Purple Magazine
— The Mexico Issue #36 F/W 2021

victor barragán

photography by BELLA NEWMAN
interview and portraits by ALEPH MOLINARI
style by MASHA ORLOV

ALEPH MOLINARI — Has Mexico changed much? Do you see something different each time you come back from New York?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — It has changed a lot, thanks to the Internet and the way you can show your work outside of Mexico. When I started, I was using Tumblr and Instagram, and a lot of people got to know me that way. There was a connection both inside and outside of Mexico, and now many Mexican designers and artists have exposure. The city has also become a site for cultural exchange all over the world.

ALEPH MOLINARI — And what inspires you in Mexico?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — The people, and how politics and ideas of gender are so in sync with the times. They’re creating new spaces, new ways of communicating ideas and supporting each other. Artists and creatives are learning how to communicate their work in their own language. I felt a rush when I moved to New York, where people are constantly creating, coming and going. Now, people have that in Mexico. It’s about creating a community and moving together.

ALEPH MOLINARI — You left Mexico to start your brand. What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered, working here?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — I come from a family that could not support me to start my own brand, so I had to find other ways of financing my projects. I had a lot of support from people outside of Mexico who were buying my art and t-shirts. The problem in Mexico is that people don’t have the purchasing power to buy luxury products or art. There is little support for education, and many people can’t afford to study art or design. But now, the Internet enables people to showcase their work online. Young people understand this and are creating their own ways of financing their careers as

ALEPH MOLINARI — Apart from the Internet, how did you get the brand off the ground?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — My parents have a taquería [taco stand], and they instilled a work ethic. I started working with them, and I invested everything they paid me into buying materials to create my clothes. Slowly, the demand grew, and
I needed help to print, send products, and organize the inventory, so I started working with friends. When I got to New York City, I had to organize my migration status and living situation. I took freelance jobs in everything I could, eventually landing a job doing product photography for Opening Ceremony. I met everyone at the office, and the creatives loved what I did. Then I decided to organize a fashion show at a bar on Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side. I posted a photo teaser online; since I had a following for my photography and conceptual clothing, a lot of people came out to the show, including Dazed, i-D, and Paper magazines, so it got a lot of exposure. Everybody loved it and found it fun and crazy. The brand took off organically.

ALEPH MOLINARI — How do you manage living and working between two worlds? What do you take from each place?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — Being from Mexico, I translate my references and experiences and incorporate them into my own vocabulary. Mexicans get the references, but they can seem somewhat foreign to others. In Mexico, there is humor and sarcasm: we love to make fun of everything, yet see everything in a positive light. Moving to New York was a very intense experience
because of the color of my skin and the adaptation process. I interpret my cultural shock by translating my experience and what I see outside of Mexico. There’s a big gap between the Mexican and American cultures, and within that is the Mexican-American culture. People who’ve been raised as American are all in this gap where we don’t understand each other as a country, and now we are all in a struggle against white supremacy. We all have a small vestige of trauma as Mexicans living in the US. We are all in this. That’s what inspires me: that there is a social and artistic community that wants to move forward together and eliminate racism.

ALEPH MOLINARI — I love that aspect of your work, and that you can feel the street. There are elements of kitsch, traces of piracy and of the markets. How do subcultures and urban tribes manifest in your work?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — I grew up in Villa Coapa, a working-class neighborhood in Mexico City. As a kid, my older brothers used to take me to El Chopo, an informal street market where punks and goths traded films and music. I was always seeing and hearing what they were experiencing. I went through all the stages: punk, electronic music, raves. They introduced me to the films of David Lynch. I wouldn’t have those references if it weren’t for them. Mexico City has thousands of subcultures and layers, and I grew up absorbing everything like a sponge. All of these experiences inspired the work that I’ve been creating.

