Amelia Toro creates haute couture clothes, Colombian style

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The designs of Colombian fashion designers Pepa Pombo, Silvia Tcherassi, Esteban Cortazar and others have illuminated fashion shows across the world in recent years and raised the country’s notoriety in the world of haute couture.

But the haute couture clothes of Amelia Toro, a designer based in Bogota, are perhaps the most uniquely Colombian. It incorporates handicrafts made by indigenous communities, including the Wayuu, Kuna and Putumayo tribes, into dresses and coats that sell for $ 4,000 or more.

His style reflects his pride in Colombian heritage and a conscious effort to help preserve it. By paying her native suppliers a good salary for their products, she hopes to slow down the effect of the pervasive modernity that is slowly wiping out craftsmanship dating back centuries.

“My goal is to blend these cultures in a sophisticated and elegant way, so that this craft lives on and the heritage is not lost,” said Toro, 50, in an interview earlier this month in his studio. north of Bogota. The native look is essential to her style. “There are 100,000 designers out there, so you better have something different to say.”

Toro’s designs, two-thirds of which she sells to foreign clients, were recently presented at an American fashion show at the United Nations, attended by Queen Sofia of Spain and Colombian singer Shakira. His pieces have been modeled on the catwalks from Milan and Los Angeles to Mexico City and Tokyo. Clients include Katie Couric, Marisa Tomei and Kim Basinger.

She was the main attraction of last year’s Portland Fashion Week, which bills itself as the only ‘green’ haute couture show in the country devoted exclusively to fair trade and the use of sustainable, eco-friendly fabrics. ‘environment.

“Amelia is on a different level from other designers,” said Lynn Frank, consultant for Portland Fashion Week, over the phone from her office in Salem, Oregon. “His commitment to the history behind the fashions advances the culture of the indigenous tribes and gives them a reason to keep it.

By encouraging indigenous craftsmanship, says Toro, it is inspired by the strategy of Bernard Arnault, president of the French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH. Louis Vuitton’s parent company strives to keep French craftsmanship alive by creating markets for these skills.

Sometimes Toro wanders away from his focus on styles of ethnic influence. Last year, Walt Disney Co. named Toro as its collaborator in Latin America in a line it created titled Alice by Amelia, inspired by Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” characters. Toro joined a select company of Disney’s haute couture partners that includes Stella McCartney and Dolce & Gabbana.

In addition to using ethnic fabrics, Toro’s policy is to hire single female heads of households and pay them a good salary with health and pension benefits, unlike many companies in an industry known to pay. pieceworkers.

Instead of an assembly line, most of its 40 full-time employees have learned enough to make clothes on their own, providing them with a livelihood if they leave the company or when they quit. the company.

“I learned so much here about the fits, the fabrics, the quality of the stitching,” said Marleny Realpe, an 11-year-old employee who is a single mother of three.

“She has a special vision, which we all share,” Elicia Poveda, a nine-year-old employee, said of her boss. “In most clothing companies, you work at a gallop. Haute couture is different. The emphasis is on being above the common.

Trained at the Rhode Island School of Design and Parsons in New York, Toro received on-the-job training at clothing companies in Italy, India and New York before founding his fashion house in 1990.

Like many high-end export business owners, Toro has suffered from the global financial crisis and had to lay off half of its 100 employees since 2008. But sales have rebounded and she said she plans to rehire. all its staff by June and to open stores in Los Angeles and New York.

Much of her optimism stems from the new U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, which will grant her a 30% tariff exemption on items she sells in new U.S. stores. It also plans to expand its line to include clothing made with fabrics native to Mexico and Central America.

Success will depend on economy, but also on patience and adaptation to the “indigenous sense of time”.

“For them,” she said, “tomorrow can mean in three months.”

Kraul is a special envoy.


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