Purple Magazine
— The Essence of Fashion Issue #41 S/S 2024

bárbara sánchez-kane

“Cuca” coat and sculptural pin Sánchez-Kane Bárbara Sánchez-Kane, look 3, 2023

Suit shirt and mask Sánchez-Kane Bárbara Sánchez-Kane, look 2, 2023

“Slap strap” crop blazer Sanchez-Kane “Payaso de rodeo” suit Sanchez-Kane




art direction by ALEPH MOLINARI





Enfant terrible of the Mexico City art scene, Bárbara Sánchez-Kane blurs the line between art and fashion. Her work reconnects art and life in unexpected forms, from clothes and shoes to sculpture, painting, and performance. Her latest solo show at kurimanzutto New York, “New Lexicons for Embodiment,” establishes her as a rising star.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Let’s start with your love of fashion, and the fact that you design your own clothes. You have your own specific and remarkable style. Was it always like that?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — I grew up in Mérida, Yucatán, and I felt a little bit off in the time that I was living there. I guess all clothing is a protector, so that people do not come near you.

OLIVIER ZAHM — To create a distance.

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — Yes. I hate the use of the word “shelter,” but it’s more of a skin that allows you to move around the world. Obviously, clothing is an avatar. Growing up in the south, I understood that clothing was something to separate me from other people, so that I wouldn’t have to engage with them. I think I am still very much of a loner in a way.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Like a lonesome cowboy.

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — Yes. [Laughs] When I started making my suits, I understood that tailoring was the key to understanding the landscape of clothing. You have all these layers to get the lapel and the folds, and certain technical skills are needed. For me, it was the passage to understanding this range and variety of clothing.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But that’s more of a men’s tradition. 

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — Well, it is. Yesterday, I was at the Whitney [Museum of American Art], and I saw David Hammons at the Gordon Matta-Clark shed outside. So, it’s like that. If we look at Matta-Clark’s work, it’s like a very hard structure. He’s cutting a hole where the hole was not supposed to be. He’s creating a new window of possibility. There is a very interesting article written by Jack Halberstam on unbuilding gender… And today, there is the window of possibility of cutting out a new window. If you analyze the sculptures I did for the show at kurimanzutto, there’s a tension that creates new possibilities, new openings. It’s supposed to collapse, but it doesn’t. If you open the part with the inner lining, the body becomes a pedestal, and the skin becomes the inner fabric. So, I started playing with that in order to form new territories.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you go to fashion school?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — I did: Polimoda in Florence. But before that, I studied engineering. So, I was reimagining patternmaking as something that doesn’t exist — as a way to cover a sculpture that is not tangible. Let’s say you’re thinking about a structure that doesn’t exist, and with your own hands, you’re creating traces or gestures to understand the patternmaking of a thing that doesn’t exist yet. So, that’s my understanding of engaging with patternmaking through clothing. Let’s take the pointy Nike boots that I did. I was like, “Okay, if they get dirty, how do I take them home?” So,
I created this imaginary bag that would carry these nonexistent tennis shoes. Even my relation with sculpture is, “How do I carry the sculpture? How do I drape it on my body? How do I efface it and see how it becomes like a skin?” People talk about clothing being the second skin. It’s not. We live in a dress society, and even if we didn’t, you would still have hair and earrings and accessories. That’s the way we communicate. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — You do sculpture, performance, and painting, but you also do clothes, shoes, and accessories. Do you see a difference between all these productions, or is it like sculpture? 

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — It’s like sculpture. Even for my New York show “New Lexicons for Embodiment” at kurimanzutto, I created a space where viewers walk in and see a retail space and are confronted with something unexpected. I saw a lot of people outside of the gallery actually looking for the address. They were like, “This looks like a retail space.” It’s about changing the hierarchy of a space. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — So that readers understand: you had a store at the exhibition, and it was the first point of contact with the show. It looked like a retail space.

