"This new generation of fashion designers is amazing"
Interview with Eva Hughes
CEO of Condé Nast Mexico and Latin America, Eva Hughes believes Mexico's young designers are talented enough to take the international runways by storm.
Discipline and determination are the secrets behind the professional accomplishments of Eva Hughes, CEO of Condé Nast Mexico and Latin America.
Spanish by birth, Hughes started out as an editor. In the US, she had the chance to work on the Mexican edition of Vogue, first as editorial director and, since 2002, as general director of the magazine for Latin America.
On arriving in Mexico, she discovered home-grown fashion designers who use textures, color and the collective imagination to make garments with international potential. This wealth of untapped talent prompted Hughes and her team to set themselves the goal of "making Mexico fashionable", a catchphrase that encompasses an ambitious undertaking.
In interview with Negocios, Eva Hughes talks about fashion and her personal goals.
—How do you perceive the outlook for fashion design in Mexico?
In Mexico, fashion and design have undergone a transformation in the last decade or so, which I believe can be attributed to the convergence of several factors. A few years back, in 2007, when I was director of Vogue, we did the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. It was a way of discovering local talent, the industry's needs and platforms and of understanding what was going on from a behind-the-scenes perspective.
Since then, several things have happened. Perhaps the most important of these is that international brands have started investing in Mexico. Also, the country's department stores have grown and transformed, making fashion more accessible to the average consumer and creating a special interest in original, Mexican fashion.
Mexico's designers also deserve some of the credit. Not only have they worked hard to keep up with international trends but also they've started focusing more on the business side and now understand it's not enough to make pretty clothes but that you have to offer quality garments at accessible prices and produce in proportion to demand.
In terms of the industry's outlook, I'd say there are several vanguard platforms in Mexico, like Google+Fashion, and competitions like Who's on Next, that have brought designers together to create an experience and introduce fashion to a mass market.
—How do you perceive young talent in Mexico?
This new generation of fashion designers is amazing. They have a different way of seeing things. They still have a long road to travel but they're headed in the right direction.
—What changes have put Mexico on the fashion map?
Mexico's relations with other countries have helped a great deal. Economic liberalization and free trade agreements are just some of the factors that have established Mexico as a strong exporter and not just of fashion.
Proximity to the US and political stability are other important reasons. Where there is political stability, there is social stability and greater security for foreign investors. The US is a major investor in Mexico and despite repeated crises, the freeing up of trade looks set to continue.
Another advantage is that the country's fashion business has the potential to expand to Europe and Asia.
Finally, there's no question Mexico is very well positioned in Latin America.
—How close are you to reaching your goal of making Mexico fashionable?
It's a goal that excites and motivates us here at Vogue. When we started out in 2007, we aimed to make Mexico fashionable at home. That year we didn't invite any international celebrities; we focused exclusively on Mexican fashion. Making Mexico fashionable internationally is easier than making it fashionable on our home turf and that's what we're working on: making Mexico fashionable among Mexicans.
Mexico enjoys enormous international prestige because it's an extraordinary country, famous for its people, hospitality, color, traditions, film, art… An endless list of positive things defines Mexico abroad. In 2007, the question was whether we thought as highly of ourselves as the rest of the world did, hence the slogan "Let's make Mexico fashionable."
—You've said before that people are always asking you about Mexico when you travel abroad. What kind of things are they curious to know?
I'm always being asked about Mexico but, more specifically, about the presence of international brands here. I think there's a healthy sense of envy among countries and that things are changing for the better. For example, just five years ago Mexico didn't have much of a presence in Colombia. Back then, the question was "What's going on in Mexico? What's going on there in the fashion world?" Today, Mexico's presence is much more tangible.
Mexican designers have been so successful abroad because they haven't forgotten their culture and roots, but have incorporated them into modern day couture. By the same token, Mexicois well known among international designers of the stature of Jean Paul Gaultier and Gucci, who were inspired by Frida Kahlo, for instance. It's something that fascinates people and it's great that Mexico has something to contribute to the rest of the world in that respect.
—What events have added to the value of Mexican fashion?
As director of Vogue magazine, I can assure you we are committed to Mexico's young designers. We plan to continue investing in these rising stars of Mexican fashion, proof of which is the Who's on Next competition, which is gaining a reputation and prestige in the fashion world.
Young designers like Lorena Saravia, winner of the last edition of Who's on Next, need a push in the right direction, an incentive to keep on chasing their dreams, because they're all predestined to change the face of Mexican fashion, to place it on the runways of the world's major capital cities. Mexican designers are part of our universe and we're more than satisfied with the results of the competition.
Ours is a wonderful, fascinating world. We have people with dreams and enthusiasm but they also need to have the ability to manage a business, hire employees, market their product, and sign on partners... Sometimes designers know what they want but it takes more than talent to make it in the fashion business and that's what we're all working toward.
—Under the present circumstances, what challenges does fashion design face in Mexico?
Raw materials constitute a major challenge. When the raw material is more expensive compared to prices on other markets, designers are hard pushed to offer competitive prices. Access to more reasonably priced raw materials would be a huge step forward.
There's no denying Mexico's designers have talent and the will to succeed but I'd say training is lacking, so more established young designers can set up long-term business ventures.
Luckily, in the case of Lorena Saravia, winner of the last edition of Who's on Next, this designer has been able to build up a social stock with the backing of ProMéxico and other sponsors. Now, with the exposure she got in Vogue, she has an interesting network of contacts and has taken orders that will no doubt allow her to take it to the next level. It's hard to transcend if you don't get out there, if you don't travel and network, if you don't cross borders.
—What does ProMéxico's participation in Who's on Next mean to Vogue?
Their support has been invaluable. We are determined to do Mexico proud, to export talent and do our best to project a positive image of the country. That is where ProMéxico comes in. Their advice and support have been vital in our mission to get Mexico noticed in the fashion world in all its glory.
We're grateful that the government has taken such an interest in promoting and advocating young designers. And when I say young, I don't mean they're new to the industry but that they need a helping hand, some recognition, to make it to the top.
—How has winning Who's on Next changed the course of Lorena Saravia's career?
The road to success is a long one. Transformations don't take three months; they take time. We're still waiting, biding our time and accompanying Lorena Saravia and the other two finalists, Yakampot and Sandra Weil, on their journey because we believe all three have enormous potential. Lorena Saravia, for instance, is an established young talent. She has a practical, commercial approach, yet is classified as artistic, which is a great balance. Also, she has a clear cut business plan for her brand and we are confident she and the other two finalists are going to go far, each in their own way.