The Genteel
October 23, 2017
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Image courtesy of Erasmo Wong Seoane.

Lucia Cuba is a fashion designer and social scientist who is determined to use her creativity to impact society. Cuba has already generated important conversations with her most recent project, ARTICULO 6. Beyond producing fashion collections, Cuba also conducts extensive social, political and economic research that allows her to help develop effective local systems of production, education and distribution. She is in the process of deeply exploring our current fashion systems to help the industry be more sustainable and human-focused in the future.

Through her practice, Cuba encourages designers to look beyond the fashion industry and engage in society and their local communities. The Genteel chats with Cuba about her work, the garment districts in New York City and Lima, as well as the changing landscape of Peruvian and Latin American fashion.

Lucia Cuba Articulo 6 Peru

Lucia Cuba's Proyecto Gamarra in Lima, Peru.
Image courtesy of Erasmo Wong Seoane.

Amanda Coen: You have a very rich background holding degrees in both Psychology and Fashion Design from institutes in Peru and America. How do these experiences inform your design process?

Lucia Cuba: The foundation of my work is definitely based in an interdisciplinary approach. From the research tools that I work with to the possible outcomes or impact of my work, every stage of the process is highly merged with the notion and awareness of how clothes are built upon social interpretations.

The opportunity to have studied and practiced in two different contexts such as Lima and New York allows me to work locally with a global understanding of how I want to express my work and of the importance of the "reading element" that should be capable of reaching different audiences in different contexts.

Awareness of society (history, politics and social development, in general) and of the community I am working from is always key to my design process.

AC: How have you developed as a designer since you founded your own label, LUCCO?

LC: I founded LUCCO - a design lab - in 2004, initially exploring what fashion design was, what do garments really mean and how they are connected to a personal space and perception of comfort, freedom and adaptation within aesthetics and social performance.

I happened to start designing when independent and emergent design started to become stronger in Lima and other cities of Peru. However, while this new wave was powerful, this collective emergence started to rapidly adapt to commercial standards and I decided to generate an independent way of distributing my work. It was key for me to understand that my work had to be defined in its own terms and under the notion of the context's development and my critical approach to it.

Since then and until 2011, I had a studio/showroom in Lima where I sold my pieces. However since I started to work in New York in 2010, LUCCO - my first design project - started to feel very much attached to my perception of independent fashion and design at that time, and has now entered a "transitional" stage. I am planning to launch a meta-project from that experience in 2013.

The emergence of independent fashion design in Latin America starts and reacts to social development that is highly connected to political changes...

AC: You seem to be very focused on Peruvian and Latin American issues and are helping to define the face of Peruvian design. Your former projects such as "Procesos Peruanos" and "Proyecto Gamarra" are efforts to bring attention to such issues and create a sense of community among designers in Latin America.

Through your projects, have you found certain recurrent characteristics, social underpinnings or aesthetics that distinguish Latin American fashion and design?

LC: The emergence of independent fashion design in Latin America starts and reacts to social development that is highly connected to political changes; processes that are definitely not exclusive to the South.

Also, over the past 30 years, some Latin American countries have approached fashion design focusing more on textile design development rather than in fashion design development. [This focus] also highlights the needs and demands of local creators to merge both areas of practice, as well as to create theory and research [that will] allow local references to grow and not just apply much more commercially driven Western models [to local fashion].

However, I am now working towards mapping Latin American fashion practitioners and researchers. This is a current project that I am developing through Parsons in collaboration with different fashion researchers.

AC: Project Gamarra was very much about raising awareness about the Peruvian fashion system and its dependence on this bustling commercial centre. Having now lived in New York City for two years, how does Gamarra compare to New York's garment district and what do you think about efforts such as "Save the Garment Center" that are trying to keep production local? How do such efforts help support sustainability and development?

LC: I frequently draw a parallel between Gamarra and the Garment Center in NYC. Even though they grew out of two very different contexts, the story of how they have developed through strong migratory waves, local demands and in a very specific geographical distribution (creating textile and design production/creation hubs in both cities) enables us to think about the impact these spaces have on the development of local and regional fashion systems.

I strongly believe that initiatives like "Save the Garment Center" are essential to raise awareness about the importance of local garment centres or hubs for the strengthening of fashion textile and design systems. This is, nevertheless, an initiative that forms part of a local strategy, which is also supported by the government to increase local production and demand for local products. 

Lucia Cuba Articulo 6 Peru

Lucia Cuba's Proyecto Gamarra in Lima, Peru.
Image courtesy of Erasmo Wong Seoane.

AC: How has being based in New York City impacted upon your sourcing and production processes? Does some of the process now happen in New York or do you continue to strictly collaborate with suppliers and manufacturers in Peru?

LC: New York definitely challenged me to redefine my design process. In Lima I had a small studio and managed to create everything there. Since coming to New York, I have been developing many pieces on my own, and especially for my latest project, I did work from New York and Lima in different stages of the production process.

My experience working in New York, however, has allowed me to approach the notion of collaboration in a much stronger way. It has also helped me to realise the importance and role of sponsorship, which is almost non-existent in Peru, and how strongly supportive it is in the United States. In New York, over the past two years, I have worked closely with Jose Ballenas (The Embroidery House), a Peruvian entrepreneur who owns an embroidery service that has provided important support to some of the projects that I have produced here. I have also received the support from services such as DPI in California, who supported the printing on fabric process for my latest project.

I think this has definitely prompted a new understanding of my own practice, the ways in which I can analyse it, and in terms of how to create a local space for collaboration and sponsorship in the South - a great challenge to pursue in Peru.


Read The Genteel's interview with Lucia Cuba as she chats about her project, ARTICULO 6, which addresses the thousands of forced sterilisations that took place under the birth control policies implemented by President Alberto Fujimori's government.

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