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Lights, Camera, Fashion: Exclusive Chats with Designers in Panama City

With Panama Fashion Film Festival fast approaching, get prepped with exclusive chats featuring some of Panama’s most talented designers.

Among the featured trunk shows of Fashion Week Panama was one held at the ever-chic, ultra-trendy, interior design dreamhouse, BoConcept. There, we had the incredible opportunity to chat one-on-one with some of the supernova designers of Fashion Week Panama.

Photo by Todd Webb, HEADsPACE Photography

MALORE

Photo by Todd Webb, HEADsPACE Photography

 

“My name is Maria Lorena. I’m the designer for Malore.”

“Malore was one of my favorites in Fashion Week. Honestly. I love the colors. I love how you danced out with your models. It was amazing.”

“I did dance. I went with the flow.”

“It’s fantastic. I love that because it was against the traditional; it was more unconventional, more fun and electric. So, tell me a little bit about your line that you showcased in Fashion Week.”

“Okay. The line, the collection was named Maleza, which means undergrowth in English, and it’s actually seeing the beauty behind, like what’s hidden behind things. And, it’s basically, in nature what you find the beauty in the colors. If you see the whole collection, all the colors are very earthy – the browns and the oranges, the reds – it’s a very earthy collection.

“Okay, cool. Is that new for you?”

“I enjoy working a lot with these colors. The collection is made with very rare textures and materials, which I merged to make the whole collection. I would say it’s a very unconventional collection that would tie up with the complements that I put with the headpieces and everything that I showcased in Fashion Week.”

“Awesome. So, are you based here in Panama?”

“I am from Panama; I’m just starting. I actually have my workshop here in Panama, and I currently work by appointment.”

“Where at in Panama?”

“It’s in Clayton.”

“Oh okay, we were just there to see the Canal. So, is there anything else you would like to mention?”

“Well, I still have a lot to offer, so stay tuned.”


STELLA MARIS

Photo by Todd Webb, HEADsPACE Photography

“This is my brand’s name: Stella Maris. We’re known for doing hand paints and embroidery. So, we just showed this collection in Fashion Week Honduras, and it’s inspired by the book by Jules Verne, ‘20 Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.’ So, we have some statement pieces like this one, which has an old-style map embroidered in the back. It’s a crop-top jacket, as you can see.”

“It’s incredible.”

“Thank you. So, we’re known for using handmade techniques. This is all the new collection; I don’t have any of the old pieces here. This is all hand painted, too. ”

“Wow. That’s gorgeous.”

“And it’s reversible. So, I’m trying to make it more functional.”

“It looks actually comfortable, too, which is rare.”

“It is quite comfortable. And this one’s reversible, too. It reminds me a little bit of the ocean. When the light hits the ocean on top at the surface, and it glitters like that. It shimmers a little bit.”

“Very cool. So, how did you get started?”

“My brand? I went to Marangoni, studied fashion design, and then I got a Master’s in fashion accessory design and luxury management. And then I came back and worked in a magazine that never got launched. So after that, I decided to start doing my own thing. And then slowly I started building up the brand, the branding and the structures. I think I’m still working on it; this is our second year.

“Oh wow, I wouldn’t have guessed that.”

“Thanks. I knew that I wanted to do this since I was 14. I like to create. It’s not so much the process of fashion, per say, because I never go shopping or any of those things.”

“You don’t have to; you can make everything.”

“Sometimes I don’t have time. My clients come first – always.”

“That’s important.”

“Yeah. So, I like the process of creation. Like, seeing something in your head and then making it happen. As my aunt described it today, ‘You give birth to a child during Fashion Week.’ So, that’s how I feel right now. It’s quite a process. So, I get inspired – I have a love for vintage. I like to modernize it a little bit, give it my own personal touch.”


LONDY ATELIER

Photo by Todd Webb, HEADsPACE Photography

“My name is Bredio Mendieta, and I am the designer for Londy Atelier, a Panamanian brand. We are inspired by the structures of nature. We like to work with colors that are found in perfect equilibrium in nature.”

“Like earthy tones?”

“No, it’s more like when a butterfly looks like the bark of a tree. Those kinds of effects we like to express in the clothing. For example, this here is a cape. It is all hand painted.”

“Wow! By you?”

“Yes. When I make a piece, the piece always has other elements, like it’s a character in a movie or something like that. Like this one is a moth. It was inspired by the shapes and the textures of insects.”

“Intricate. Tell me about this piece.”

“Oh, this piece is called Kaluyala. I went to make a workshop, and at the end of the workshop we all painted this. Everyone was working with their hands.  It’s a very emblematic piece.”

“Very cool. Very symbolic.”

“This is another piece, inspired by all the paths that a human being must walk. I just wanted it to look like an antique that you would find in indigenous times.”

“It does!”

“This piece could either be a skirt or a top.”