ALEPH MOLINARI — Mexican-ness is at the forefront of your campaigns, with a selection of models who reveal a Mexican beauty that historically has been segregated by class or looked down upon because of colonialism. Does your brand propose an alternative history in which Mexico was never conquered?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — I never saw people who looked like me in ads or on TV, unless they were stereotypes of brown-skinned Mexicans. So, I started taking photos of myself and of my friends wearing my clothes. My intention was to show people who looked like me — to remove that whitewash. Now that the brand has taken on a bigger dimension abroad, we have to talk about other people who have been segregated in other parts of the world. The brand has a strong presence on social media because people identify with it. They really understand the message: you create your own community.

ALEPH MOLINARI — Especially now that that nerve is so sensitive.
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — Yes. It’s so good that that conversation has taken off. Many movements outside of Mexico, like Black Lives Matter, have helped spark the conversation here. Because of this, I feel that young people are super-awake and participative. People are angry and want to combat oppression.

ALEPH MOLINARI — Your clothes become a site for new expressions of identity and gender, where sizing doesn’t matter. How do the LGBTQ scene and other subcultures influence the way in which your brand breaks barriers?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — This came about with my friends, who have always inspired me. I have many trans friends with different bodies, in all colors, shapes, and sizes. So, I always tried things on them… Our casting became very diverse because we wanted everyone to feel comfortable.

ALEPH MOLINARI — It was like a game.
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — Exactly. And everyone was invited to play… Being gay or trans doesn’t mean that you have to be sexualized, dressed a certain way, or appear naked. It’s something that has been conditioned. The spectrum is wider than that. We like to speak with the models and see if they like the clothes. The idea is to not use the models as if they were objects, to give them a voice in the show so that they can be part of the message.

ALEPH MOLINARI — Which artists and designers do you identify with?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — I don’t know if you’ve heard of Rafa Esparza? I met him when he was installing his work at the Whitney. He was one of the first people I met in LA who had the same message as I did. The way in which he has broken taboos of being a Mexican-American in the US has inspired me a lot. Technically, Miuccia Prada is one of my biggest inspirations. I love her idea of mixing technology, experimenting, and being avant-garde.

ALEPH MOLINARI — Is this something that you’ve integrated into your brand?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — Yes, I like to challenge myself in every collection and show. If you enclose yourself in what you already know, you will eventually hit a wall. I noticed the experimentation very early on in Prada’s shows. How they take something not totally obvious or classical, and they decontextualize the elements and materials — they reinvent them. That is an inspiration for Barragán. I started taking things that maybe were not seen as art or luxury, changing the context, and adding my seal to create a new product.

ALEPH MOLINARI — You also work on recontextualizing the public school uniform.
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — I took the public school uniform and started experimenting, changing its form, the patterns and the message. The uniform can be a truly oppressive garment. It’s a symbol that assigns you to a specific class and position in society. I felt the need to change that class symbol by changing its context and the colors. And we placed it in Opening Ceremony. Now, someone from outside of Mexico can use this uniform in a completely different context, thus creating a new message.

ALEPH MOLINARI — And the clown shoes?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — I found it fascinating to see the clowns on the street on my way to school, asking for money. You never quite knew if they were going to mug you or not. The idea of the clown as an archetype that’s between tragedy and comedy has always been present in Mexican culture. I took the clown shoes, changed their form, added better materials, and gave them a context in a fashion show. This way of recontextualizing elements creates a conversation about not taking things too seriously, and how we should be more open to integrating other people.

ALEPH MOLINARI — Tell me about your monograph and logo.
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — I’m a big fan of Mexican architecture and began investigating where the logo of El Camino Real comes from. It was originally done by Lance Wyman, who also did the graphic identity for the subway in Mexico City and the logo for the 1968 Olympics. I love his work. He went to Chichén Itzá, where he saw a Maya glyph, and he rearranged it. I followed the graphic exercise of how he arrived at the logo, and I questioned why they hired someone from outside of Mexico to do the graphic identity for the most important cultural spaces and events in Mexico. I came to the conclusion that in Mexico everything is bootlegged, stolen, changed, reappropriated. So, I decided to reappropriate the logo that was created by someone from outside of Mexico. People from Mexico understand the idea, while others think it’s Fendi because it references an era of graphics used by big fashion houses. We are not a luxury brand, but we wanted to create our own logo. That’s the idea of the humor, but there is a deeper message of how we reappropriate things in Mexico.

