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Meet The Designer Behind Statement Brand, Sanchez-Kane

Though fashion is often dismissed by most as a trivial indulgence to be enjoyed by those with too much discretionary income or not enough principles on budgeting, it more appropriately deserves recognition as a powerful form of self-expression. Mexican-born designer, Bárbara Sanchez-Kane, of eponymous label, Sanchez-Kane, not only employs fashion design as a creative outlet, but also equips it as a vehicle for political statements and cultural references. Having only debuted her first collection a few seasons ago, Sanchez-Kane has already acquired a number of notable supporters including Future, VFILES and Hailey Benton-Gates.

The designer prides herself in the complexities of her cultural identity, boasting a Mexican upbringing in a small rural town outside of the city, with an American background from her mother. Upon studying in Italy and training in Los Angeles, Sanchez-Kane was invited to show at Los Angeles Fashion Week, which initiated the birth of her very own label. It was then that Sanchez-Kane could engage in design with an entirely personal lens—looking to her heritage and emotions to forge her well-received collections.

We sat down with the strong spoken, but modest designer to discuss her transition from industrial engineering to fashion and the distinct responsibilities innate in being a clothing designer. Check out the interview below and a gallery of images from her SS18 collection above.

Let’s get started with you telling us a bit about yourself and how’d you get your start in fashion. 

So, I have a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, and basically, I finished because my parents made me finish—in Mexico, people tend to choose careers that are safer for your future. A semester before finishing, I got very sick and I talked to my parents about changing my lifestyle, and told them that I really liked fashion, but I was scared to get into it, because I knew that it wasn’t a very common career to get into in Mexico. Basically, at 23, I finished and decided to apply to schools. I found Polimoda in Florence. I went there and started studying, finished in 2014 and got an internship in L.A. after, to work with Bernhard Willhelm in the Hollywood Hills. I had a really great experience there because it was a really small company, but international, and I got to do everything from a ballet costume to fittings for the collection to designing to patterns.

I wasn’t sure about making my own brand, until L.A. Fashion Week invited me to present and I was like, “Oh, I’m just getting out of school, I don’t know… But, let’s give it a try.” So, I did a collection for them and it was Spring Summer ’16, and after that, I just kept applying to contests like VFILES Runway and fashion incubators in Italy, so that gave me more of the courage to keep going, because my work was very well-accepted outside of Mexico. It was actually very hard for people in Mexico to understand what I was doing, so I presented first in Pitti Uomo, New York, L.A., and Amsterdam, then after, i-D Mexico invited me to present with them, and it was an amazing experience, because it was actually the first time I had presented in my country.

That’s a point I want to touch upon—the cultural identity of you as a person and then Sanchez-Kane as a brand. It’s really interesting, because you’re Mexican-born and raised, but your mother was American-born; your design training comes from Italy and L.A., but your brand is based in Mexico and caters to an American market. Can you talk a little bit about how identify yourself and even the challenges of finding a singular identity? 

I think it’s very important to have a clear identity as a designer, an artist, a person, everybody has their own style and their own world. Sanchez-Kane is the world that I’m creating, and I’m inviting all of these people to come in and sharing what I think. Fashion should be about making a statement, for me it’s very important for the pieces to have meaning. I know a lot of people want me to go more commercial, but for me, it’s more about the feeling and the whole experience and telling the story. I get very involved in it. That’s why after everything, I get so tired, because it’s my own story that I’m talking about—my fears, my happiness, everything.

I draw inspiration from Mexico, because it came easy to me when I was studying, you know? My culture is very rich in artisanal work and all of that, and I find it very beautiful. The kitschiness of my culture and the mix of this American, chicano, Mexican identity for me is great. It was easy for me to find that identity and relate it to a Mexican clothing brand curated by chaos.

Yeah, so how do you put all of those different layers of your identity into conversation with one another? 

I do menswear because my engineering degree gave me more of this background in structure, which for me, menswear is more about. But at the end of the day, a woman can wear it. 80% of my clothes is for women. But when I’m designing, I’m in love with tailoring for instance, the inspiration is just about how I see a common object in a market or on the street and how I can translate those objects into the garments. My last collection was born from those little wind mill, pinwheel toys—they’re very Mexican, but very American, everyone puts them in their gardens. My collection started with that, all of the patterns came from that. So, for me inspiration come from easy, recognizable and relatable objects you see every day on the street. I think it’s important to draw those connections between objects and clothing, it forms little constellations of garments.

As you were saying before, there is that tension between making a garment commercial so that you can sell it and then making a garment with a statement, that has more of a political purpose than a wearable one. Can you talk about how you achieve that balance? 

I think, even though I’m very clear about drawing inspiration from Mexico, I’m still in a process of finding myself. Sometimes, I have a lot of people saying that I’m more of an artist than I am a designer. I’m trying to find that middle ground between the two, but right now I’m doing an exhibition at the ICA in Los Angeles, which is different because I’m going to put my garment in a museum with these installations and objects surrounding it. For me, it’s just about telling a story and sometimes, I need to tell it that way. It’s just how I feel more connected to the collection. Anyway, when you pull out the pieces from how they’re styled in the show, because it’s always crazy with the makeup and the hair and the shoes, it’s an explosion of feelings. When you take the pieces apart, though, everything is wearable.

Yeah, it’s interesting how the way that the way a garments are put together can totally change the way it looks and what it means. An interesting point that is then brought up is the purpose of a designer. What would you say is the primary responsibility of a designer? 