“I love that. It’s so versatile.”

“This piece is hand painted and it is very soft.”

“You can see the softness.”

“I always feel that I am unfinished.”

“And tell me your name?”

“My name is Ezequiel Rangel. I am a musician born in Panama – mainly a singer. I studied opera, and I compose and do musical theater. I met Londy a long time ago, and I loved his work, and we started working together. We just brainstorm. We paint murals together.”

“Incredible. And how did you meet?”

“We met through a friend called Luciano. He’s a very good fashion photographer. I used to work with him as an art director.”

“Tell me what the future of Londy Atelier looks like.”

“We’re thinking about releasing a very lineal structured, focused, commercial line. And then these pieces will be a different line where if he wants to spend a year in the piece, stoning it… like this, he did in three days. What if he had a year to develop a whole piece with art? And in his drawings, I can see that. It’s the timing. And of course, he doesn’t reach the maximum capacity of the artistic expression it could have. So, that’s why we are thinking about having a commercial line to have a base, and then to freely work on the art without boundaries. Without rules. Without any kind of prejudice. Just flow.”


TONY VERGARA

Photo by Todd Webb, HEADsPACE Photography

“Latin design is different from the American and European design. It’s another thing. It’s about females and volume and glamour – Latin glamour. For example, Londy has a soft material line of fashion. My fashion is material, too, but it has a little bit of glam that comes from the interior, Las Tablas, Azuero – the design, the fantasy – and I put that kind of thing in my clothes, thinking always of the women, because for me, women are the most important. Also, my ex is the reason. They have that especially handmade craftsmanship. They are made from Gunas. I work with Gunas, they are my family, too. I have seven years working with her. And I put his traditions and the craftsmanship – for example, it’s all made by Gunas.”

“Wow. That is so special.”

“Yeah, I have seven years working with Liz. Liz is the oldest working with me, she is like my sister. For me, she is such an inspiration because the things that the Gunas wear, like shakiras, and the way they wear the dresses, and the colors, for example, reflect the power of the ethnicity and the richness.”

“Right.”

“And she’s my mentor, Helene Breebaart, is one of the greatest designers in Panama.”

“Hello!”

Helene Breebaart: “Oh hello, bonjour, nice to meet you!”

“You have to know her because she is one of the most incredible designers of this country. She works, also, with the Gunas, and I learned when I was in school, I learned a lot from Helene. When I finished, I did my brand and my own signature, and then I went to Europe, to Italy. I learned the techniques and the structure, a little sophisticated. I put all my time learning about fashion in Italy into my clothes in 2004. And if you come with me, I can show you better with my clothes what my design means.”

“Yes, please do!”

“I work so hard right now in Instagram now because I think this is the future. Instagram, social media, website is the future of fashion, I think. It’s the first thing you see from all the designers. First you go to Instagram and find the account, and you check. For example, when people go to my Instagram, I try to tell the story. About this collection, it’s about a Panamanian woman that goes to the moon in a spaceship.”

“Wow, amazing.”

“And I make this helmet to express what they might feel, and accessories, too. First, I draw with my hands. Then, I work with my computer and laser cut. I do a mix of techniques because I feel in the moment when I am doing a collection, the ethos. The way that I do my work with my partners, Gunas, is my ethos. If you look at this dress, it’s about glamour, Latin glamour, and it’s about Carnaval of Panama, you know, it’s party, celebration, but in a way of sophistication—I love sophistication.

“And something that I love about the work of the Gunas is the way they work with their small hands. And I saw beautiful hands in Paris, but these hands are some of the greatest in the world.

“And this is the last collection, I presented on October 15th. Last week, I presented this one. So, two collections in one month. Inspired in the stars, moons, spirits, you know – from the oldest tradition of Panama. And in Azuero, for example, you can see all the constellations. You can see planets and stars. It’s incredible. It’s a place you need to go, and it inspired this dress – the landscape with all the stars.

“And to empower women, I do this line of t-shirts: ‘This is a woman’s world.’ Women can do everything. Right now, we are living in a world that women need the space to do what they want. I am so feminist because I am born in a family with three sisters and my mom. And my vision is to support women, to empower—that is my vision.”

HELENE BREEBAART

Photo by Todd Webb, HEADsPACE Photography

“You know, I will not leave Panama for France.”

“Wow! That is special.”

“I first came to Panama in 1969. I was working with Christian Dior perfume. You know, I never studied fashion. I had a dressmaker – my parents had a very active life. Every two weeks, my parents received 40 to 50 people for lunch and for parties, so we had to hire a dressmaker in my house. So, I was buying the fabric, I was designing the clothes. I was sewing it when I needed to. This really was how I started, but I am a painter. I studied with one of the famous painters for portraits. I am looking at your eyes, and I want to portrait you.”

“Oh wow, thank you!”

“Yes, I was born with brushes in my hand. My grandmother was painting, my mother was drawing.”

