the expensive jewellery they wear, and then suggested, “It’s very interesting, if you ever come around to Bolivia, you’ll see how beautiful garments there are in this type of events. It’s very beautiful Bolivia, it has a lot of cultural richness, like Mexico.”
This was the first interview I was conducting in Spanish for a very long time and I felt closer to Mexico and to being able to compare it. However, the love and high-knowledge of the culture that Fabiola had, seemed stronger than in anybody else that I’ve interviewed. “Here’s it’s highly appreciated, there are many needs in terms of the textile and that kind of thing. Each region has it’s own thing, and different types of knitting. Santa Cruz uses different types of fibres. La Paz is a colder place so they use alpaca, vicuña, and those sort of animals, and Santa Cruz more vegetal fibres because of the heat. So it’s different but also interesting.”
|The dress that Fabiola made for |
UPSA's fashion show
Bolivian President Evo Morales had some influence in putting the traditional fabrics in the map when he asked Bolivian designer Beatriz Canedo Patiño, to make a suit made of alpaca for the Presidential election. Soon after that, the President imposed a so called ‘Evo Fashion’ by wearing a red alpaca jumper - called chompa – catching worldwide attention by breaking protocol rules dressed like this whilst visiting world leaders during 2006.
Nevertheless, Fabiola didn’t think the president’s government had made a difference in fashion in her country. “In fashion, honestly, no, I don’t think so, maybe there’s been an emphasis in the use of the national fibre like alpaca and vicuña.” Very up to speed with the fashion news of her country, Fabiola continued: “Mainly here in Santa Cruz there’s a big movement in the last couple of years. Well, in the last three-years that I’ve been here, I’ve been able to see that it’s grown a lot. More stores have been opened supporting new designers.”
Fabiola is considering the possibility of studying a course in Argentina or Chile for patternmaking, but she’s also interested in presenting a collection for Bolivia Fashion (Bolivia’s Fashion Week). Her voice turned tender when she recalled how she started in the first place. “I remember being 10 years old in a reunion with all classmates and the teacher was asking what do you want to study when you are older, and everyone was like: I want to be a doctor, I want to be this, I want to be a lawyer, and I said: I want to be a fashion designer. Everybody looked and me and said: What is that?!”, she laughed. “I was a kid, maybe I didn’t know what I was saying in that moment, but look how things turn up, I’m still with the same idea, I kept on and now I’m here.”
Fashion in Bolivia clearly has a strong connection to its culture, but does that limit Fabiola in any way? “A bit, because sometimes one wants to design something out of the ordinary and people have a hard time accepting it because people like to dress the same. If the silk shirts are in fashion everybody wants to go to the nightclub with silk shirts, so you can understand. So people have a hard time accepting a completely different design.” Despite this, Bolivia’s fashion will hopefully keep on developing with this attachment to their culture and in a few years time it could be launched into the international scene with enough strength to empower South American fashion.
All pictures courtesy of Fabiola
Fashion in Bolivia: Fabiola Bernal Vargas is licensed under a Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-SinObraDerivada 3.0 Unported License.
Creado a partir de la obra en http://fashion-aroundtheworld.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/fashion-in-bolivia-fabiola-bernal-vargas.html.