Global Designer Spotlight: Armando Mahfud, Mexico City
Stalwart of Style.
By: Hina P. Ansari
*This is part of Ramp 1885′s newest series, “Fashion Travelogue–Mexico City, Edition” where we personally explore the city’s greater style scene including cool boutiques and chats with the city’s style makers. Perfect for the fashion traveller.
One of Mexico’s iconic fashion designers, Armando Mahfud rings in 33 years of being in the business. Famous for incorporating classic Mexican imagery into his collection comprised of billowing gowns, intricate handcrafted pieces and out-of-this-worlds showstopper ensembles, Mahfud is the main man of Mexico old school fashion. He brings to the table the historical appreciation of the cut, the silhouette and draping. During our visit to Mexico City, he took time out to chat with us about the art of style, saying what you mean and the love for his nation and heritage. Special thanks to Senora Nadine Estrada. Photography by Farah K. Ahmed.
How did you get into the fashion industry?
It all started many years ago, when I was an odontology student. I am a dentist, did you know? I wanted to earn some extra money, so I started making jewelry and accessories. I was walking by a store when I saw that they were selling some materials, so I bought them and then I started selling, selling, selling. When I told my parents, they disapproved of my new business because they thought that if I spent time on this and started making money, then I would drop school. If they saw me now… (he laughs).
Did you have a proper store?
No, no, this was not a store. I made things and sold them to friends. I finished school and then worked as a dentist for ten years. [I was around] less than thirty [years].
How did you go from accessories to clothing?
I wanted to make a fashion show for my accessories, but nobody would loan me the dresses. So I had to come up with my own ideas for clothing. Then, my friend Pancho Gilardi – may he rest in peace – started publishing my work on his magazine Origina every month. Soon people began talking about the store, and wealthy ladies started to come.
What would your clientele age be? Are they mostly well-established older women?
The ages range from twenty five to sixty, more or less. I’ve got lots of clients of around thirty, thirty-five years old; young, beautiful.
Your creations have a common thread, that being the use of Mexican imagery. That’s very important to you I see.
I was born and I grew up in a town [Salina Cruz, Oaxaca] with strong traditions and Mexican culture.
Through the 30+ years of you being in this business, how has it changed from when you started and now?
The industry is constantly changing, because fashion is not coincidence. It is a socioeconomic phenomenon that evolves according to world events, don’t you agree? For example, after the end of war, military style coats became fashionable in women’s clothing, until Dior came along and stressed the feminine silhouette; tight waists, wide dresses. In spring you wear neons, strong colors; then in summer and autumn, come the naturals. And fashion is not only clothing, it is also furniture, architecture.
Who is the Armando Mafaud woman?
You mean, who do I prefer dressing? Well, women with personality, women with style. I guess any designer would prefer that; personality, elegance. We wouldn’t like dressing someone ungainly, would we?
Were there any challenges that you had to face when you were just starting out in fashion? Cultural, family, business…
I really did not have any obstacles, I was accepted very quickly. When I began making accessories, many others were already doing so. I immediately got to be at their level, and then surpassed them. Of course you need dedication, commitment, and studying. For example, we are already getting prepared for “Día de los Muertos”.
This is a very important tradition in Mexico; it is the day when Mexicans celebrate the dead. They make jokes about death, but these very jokes are in a way a disguise for fear.
Have you ever shown outside of Mexico?
Yes, all the time. I have had three exhibitions in Paris; one in the Louvre museum, one in Palais des Congrès, and one in Montmartre. I’ve been in Spain, Italy, Japan, Germany, Colombia, Canada — everywhere. I’m also the only designer that’s ever been three times in “El Palacio de Bellas Artes” of Mexico; the only designer in the world, not just from Mexico.
What’s the difference between Mexican people in the world of fashion, compared to people from elsewhere?
In other countries, designers are often supported financially by large companies or even governments. For example, Givenchy worked alone for some time but eventually sold the name of the brand. Same as Valentino, and many others. They sell the name and continue working, but with support and infrastructure. Also, many people work with them; pattern-makers, machinists, or secondary designers who help coming up with ideas. They have money in the bank, they need not suffer for the weekly wage. This means that they have support, publicity, shows scheduled in advance. We work solely in base of our own efforts.
In your opinion do Mexican women take bigger risks in fashion?
Many are beginning to do so. My clientèle is usually made up of special people who have traveled a lot, who know fashion and enjoy wearing new things. Yes, because it is not all about just dressing a woman up with folkloric icons, it is about making a fusion between modern and folkloric.
What would be your advice for someone who wants to be a designer.
My advice would be: be prepared, study, research, be devoted. Don’t simply pretend to be a designer by reading fashion magazines, by joining a designer’s sleeve with another one’s blouse; I have seen that many times.
Photography by Farah K. Ahmed
Special thanks to Senora Nadine Estrada