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — Yes, but it didn’t end at the area with the bookstore. The store went all around the exhibition. And how I get sculpture is the same way I get the patterns of the clothing — by understanding the materiality, the dimensions, the relation to my body. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — There’s continuity. 

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — There’s continuity. I was reading a marketing book from the early 1920s about how to drape clothes to sell, and the display that holds them — let’s say in velvet — was even better and more beautiful than the clothes themselves. In the end, it’s about creating new views of desire to make people want to have the item that you’re showing. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you also look for a different way to show the body with clothes?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — Yes, by opening views of the body. Usually, the body is hidden by clothes, and the only thing we see is the exterior, and we forget what’s on the inside. And that’s just in order to sell who I am, this avatar I’m living. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, there’s no hierarchy for you between a pair of shoes and a sculpture?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — No, and people get very confused about that.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How do retailers see your clothes?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — I remember the first time I tried to sell my clothes to a store. The buyer told me: “Bárbara, a piece of advice: you need to say if it’s for a man or woman. Please just do it.” So, it’s like that, very cookie-cutter.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes. Is it for men, or is it for women? Is it clothing, or is it an artwork? 

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — What also interests me is how you give life to these sculptures that are going to end up on the street and are going to get messed up and probably broken. But we don’t need to understand the brokenness as the end result or an absence of the other. That’s not the complete work. The complete work is a living thing, and it’s getting shattered and damaged and ending up in a thrift shop in Paris even though you designed it in Mexico. It’s the trace that is left behind. That’s the artwork.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you approach this first solo show in New York at kurimanzutto?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — At the beginning I was afraid, and my insecurity was playing a big part in it. Having a huge space, this white cube. So, I built a humongous sculpture made of probably 2,000 belts. I needed eight people to carry it. So, anxiety was playing a big part in trying to fill the room. I left the sculpture for about two months and then came back to my studio and cut it to create new sculptures that actually confronted my body and could be draped around it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — At the end of the day, the core of your work is the body. You use the body as a canvas.

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — I grew up in a very Catholic family, and the body was a penitence. My body was something that I could not act upon. Maybe all those years of being restricted in my body was something that influenced my work.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s present in the performance with the military people in your “Prêt-à-Patria” work. The body is there with the clothes, and the body is also there with the sculpture because there’s something very anthropomorphic about your sculptures.

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — There are mannequins that have a wheel in the center, and when you pull the wheel, the mannequin gets bigger — it starts expanding. So, all of the pieces contract and expand. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is there’s a difference between a designer and an artist, as you are both?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — I am both. I do like the idea of having my own time — having time to fail, having time to be scared about what I’m producing, to be confronted by the sculpture and to be repulsed by it, to break it. I think the fashion system does not give you a chance for that. You need to fucking deliver. You have productions, you have fabrics. It’s just so much, and the process becomes very corrupted. I’m not going to ask what’s going to save the fashion system. It’s more about how I can make these pieces become something else. And it’s a process that is never-

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have an interesting example of an artist who, like you, connects art and fashion?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — Do you know the Italian artist Cinzia Ruggeri from the ’80s and ’90s? She used clothes and fashion as a site for art. Her work made me cry. The use of fabric is fucking amazing, the drape of it. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have another in mind?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — Meret Oppenheim. The show last year at MoMA was amazing. Her painting Stone Woman and her chokers made of bones… 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Does your work celebrate physicality?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — It’s about how we can change our point of view when we’re so distracted and disembodied by all this day-to-day life and technology, and how we confront this quick pace of living — maybe it’s with this impossible fashion. Maybe that’s the thing that can slow us down and give us a new gaze to engage with people.

OLIVIER ZAHM — We don’t communicate anymore because we are projected out of our bodies. 

