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Fashion

Colombia fashion doyenne’s global expansion via Moda Operandi, and Cartagena, city where ‘you breathe the colours and music’

  • Silvia Tcherassi, who began as an interior designer before moving into fashion, has created her country’s first lifestyle brand
  • Her success in fashion capitals Milan and Paris has opened doors for other Latin American designers
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2018, 10:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 November, 2018, 6:38am

As recently as five years ago, Colombia, the South American country known for its vibrant culture and coffee plantations, made headlines for all the wrong reasons. From the illegal drug trade to the conflict between the government and FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), which officially only ended in 2016, the nation used to get a bad rap and was often described as one of the most dangerous places to visit.

In recent years, however, things have started to change. Cartagena, a city on the country’s Caribbean coast, has become one of the top destinations among the jet-setting elite, and the nation’s fashion creatives have also made great strides, both at home and internationally.

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You’ve probably heard of luxury leather-goods house Nancy Gonzalez and fashion label Johanna Ortiz, which have both built a strong presence in the United States and are now coveted brands around the world.

Another Colombian designer who’s expanding her presence outside Colombia is Silvia Tcherassi, who started her business more than 25 years ago and has created Colombia’s first full-fledged lifestyle brand.

With a worldwide presence, 16 stores (13 in her home country, two in Miami, Florida, and one in Madrid, Spain), a line of home decor and two hotels in buzzy Cartagena, Tcherassi has built a mini empire, and become the undisputed doyenne of Colombian fashion.

She started out as an interior designer and never trained in fashion, which “came naturally to her”, as she explains when we meet in Paris, where she is showing her spring-summer 2019 collection. Ensconced in a suite at Le Meurice with her son Mauricio, who also works for the brand, Tcherassi is clad in one of her colourful boho-chic dresses, surrounded by racks filled with the statement silhouettes and vibrant patterns of her latest range.

Of her journey from interior design to fashion and how she combines the two in her work, she is unequivocal. “It’s all about good taste, colours, mix and match, and the vision. I’m a fashion designer but I also do interiors because I enjoy dressing tables and spaces as well as people. It’s all the same for me. I have a beautiful hotel in Cartagena and it was incredible for me to translate my fashion sense into that hotel,” Tcherassi explains.

“I opened it six years ago and it’s been very successful. Last year I opened a second one in Cartagena, which is a magical city. You can breathe the colours and music there and the mix of so many things. It’s a window into the world and it’s a happy place with good energy.

“I translated my fashion vision into my hotels. The rooms, for instance, are inspired by my collections and the fabrics of the lamps in the room are the same I used for some of my skirts.”

The brand, which is a family business, has a very strong presence in its home country but has only recently started to expand to other stores, such as online retailer Moda Operandi, which has just collaborated with the label for an exclusive holiday collection.

“We have a loyal clientele and we dress mothers and daughters in Colombia,” says Mauricio. “But we only started doing wholesale a year and a half ago, after I joined the company. Before, we only sold through our bricks-and-mortar stores, which are still very important for us.”

They are particularly happy to be working with Moda Operandi. “They have a great platform,” says Mauricio. “[Co-founder] Lauren Santo Domingo is a visionary. Everything she does has a magic touch. Being a partner with Moda gives you exposure to this whole world that they have and opens a lot of doors for designers.”

Tcherassi and her son describe their flagship store in Bogota, Colombia’s capital, as the country’s “most beautiful luxury shop” and are both proud of creating a high-end line that is made in Colombia.

“Colombia has always been known for its manufacturing – some of the biggest fashion companies manufacture in Colombia – so it’s really high level,” says Mauricio. “Our fabrics come from Italy so it’s a luxury price, but compared to other European designers we have a competitive price point.”

Based between Miami and her hometown of Barranquilla in Colombia, Tcherassi leads the jet-setting life that embodies her label, travelling to Italy at least twice a year to develop her original prints in Como and spending her holidays in Mediterranean spots such as Sardinia.

However, she is still close to her Colombian roots and produces all her pieces in the country, which she is happy to see shine in the spotlight after years of anonymity.

“I’m so happy and proud because I was the first Latin-American designer to show at Milan Fashion Week and then Paris Fashion Week,” she says. “I’m proud that I opened doors for other Colombian designers.”

With the seal of approval from influential retailers such as Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and Moda Operandi worldwide, it’s clear that Silvia Tcherassi is ready to claim its spot as Colombia’s foremost luxury brand.

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It is a success story that is perhaps a sign of more great things to come from the formerly beleaguered Latin American country.