Well, I think about it more as a way for me to get my feelings out there. I feel like I need to tell my story and I put it out there. It’s a way of survival for me. It’s a process of acceptance of a situation. I see fashion more as an art form, as a means for expression. I do want to get involved in different things. For example, this year I did costume design for a Mexican play called Fancy Lupe, and it was a great experience. I’m getting involved in different projects.

For me, it’s very difficult to not get lost in the industry—people are telling you to do this or that and they have their own opinions, and that’s how you get lost sometimes. For me, though, it’s just about telling a story. You have to be commercial in some ways just to survive and do another collection, because in the end, if you don’t have money then you’ll die out in two years and that’s it. If I weren’t designing, I don’t know what I’d do because it’s not work, it’s a natural flow of daily life for me.

Also, I read in an interview, you’re really inspired by the designs of Walter Von Bierendock, what about his influence impacts your work? 

I see him and I think, because he’s still a teacher in Antwerp despite designing for 20 years, he still has a freshness to his designs, you know? He still has a youth in his designs, through color and vibrance. I don’t know if it’s because he’s teaching and is always surrounded by new ideas, but you can see that he’s just crazy and doesn’t give a fuck about whether or not his brand becomes bankrupt or not. He still does what he believes and he has another job to support his idea of what the world should see.

Are there any other current designers you admire? 

Glenn Martens. I think he’s very, very, very, very cool. He’s really young and he’s doing really well. It’s really cool to see his designs and aesthetics, because they’re really crazy but in the end, very wearable and that’s the point. That’s the perfect point, actually.

Right, that’s that balance that you were describing. Can you describe the spirit of Sanchez-Kane for those who aren’t familiar? 

I always say it’s a Mexican clothing brand curated by chaos. When I started the brand, I think the name in itself formed this American-Mexican ethos all together.

Yeah, that’s interesting. The duality of your cultural identity is so present within the name itself. How did the logo come about? 

I had a girlfriend at the time and I did an illustration called ‘From Black Tights and Heavy Makeup,’ and it’s a picture of her in tights. She was my girlfriend of 2 years in Italy and the logo just came from that illustration.I want to go a bit more in depth about the gender of your brand. You mention that you committed to menswear sort of by convenience, it was what you knew coming out of industrial design. That said, your clothing is pretty gender fluid and 80% of it ends up being worn by women, so what are your thoughts on separating sexes within fashion? 

I think, well… I think it’s good, I don’t think anybody even really cares if a man goes into the women’s department and buys a dress nowadays. I think it’s pretty open. Imagine if you had womenswear and menswear exhibiting during the fashion weeks, it would be a huge mess! I think it’s good to separate each just for the purpose of showing and getting people to give the same amount of attention to each.

Going back to the brand identity, who besides yourself are you designing for? Who is buying Sanchez-Kane? Who is following the Instagram?

It’s funny, everyone who follows me on Instagram thinks I’m a guy. I always get messages going, “Hey dude, I love your stuff!” So, my audience can go from a super masculine man to the opposite. After Future wore one of my coats, a bunch of rappers started asking to pull my clothes. I think I get more men than women, but it really is a wide range of people. Instagram is a very cool platform for new designers to sell, too. It’s a very efficient space to place your product.

It’s true, because it deletes everything in between. It brings you, as a designer straight to the consumer, or stylist, or rapper himself. There’s no more middle man. 

Yeah, imagine, I live in Mexico, but not even Mexico City. I live in the South of Mexico in a very small town called Mérida, so a lot of people ask where I’m from and assume that it’s Europe, but no. I live in a small town, and I love it there, because I have so much more time to work. Then I travel and that’s it. For now, it works very well for me because there are less distractions and it’s a quiet place for me to work. It kind of isolates you from what fashion is, really. It’s not a fashionable place or anything, so it’s very weird and funny when I tell people.

That’s interesting, because that feels like the complete opposite of how a designer would approach finding influence for their work. So, it says a lot about the authenticity and commitment to yourself as a designer. 

You know what? I think the influence is from everywhere, though. I could see a design down a catwalk and am automatically influenced by it, but it’s not like I’m copying the designer. The ideas are there, who took them first? Everything is a reference to something else.

It’s impossible to not be influenced by everything, especially when we’re exposed to so much. 

Exactly! That’s why I love living in this small town, because it’s less corrupt than a big city. It’s working for me now, but I’ll probably move to a bigger city in the future. Im’ just happy to still get projects abroad. I think it’s a nice balance.

Out of curiosity, is there anyone you have in mind that you’d love to dress? 

Wow, I’ve never, ever thought about this before. I don’t know… who should I dress? I’ve sent some samples to Petra Collins, but she has yet to wear them.

Here’s one you probably have thought about—anyone you’d love to work with? 

Obviously, I’d die to work with Walter Von Bierendock. When I was studying, I applied to his internship like crazy, I sent a bunch of emails. Finally, I got an interview, but then it was a question about sponsoring my visa, which got complicated. I would love to work with him today. He’s just great and he’s funny, I think fashion shouldn’t be so serious.

What can we expect from Sanchez-Kane, anything to expect from Fall Winter 2018? 

Fall Winter ’18 is still in the process! But, like I said, I’m very occupied with my show at the ICA in L.A., it’s an installation called ‘Vast Graveyard of the Missing.’ I did an installation this year, but it’s going to be my first one in a museum and I’m very excited about that. It’s a day show, since it’s performative, but I’m super focused on that now and after, I’ll start designing my collection!

Images courtesy of Andrea Basteris and Sanchez-Kane. 

Stay tuned to Milk for more emerging designers making waves in the fashion industry. 

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