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — You become disembodied. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — We are just information for data and video surveillance. [Laughs]

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — Yes. For me, it’s about stopping time. Even on the day of my opening, I saw new work and old work confronting each other. Someone came to the show wearing one of my old jackets. I had totally forgotten about it. The jacket was worn, and the color faded. But the scars are not a brokenness — they’re creating a new territory and a new point of observation between the threads of the materiality. So, it becomes part of this virtual world. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — And do you also believe that fashion can help push or stimulate a more progressive approach to sexuality and a genderless society?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — It can go both ways. Like anything that relates to trends, to repetition and accumulation, or to rituals, it creates strengths. It could go in different directions.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It could be very conservative, too.

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — Or just be a tool for selling and not go into actual depth about what it means or what you want to say. In the end, it starts to be about naming and identifying people and things. We name things so that we can possess them. I don’t think we need to name anything. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Would you say that your clothes and your work are genderless? 

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — Yes. It works for both.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think about gender when you design a jacket or a shoe?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — No, and I think it can change daily. Some days you feel more one way, and other days you feel another way. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a fixed thing. It’s like the raw hide that I used for a piece in the show. It’s this fragility. Nothing is static, and it becomes something else and then something else again. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, which designers do you really like in fashion today?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — I really don’t see fashion shows that much. Comme des Garçons will always be Comme des Garçons. It’s something beautiful. Also, Glenn Martens who did very well in the last collections. I used to love Walter Van Beirendonck. But even in Mexico now, you can see interesting fashion shows. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think that it’s possible to disrupt the system?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — The system is not working. You need to have an alternative, and this takes a lot of money. It takes a lot of money to have a brand, big or small. So, you need to find other ways. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — You are lucky to be Mexican because you can observe this circus from a distance.

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — But I used to want to be part of the circus. I love fashion, although it is hard — I’m not saying it’s not. We just need to find new ways. The system is just kicking us in the fucking face every season. Why do we need new ideas, new fabrics, new silhouettes every season? Like, calm down. Maybe give us one for life, and maybe people can afford what you’re selling. It’s all about the company that needs to sell. Creativity is not a priority, and there’s no room for failure. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — When I go to Mexico City, I feel a breath of fresh air and a different approach to fashion and art. As a Mexican, what is your perspective?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — I guess people don’t expect Mexico City to be a fashion capital, so there isn’t this weight or this history. Mexico has a history of craftsmanship, for sure, but not all these designers that outlive us. There’s no weight on our shoulders from all these personalities. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — There’s a Mexican way of dressing, dancing, walking the street. There’s a mix of color and an authentic street fashion culture.

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — Yes, and the street fashion culture permeates. It goes inside the museums and houses and small exhibitions and galleries. And there’s a big community of young and older people who are trying to find their way into the cracks of the city.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What about this show in New York?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — It’s my first solo show in New York, although I had done other shows like VFILES and two CFDA [Council of Fashion Designers of America] presentations in New York. The last one was in 2017 or 2018. It was very much about fashion as a performative act. For me, this exhibition is something different. A show that lasts six weeks is very different from a performance that lasts an hour. I have the liberty of not being trained as an artist, so I can destroy certain things that artists cannot destroy, that they’re not permitted to touch or play with. They just want to be good at what they’re doing so they’re not taking risks with other mediums. Curiosity is what moves me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Would you consider working for a brand one day, if you had an offer?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — Where are the offers? [Laughs] I don’t know, maybe. You will lose some things and gain others, and it’s not going to go your way all the time. Sometimes even working with clients, the dynamic changes. And it’s good to change the dynamic sometimes, even in sex or whatever. But you need to understand that you will not always have control. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you feel after the success of your exhibition in New York?

BÁRBARA SÁNCHEZ-KANE — It’s all about new experiences that you need to take in, and not necessarily about the final product. If you care about the success of a show, you can fall into a formula. It’s about pulling the threads and pushing your boundaries and having a lot of fun doing it. Sometimes when I have a fashion show, the immediate next question is, “What’s next?” And you’re like, “What? I just presented five minutes ago.” [Laughs] You’re backstage, and people are like, “What’s next?”


[Table of contents]

The Essence of Fashion Issue #41 S/S 2024

Table of contents

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