“It’s a passion passed down. Amazing.”

“I went one year in Palm Beach because my parents had a friend that said I had to learn how to speak English. So, for one year, I went down to Palm Beach and stayed in a beautiful house, but I was bored because they were older people. So, I took a secretary course. I am the worst secretary, but it gave me a very good sense of how to present in front of a TV. Then I came back, and I worked for a very fine business, which was buying for the finest store in the world – Oscar de la Renta came to this place, and Felix Maduro came to buy, and his assistant became his wife – so it was a very interesting job.

“And for one of my customers, I started to be the secretary after two years. He said I would be a good buyer, and so he converted me to a buyer. So, my first customer, Herbert Levy you know the shoe manufacturer, he became my boss. He was very happy with me, and I was very happy with what I was doing. As a matter of fact, after one year he said why don’t you come help me in New York.

At this time, Christian Dior offered for me to come to Panama. My territory was Canada, the Caribbean, Central America, and my base was Panama. I was working in Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and I was living in my suitcase. I loved it.”

“I bet! It sounds amazing.”

“The sales manager was a Dutch guy; he was adorable. He let me work like a dog, but I loved it. When you love to work, it doesn’t count. Sometimes you sleep, but not too often. And so, I went on a date in the Virgin Islands, and he said, “I want to marry you.” And I said, “You want to marry me? And you live in Colon?” And I had to leave my job, which I adored, and it had been a very difficult decision. After six months, he would come to visit me, and finally one day, I said yes. And I came to live in Colon for four years. You know, at this time, Colon – all that makes Panama right now, was living in Colon. And you know, it was a very interesting thing because it was in Colon where I started to paint again, and of course, draw my dresses.”

“So, you rediscovered your passion?”

“Yes, yes, yes! And it was interesting to see that it came back, and it was just natural to what I’m doing now. And you know, what I feel is that if you are painting by yourself, you’re by yourself. But if you feel that you meet people, do some work, and work, and you work, and you work with people, the best of people are working for you.”


SOUSA PITTI

Photo by Todd Webb, HEADsPACE Photography

“My line, the name is Sousa Pitti. Those are my two last names. Sousa is my father’s last name, and Pitti is my mother’s last name. So, it’s honoring them because they’ve been so helpful throughout my career and my decisions. We started three years ago – actually, we’re turning three in January. It’s been a very exciting path. I’m a lawyer.”

“Oh, wow!”

“Yes, I went to law school first. And then I decided I needed to do something more artistic with my life, because I was a ballerina until the age of 19. So, I was missing that creative part of my daily life. So, I decided I wanted to study fashion design, and I went to Parsons. I did a summer course there.”

“In New York?”

“Yes, in New York. And then I went on to Marangoni. And now I have Sousa Pitti. I think our brand is characterized because it’s very different from what you actually get here in Panama. It’s less fancy. We’re actually trying to be a casual design line, but with design. Like, if you want a designer outfit to wear on a daily basis, or maybe something not as fancy as a cocktail or wedding, you have options. That’s the idea of the brand.”

“I love that!”

“Thank you. And this collection specifically is our sixth collection. It’s the spring/summer 2018 collection. It is inspired in the Bauhaus movement, and specifically in a textile artist, master weaver that was named named Gunta Stölzl. Gunta Stölzl was a Berlin-based, German textile artist, and she graduated from Bauhaus. And then she dedicated her life to recreate the textile department, the weaving department in the Bauhaus. So, she became the first and only female master.”

“Wow. That’s incredible.”

“Yeah, it’s super interesting, so the collection has a combination between the Bauhaus design line, you know modernism and straight lines, and asymmetry, that kind of stuff. Maybe the geometric shapes. Because Bauhaus was a very architectonic school. And the colors and prints are inspired by Gunta’s works. She liked to mix pastels with this orange and very strong colors. This is the first time we’ve done that. We actually have a very sober color palette. And it was a little bit outside of my comfort zone, but it worked.”

“It was so refreshing in Fashion Week because everything was bold and vibrant and sheer, and then your line came out. It was so soft and pretty and feminine, but still bold, and I loved it.”

“Thank you. This was our first time that we as a brand had our own designs in the fabrics and the prints, and it was also the first time that we had our own music. We collaborated with a local artist. His name is Aquiles Navarro. He is a trumpetist. He is Panamanian, but he actually lives in New York. He wrote the music, and he came for the show and played. And the idea of having a musician on the runway was the fact that Bauhaus was an art school for all the arts. So, the idea of Bauhaus was to combine all the art into one show, so we tried to do that with the music and the fashion design, and combine them to make an experience out of the runway.”

For more exciting forward movement from Panama’s fashion industry in collaboration with other celebrated art genres, the Panama Fashion Film Festival will be held on November 27 at Teatro Amador at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at Panatickets.



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