Photography: Felipe Hoyos Montoya
Hair: Alejandro Iñiguez
Set Design: Orly Anan
Assistants: Hannah Cauhépé & Violeta Paloma
Every once in awhile, there’s a designer who comes in and shakes up the entire fashion world. For a lot of people, the most recent examples would be Yeezy or Demna Gvasalia, for the way they’ve both transformed the industry through deconstructed classics and inclusive runways that have basically turned the world into a fast fashion machine. No offense to Kanye or Demna, but the real designer who’s radicalizing the industry, is Barbara Sanchez-Kane. Through her eponymous line, the Mexican native has redefined menswear and ignited her clothes with a subversive political message, crafting inventive and surrealist pieces for what she calls the “sentimental macho.”
With her latest collection, the designer veers further into commerciality, while still maintaining the outspoken outsider edge that makes Sanchez-Kane radical. Inspired by drug smuggling and the after-effects of a tumultuous political climate, Barbara fuses traditional Mexican culture with a quirky kind of romanticism that floods her clothes with equal parts sweet and avant-garde. Using quotes taken directly from her diary, the 29-year-old is as much a part of her collection as the actual clothes. And in a world of recycled political slogans that’s driven by empty trends—what could be more powerful than that?
BULLETT caught up with the designer to talk Mexico, machismo and mainstream fashion. Read our interview and view an exclusive editorial, above.
Tell me about your Spring collection. What was on your moodboard?
A lot of pictures of Mexican immigrants and drug smuggling.
Who do you see as the Sanchez-Kane man or woman?
I technically make men’s clothing, but I end up wearing 80% of it—gender doesn’t really matter. But I always I make clothes for the sentimental machismo—a man that is in touch with his feelings, but still a real man.
What were you able to do with this collection that you weren’t with previous seasons?
This was the first time I did a performance with the show. At the end of the day, all of my collections are about my life, my diary, and it’s not like I’m the first person to do a performance, but it was a more poetic way of representing myself and my clothes. And life is about trial and error—you do something, and it doesn’t need to be accurate at first. For me, this was my dedication to Mexico, created by emotional chaos. It was about finding boundaries an pushing them, figuring out how to make it work—the struggle of it all.
How have you evolved as a designer since you first showed at L.A. Fashion Week?
It’s funny because people always say, ‘But your stuff is not commercial!’ So I really tried this time to make a more commercial collection. And I went into more tailoring than I normally do—I mean, I always have tailored pieces but this collection was like, ‘Okay. I’m going to do this.’ So I put a lot of energy into tailored jackets and suits.
Why is incorporating Mexican culture such an important part of your aesthetic?
When you’re studying fashion, you never realize what your aesthetic is going to be. And then being abroad for five years—I don’t know if I was homesick or what, but I figured, ‘Why should I investigate another culture if my culture is so rich and what I already know?’
What’s your design process like?
For me, designing is more like writing. I always think about phrases—even my samples are all built around little sentences—it’s like writing a great song. So, the jackets—a lot of those ideas and the poems on them, come directly from my diary. Even with the colors—if the writing in my inspiration is sad or happy, that’s how I decide what fabrics to use. And actually, the logo comes from a poem I wrote about relationships—it’s all about creating my story through design.
You use a lot of classic menswear pieces, like a tailored blazer. But you also deviate from conventional masculinity by incorporating roses or an exaggerated bell-bottom. Do you intentionally try to play with the traditional idea of menswear?
The thing is, if I talk about my clothing, it feels more masculine. But then I have this sentimental side to my writing, and I kind of combine and juxtapose these worlds. People can wear whatever they want. But at the end of the day, we have this cultural idea of what a man is supposed to be—that’s why I want to make for the sentimental macho. Think about it—we say ‘boys don’t cry.’ It’s fucked up. Or if you wear pink, you’re a girl. It’s crazy that society encourages these rules—it’s so conservative, and in Mexico, it has a lot to do with being a ‘good Catholic.’ So I make clothes for people who want to wear what they want. If masculinity comes with pink, embrace it, or if it comes with a poem—you’re never going to stop being a ‘man’ just because you get more in touch with your sentimental side. That’s my main thing—portraying this man that can cry in public without any shame.
The collection also incorporated a political element—you wrote ‘Alternative Facts’ and ‘Moral Panic’ on models faces, and the pieces themselves had patches with radical slogans like, ‘Fuck you, you bureaucratic fuck.’ What was that about?
Well you know, I’m Mexican, and with Trump—his campaign was all against Mexicans, and portraying us as being racist, bad people who come to America just to try to mess it up or something. I think it’s very important for everybody to be political in a certain way—if you’re in your bed, you can be political, just as you can if you’re in the streets. Being political means saying what you think is true, and really, Trump has brought Mexicans together—even the ones who didn’t seem to care about their culture are really getting involved and coming together. Since he became president, we’ve became more nationalistic and proud of our roots. And the ‘Moral Panic’ comes from the culture I grew up in, because I grew up Catholic. With religion and society, there’s always a certain restraint. That’s why I focused so heavily on smuggling, because smuggling is hiding—and my clothes are about breaking free of that.
So you think fashion is a good place for political action?
I think every place, and every person, should be political—even the person who cuts your hair. It’s time. And if we do nothing, the world will never change.
Does that mean you think all designers should be making political statements on the runway?
I don’t think anyone should do anything for anybody else—you should only do what you want, for yourself. And in my case, my clothes just ended up being political—I didn’t search for it. It’s like you said, ‘Why Mexico?’ It just felt right, and I felt the need to express in my designs that it does matter.
But it can be hard to be political and commercial at the same time. Why did you want to be more consciously commercial this season?
Look, a brand needs to be commercial to survive. And everyone was always asking me like, ‘Why don’t you do shirts?’ There’s this delusion that doing shirts makes you more sellable or something. That’s why I did the shirt with metal—like, fuck off people. I’ll take my time and be commercial when I need to be. But I don’t know. I think it’s just a way of surviving, I guess—even Comme des Garcons has their plain t-shirts, you know? And it’s just how the market is. If you want to be creating, sometimes you need to do what people want. But you can never lose yourself or your aesthetic. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Have your goals changed as the brand continues to grow?
I don’t know—fashion just helps me. You know people turn to boxing to get out their problems? Well, I guess that’s what Sanchez-Kane is for me. And it took me a long, long time to get that beauty comes in different forms—I started fashion when I was 24. I know that’s not late, but you’re in a room with all these 17-year-olds and you start to feel insecure. I just had to realize it’s never too late to put yourself out there and express what you want. And now I’m using fashion as a means of escape, and showing who I am.