ALEPH MOLINARI — You share a surname with Luis Barragán, one of Mexico’s biggest architects. Was he an inspiration?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — I actually studied architecture and industrial design. Then I began making t-shirts for the YtinifninfinitY brand, and it required so much attention that I decided to quit school. I was selling tons of t-shirts online and, on a whim, decided to dedicate myself fully to fashion. I love the architecture of Juan O’Gorman and Luis Barragán. These influences burned into my head… I feel like there’s a presence of homosexuality and Catholicism throughout
Barragán’s work, especially his convents and churches. Through his architecture, I can understand how he was oppressed, and I can relate his work to his experience. And I identified with that. That was the way we both understood our trauma and expressed it.

ALEPH MOLINARI — It’s amusing to think that we’re here now in the private garden of Luis Barragán, with this gym that you made… So, you sense repression or a latent homosexuality in his architecture?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — Yes. It’s the reason why nobody wants the full archive to be released. His houses are full of art made by his gay friends. All of the windows open toward the interior. He loved privacy and always had Catholic elements and crosses. Anyone who grew up gay in Mexico has experienced that Catholic guilt, so we all know that trauma and recognize those elements we grew up with. He never married or had children; nobody knew much about his sentimental partners. So, you start to think, “Why did he use a massive pink wall?” That was a time when people did not talk about homosexuality or anything close to LGBTQ, so painting a massive wall pink was a way to come out of the closet.

ALEPH MOLINARI — Is your gym a commentary on those themes?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — Growing up in Mexico, machismo culture is everywhere — on the streets, on TV, in your family. So, the idea behind the work is how men always need to look big and muscular. To create their own shield, to repress emotions. We can’t ask for help or be vulnerable. The conversation about toxic masculinity is reflected in this piece.

ALEPH MOLINARI — You seem to have a penchant for being irreverent and playing with context in unpredictable but fun ways. I remember seeing your Spring-Summer 2017 show, where the models pushed a giant faux boulder. I thought it was brilliant.
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — It was my favorite show. I created a massive rock based on the myth of Sisyphus. For two hours, the models — all dressed up in heels — would push the massive rock up the hill and let it roll back toward the audience and the photographers. The idea was to blur the line between fashion and performance art. It sounds like torture, but it was beautiful seeing the clothing and the models in a repetitive action. I love to provoke.

ALEPH MOLINARI — What’s the next direction for your work?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — The idea is to explore beyond fashion. I started producing more art pieces, like this gym titled “trenBolone.” Now that Barragán is its own entity, I want to do something that’s only Victor Barragán and have my own individual message.

ALEPH MOLINARI — Do you feel that fashion limits your creative possibilities?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — Yes. I have a business partner now, and we have to think about safe investments and if things will work. Everything is analyzed. In the fashion shows, I can still do my craziness, but I have to deliver a product that will sell, that has a price point that works and reaches a target — factors that I feel are limiting some of my creative expression. So, I want to work on a personal project where no one tells me what to do… I’m doing furniture now, and I want to create a design and architecture studio. I would love to have a luxury brand that has all types of products and to create a home lifestyle brand. The brand is open to experimentation.

ALEPH MOLINARI — And how do you see Mexico’s future in terms of fashion and new cultural and artistic expression?
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — I would like for there to be more programs to support the youth of Mexico. Doing so will cultivate what is happening here and make the industry grow. A lot of foreigners come to Mexico to invest, but the profit doesn’t stay here.

ALEPH MOLINARI — I love how you’re pushing Mexican identities and iconography into the world. The connection with New York is key in broadcasting this.
VICTOR BARRAGÁN — Yes, it’s a bridge. Since I’m here and there, I take the best of what I see from everywhere and create my own thing.




Cesar Acosta and Dahely Nunez, models —  Adam Maclay, hair Souhi Lee, make-up — Mark Aguilar, casting — Jasper Briggs, photographer’s assistant

[Table of contents]

The Mexico Issue #36 F/W 2021

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