An Interview with Designer, Feminist and Provocateur Barbara Sanchez-Kane

Images courtesy of Sanchez-Kane. Photography Sem Shayne.

Since the debut of her Polimoda graduation collection “Catch as a Catch Can”, Mexican born fashion designer Barbara Sanchez Kane has taken the industry by storm. Approaching fashion as a 3D platform to express deep-routed personal thoughts and emotions, she describes her label as “a Mexican clothing brand curated by emotional chaos.” She launched Sanchez-Kane in 2015, after a successful internship at Bernhard Wilhelm and presented her first collection “Courage of the Brave” at L.A Fashion Week. An industrial engineer, illustrator and a designer, Barbara’s work is strongly influenced by her Mexican heritage and is bound by a fearless approach to creativity and self-expression. We met this summer at Fashionclash, where she presented her second collection “Citizen Sanchez-Kane”, a fierce presentation that would land her a spot on NYF’s popular VFILES Runway, just weeks later. What I love about Barbara is her honest approach to fashion. We talk about her latest collection, politics, Mexico and of letting go of fears and obstacles in the line of creativity.


What does it mean to be a designer, in terms of today?

For me a designer has to create something new and alluring. It need not necessarily be to attract the masses or to be appealing in a charming way. We need variety in order to seek new responses.

Citizen, your SS17 collection, has a strong political aura to it. What’s the story?

The collection focuses on two main subjects. On one side it’s about feminism in current Mexican society, and on the other the rise of Donald Trump who hates Mexicans and wants to build up a wall. My mother is American and my father is Mexican, so I made a new citizen, Citizen Sanchez-Kane, that incorporates both cultures. The main concept is; what if EVE was born before ADAM? Mexico used to be a macho-dominant country, but now women are powerful and traditional stereotypes of Mexican society have changed. Our DNA has shifted and this time men are fighting for their basic rights, trying to regain their identity and find a balance in a new female-dominated Mexican society. A new citizen is born –“ citizen Sanchez-Kane”- he uses art to campaign for nationalism and embraces imperfections: A strong sentimental new-breed. While we use language as a weapon to communicate, he wants to look for peaceful dialogue, balance and equality-for all. Intrinsic personal and political emotions are found: MAKE AMERICA GAY AGAIN!

Lately there is a rise of fashion collections that are laden with political messages. Do you think fashion can (or should) form a fist against social or political matters and injustice?

We can all make a change and be active through whatever it is we do. Fashion has very often been at the heart of political campaigns, as a way to target young people to attract them to vote and to raise awareness in matters of social injustice. Since the beginning of time, fashion has served as a powerful tool to show status or oppression and has been the weapon of choice for liberation, from the Chanel ditching freeing women from the corset, to the miniskirt. If we think about what the mini skirt meant for women and for the women’s movement during a time when they where expected to be mothers and housewives, there is no denying that fashion can be a platform to address change.

To quote Alexander McQueen “we already have a lot of reality. What the world needs is fantasy”- the story of wearability vs. creativity. What side are you on?

I use fashion as a medium of escape. I recreate my own fantasy world and address my diary for inspiration. Fantasy is good but never forget that we need to dress real people out in the real world too.

You describe your label as ‘a Mexican clothing brand curated by emotional chaos’- with your diary as an important element behind your designs.

Self-expression is a vital form of survival. My work is very personal. I like to integrate chapters of my personal life in to it and narrate the story through garments. Sometimes during the creative process, things run in to a different direction than you had expected- creating a spontaneous reality you could never have imagined. When you conquer the fear of expressing, acceptance and of making mistakes, you will take a new different approach and perspective to design. You’ll find yourself being completely in touch with your creative-self, manifesting into a reality that understates all your emotions. We need to accept our angels and demons and play with them. We need to portray our perception of beauty, even if it contains brutality, fear, ugliness or a glimpse of our darkest selves. Our life is full of these emotions- opposite one to another. Take love vs. hate – happy vs. sad. We need to channel all that chaos and madness and work with it.

How would you describe the fashion climate in Mexico?

Unfortunately it doesn’t take that much risks at the moment- we still need to shake our minds and embrace the new. There is a lot of talent. In fact, this collection I worked with Mexican peers Raul Castilla – who helped me on the styling- and with music and tattoo artist Patricio Degante on the graphic illustrations of the collection. What we need are organisations like the CFDA or BFA to support all these emerging talents in our country. One trait that we have in common is nationalism. Meaning: even when we study abroad we want to come back to Mexico, in order to contribute to social and economic changes.

You incorporate a lot of traditional Mexican crafts into your work. How are you mastering these?

I work with several indigenous communities for the integration of these crafts in to my work. Mexico is very rich in heritage and traditions. Integrating these unique crafts in to fashion and approaching them with a modern attitude will ensure their eternity, and at the same time it makes place for a new appreciation for them by the younger generations. The design process, creation and contrast between each of the indigenous communities I work with is very diverse and simply magical. To give an example, one of these communities only speaks Mayan, which is so incredible!

Interning at Bernard Wilhelm in Los Angeles, what was the most valuable lesson you learned there?

I asked him advice and without hesitation, the first thing he told me was: “Don’t start you own brand! It makes you question how much you want it!”

He tested you. So how do you feel about it now that you have your own label?

This story is going to be called “Beyond the valley of the ultra glam boys”. There is nothing glamorous about starting your own label, but the gratification you get when you work hard and see your designs out there is fucking magical.

Where are you in 10 years?

Still enjoying what I do and I hope to be a regular on the London Fashion Week calendar.

What would you like to pass on to the next generation of designers, creatives and entrepreneurs?

WHAT IS JOY OR MELANCHOLY TO YOU? WHAT MOVES OR STOPS YOU? – When you find out what that is, don’t let that go… Not even when you’re getting a million “NO’s” from everyone around you! It only takes one YES….- Yours!


For more Sanchez-Kane, visit the official Sanchez-Kane website or follow Barbara on Instagram.