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Fashion Week: Notes from ColombiaModa in Medellin

July 28, 2009

Six months ago the hottest tickets in Medellin were to hear U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner or Bill Clinton address the InterAmerican Development Bank’s 50thAnnual Summit Meeting, but this week the long lines are to see the stunning models and hot fashions on the runway during ColombiaModa’s fashion week.  Colombia’s busy fashion industry designers and models are mobbing the city, led by PR firms, fed by cool restaurateurs, and entertained by leggy models in lingerie and swimwear.  All reports are of improved sales, high attendance by foreign buyers, and great exposure for a major local industry.

But the real story is business. Manufacturers, and firms selling top quality men’s and ladies wear. Young entrepreneurs with boundless energy and truly novel creations worked frenetically alongside hard-nosed exporters of top quality fashions like Everfit and Leonisa.  Marithe et Francois Girbaud held a fashion show in the upscale Oviedo mall.

Juan Manuel Barrientos from super-chic restaurant Blanco de Elcielo boasted, over a split of rose champagne, of his honored guest chef last night, Iwao Komiyama, one of the greatest Japanese chefs outside Japan, under whom Juan Manuel (or “Juanma” he quickly offers in great English) studied in Argentina. Juan Manuel may look like he’s barely old enough to drink at the bar of his new restaurant, but he has studied under some of the best in the business in South America and in Spain, and received top chef awards, including best new chef in the country, and best chef with a conscience for his work with various foundations.  Blanco de Elcielo is on a quiet shaded street above the Lleras Park in the tony El Poblado section of Medellin, along with several chic new restaurants and sophisticated lounges that would be at home in Coral Gables, South Beach, or New York.  Cleverly, however, he opened a temporary installation at the trade show that was the “see-and-be-seen” center.  Confirming his intensity, when we were comparing apartments and the all-important professional, he described his as a “kitchen with a bed in it.”  Natural, healthy, chic, and quite inventive, his menu and the décor of his restaurant announced for itself that Juan Manuel is seeking US investors to expand into the US, in Miami and, of course, New York.  It promises to stand apart.

Lina Hinestroza, of Tripartita Comunicaciones, is promoting various designers and invited us as her special guest o a fashion show in the Botanical Gardens’ Orchideorama. The event was at once slick, futuristic, and bold, while natural, easy, and comfortable. The runway was studded with semi-completed wall frames, as confident models walked in and among the architecture, adorned with bulbous hair pieces and laser-cut and close-fitting but vaguely traditional fashions.  Executives in smart suits were accompanied by alluring women of all ages. Lina is a hard-working, proud, and successful business woman who knows how to connect everyone.  With the strength of the local economy and the growth of Medellin after the end of the violence, Tripartita Comunicaciones promises to be very successful.

Richard Ruiz Jimenez, the head of commercial operations in Medellin for the Grupo Taca airlines, and a pilot, took time away from promoting competition in the airlines as travel to Colombia continues to build, to escort a talented designer to the Orchideorama fashion show. Passenger travel is increasingly rapidly to Medellin and all parts of Colombia, thanks to a virtually complete end to the violence.  Everyone seems to be feeling the open air and seizing the moment. Several new hotels have opened.  Afterward, everyone was walked through the rainforest exhibit and shown samples of products by Natura, which exemplified a dominant theme here that elegance goes perfectly with natural products, and sustainability.

Inexmoda produces ColombiaModa, which has all the look and feel of many of the Bryant Park fashion shows in our neighboring Bryant Park during “Seventh on Sixth” Fashion Weeks.  Like many in the fashion industry, they are concerned about sales and profits, which are clearly down in the recession, but signs are that Colombia is less affected in this respect than many other countries.  It has a significantly less leveraged economy, low labor unit costs and high-quality in worker talent and manufacturing capacity, plus rapid freight transport to almost anywhere in the world, having ports on the Pacific and the Atlantic.

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