The second annual Lima Fashion Week (LIF Week) ended on April 28, and has quickly become the most important platform to showcase Peruvian designers. The six-day event included eleven designers, four brands, special guest designer Adolfo Dominguez and an off-the-runway controversy that almost stole the show.
Except for tardy starts to the runway shows, LIF Week was casualty-free until Thursday came along. That evening, Peruvian designer Gerardo Privat let out an unfiltered rant on his Facebook Page in response to unfavourable comments by fashion blogger Lorena Salmon on the designer's marketing efforts. The small but unfortunate incident demonstrated that a culture of fashion critique and debate is considerably underdeveloped in Peru, making it difficult for fashion analyses and critical opinions to circulate and be welcomed. Unquestionably, the Peruvian fashion industry is growing rapidly, but perhaps too much so for an industry with barely two decades of history, still defining its course and building its foundations.
Andrea Llosa's Urban Tribe F/W 2012.
LIF Week grew as an extension of PeruModa, the country's largest textile and clothing trade fair. The 15-year-old event attracts upwards of 1,000 international buyers who are lured by an abundance of Peruvian manufacturing companies producing low-cost, high-quality apparel. With international exposure already established, LIF Week has benefitted from running parallel to PeruModa; the fair is open during the day while the runway shows commence in the evening.
Efrain Salas, founder of ESV Lifestyle Advisors & Event Design and the man behind the creation and production of LIF Week, has managed to fill a void in the Peruvian fashion and design community. In just two years, Salas has moved people and resources, uniting dispersed talents across industries to create an event that Peruvian fashion designers and consumers desperately craved: the formality, allure and design-driven premise that the global fashion week model offers.
Supporters of Peru's fashion industry are expending great efforts to change its image abroad, wishing to be recognised as a country that produces designers and generates fashion instead of simply being a textile manufacturing country. A seasonal fashion week has been a giant step in that direction but, more importantly, a fundamental goal of LIF Week is for local consumers to become familiar with and embrace Peruvian design, Salas recently declared in an interview with Peruvian business and finance newspaper, Gestion.
Fashion designers in emerging markets such as India, South Korea and Brazil are increasingly taking advantage of local business development opportunities as opposed to competing in a saturated international market. And for Peru, this is an important challenge. The country has enjoyed steady economic growth in the past few years, creating a consumer base able and thirsty to buy all things fashion. But fashion-forward consumers often end up choosing international brands (Zara, Diesel and Chanel are the latest brands to set up shop in Lima) over Peruvian ones. The creation of a fashion week is a vote of confidence for local designers, an investment that hopes to curtail the myth that fashion from abroad is better. "The only real objective of [LIF Week] is to sell more. All of the collections presented are on sale via the distribution channels of each designer," said Salas in the Gestion interview.
An important advantage Peruvian designers have is the ability to work closely with garment makers and to oversee and control production thanks to Peru's well-established textile industry. For designers with more intricate couture ambitions - like 25-year-old Noe Bernacelli, who wowed at LIF Week with eveningwear that revealed exquisite craftsmanship - it's an excellent opportunity to train garment makers with delicate techniques and use Peru's artisanal tradition of working with natural fibers like alpaca to its full potential.
Designer Andrea Llosa, who studied design in Barcelona and has shown her collections in Europe, broke the cookie-cutter runway formula with an engaging and eerie presentation of her all black urban tribe collection in an outstanding LIF Week moment. Having just returned to Peru last year, and bringing with her a worldly perspective on the workings of the fashion world, Llosa expressed her hope that, beyond being spectators who enjoy the catwalk experience, the public would fully engage with the clothes, "generating critique or acceptance" of the designs, she said in a promotional interview for LIF Week.
In order to create a significant fashion movement, Llosa believes that those who consume fashion (as buyers or commentators) must be sharp, critical and demand quality, for the public is as instrumental as the designers are in building an industry that can be signaled out for its talent. Adverse reactions, like that of designer Gerardo Privat, towards opinions that deviate from the all-too-common positive commentary in Peruvian media, are damaging to the industry. The incident demonstrated that Peruvian designers can be unfamiliar and uncomfortable with critique, perhaps due to the lack of opportunities to participate in healthy debates within the fashion community. Precisely because fashion in Peru is in its infancy, a critical eye is necessary to ensure its healthy growth. The Peruvian fashion industry has a lot working in its favour, but it can only prosper if participants invest in its future, learn from missteps and are supportive of plural visions, ideas and opinions.
One can talk about Peru's international ambitions and the investments made to commercialise Peruvian fashion, but a fundamental question lingers: does Peru have institutions that can provide the quality training and challenging curriculum necessary to produce talented designers? There are a handful of established design institutions in Lima, varying in size and reach. Perhaps the Center of Advanced Studies in Fashion (CEAM) in Lima, with fourteen years of experience, has had more commercially successful graduates than other institute, one of them being LIF Week designer Claudia Jimenez.
Undoubtedly, new generations of Peruvian fashion students can learn from the expertise of designers with experience in the global fashion industry. More than half of the eleven LIF Week designers either studied and/or have showcased their collections abroad. Sitka Semsch, graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, has shown at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Russia since 2004, while Andrea Llosa presented at both Barcelona and Madrid fashion weeks, and Sergio Davila, who participated in LIF Week 2011, is the only Peruvian designer to show at New York Fashion Week. Connecting students with professionals in conferences, colloquiums, through internships and other forms of mentorship is key in improving the overall quality of Peruvian design.
Ani Alvarez Calderon's F/W 2012.
Lucia Cuba, irreverent designer and fashion scholar, recently pointed out in an interview for Peru this Week that there are a number of self-taught designers, saying, "It's an important way in which fashion has emerged in Peru." Indeed, the breakout talent at this year's LIF Week was Edward Venero, visual artist and graphic designer, who sees fashion as a direct evolution of his desire to create art that transmits a message - in the case of his F/W collection, a message of national identity that translated into sportswear with vibrant colored prints, chunky knitwear and staging that projected his vision of Peru with style and humour. For Venero, it "was an opportunity to show society how we can generate Peruvian design for the world," he told PUCP University.
The framework of LIF Week represents an important effort in developing a more formal, supportive, forward-thinking and noteworthy fashion industry in Peru. Both up-and-coming and established designers who showed at the event have demonstrated the skill and dedication to work towards creating a respectable and creative fashion community. But Peru's fashion industry is clearly a work-in-progress. The press coverage for LIF Week has been largely (if not unanimously) favourable. The event has been sold as a one-stop platform that promotes "the whole range of possibilities offered by fashion in Peru," said Salas, indeed projecting a spotless alliance.
The event showed but a fraction of what the multifarious Peruvian fashion eco-system has to offer. Hopefully the industry can further encourage designers to be authentic and daring, continue to showcase the multiple manifestations of Peruvian design and cultivate an environment that insists upon honest and constructive commentary in order to establish an attractive fashion scene.
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