Long Live Latin America

Thursday, September 1, 2016

If Brazilians captivated New Yorkers in the nineties and Russians were the group to watch in the “naughties,” then the newest crop of people who fascinate are the Colombians. The 2016 marriage between Lady Charlotte Wellesley and Colombian Alejandro Santo Domingo placed the country and its stylish exports firmly in the spotlight. Fiercely nationalistic, this is a group of people who combine old-fashioned glamour and an unapologetic love of a good time. And there is no point at which the Colombians and New Yorkers overlap more than in their shared love of fashion.

Now, two well-connected young Colombian women have joined forces to form a gateway between burgeoning Latin American fashion brands and the New Yorkers keen to wear them.

CREO Consulting is the brainchild of cousins Giovanna Campagna and Cloclo Echavarria, who see growing interest from sophisticated consumers who want to wear global fashion brands. Their company acts as an incubator to young Latin American and Colombian designers who might not have had the opportunity to crack the international apparel market, or the knowledge of how to do so.

They both know their audience and their consumers well. Giovanna grew up in New York in an apartment her parents had at the Carlyle Hotel and attended the Spence School, St. Paul’s School and Princeton. While getting her master’s degree in Latin American art at the Courtauld Institute in London, she started spending more and more time with her cousin, Cloclo, whose education was mostly in Europe. She lived in Miami until she was 6 before heading to Switzerland for boarding school, eventually returning to the United States to attend Boston University.

Both women worked in fashion and events after college, Giovanna under Sylvana Ward Durrett at Vogue and then for Stefano Tonchi at W and Cloclo as a creative adviser to events companies.

Interestingly, although neither of the women lived as adults in Colombia full-time, they descend from a successful industrial family with strong ties throughout the country. After college they began regularly spending their vacations in Cartagena and Barranquilla. There, they’d pick up clothes or accessories from talented young designers, and when wearing them out on the town were besieged by friends asking where they got such cool, unique designs and demanding to know where to find such treasures for themselves. As most of the brands could only be found locally, Giovanna and Cloclo started to think about how to bring these designers to a broader market.

Hence, CREO Consulting was born. Their mission as a company is to advise brands on everything from how to present their collections, to producing their lookbooks, to pitching to the international press. They are based in London and New York. “In New York we have a main showroom which is basically where we keep all the collections and pitch them to retailers,” Cloclo explains. “CREO means ‘I believe’ in Spanish. This is the belief we have in these brands. We would like retailers and press to also believe in them.”

Indre Rockefeller, wearing Isolda. @CREOConsulting, Instagram
Indre Rockefeller, wearing Isolda. @CREOConsulting, Instagram

Another thing the two cousins believe strongly in is the rise of Colombia since the end of a decades-long war with FARC, the guerrilla group that terrorized the country for decades. A stable political situation, gold mines, natural resources and reasonable proximity to the United States (a JetBlue flight is only four and a half hours away and has just a one-hour time difference from New York) all point to a good place for dollar investments. When you add that to a hugely underreported resource, the extraordinary diligence of the Colombian people (“People are always shocked to see that it’s very normal to have a 7 a.m. meeting,” says Cloclo wryly), you have a place ripe with opportunity, and word on the street is that the hedge fund community are taking meetings down there like it was Dubai ’03.

All of this points to Cloclo and Giovanna catching the wave at just the right time for a fashion investment opportunity.

Their list of brands is growing: so far they have Piamita, Pepa Pombo, Hunting Season, Magnetic Midnight, Mercedes Salazar, Mola Sasa, Carmelinas and Isolda.

When it comes to choosing the firms they will represent, CREO is very picky, with good reason. They are determined showcase brands that can incorporate the rich tradition of artisanal craftsmanship that Colombia is known for but whose products don’t look like some cheap straw bag you bought on holiday: “We want the quality to be competitive on the global level and with the other things we find in Bergdorf Goodman,” says Giovanna. Bergdorf’s just happens to be one of CREO’s early supporters, as is Moda Operandi, the online retailer founded by Lauren Santo Domingo (married to another Colombian, Andres). Fivestory, Kirna Zabête and Armarium, the luxury-clothing service app, are the other retailers who stock CREO’s brands.

Margherita Missoni, wearing a Magnetic Midnight headpiece and Giovanna Battaglia. @CREOConsulting Instagram
Margherita Missoni, wearing a Magnetic Midnight headpiece and Giovanna Battaglia. @CREOConsulting Instagram

Giovanna and Cloclo love a good backstory too. For instance, the designer behind the high-end headpiece brand Magnetic Midnight found a small group of artisans on the Pacific coast of Colombia who were expert weavers and had them create the pieces, and then founded a family business that would dip anything in gold. The results were so unique and interesting that trendsetters like Margherita Missoni wore one to Giovanna Battaglia’s rehearsal dinner.

Another brand CREO is very proud of is Mola Sasa, who make artisanal clutches by an indigenous group called the Kuna. The designer, Yasmin Sabet, creates signature bags known as molas. She employs female craftswomen in the local community, and has a social responsibility streak: she teaches her employees life skills, as well as information about their own health and how to run their businesses. Giovanna adds, “What we love about that is that it’s helping to sustain these practices.”

The women are passionate about their wish to help change New Yorkers’ perceptions about Colombia: “Because we had such a bad reputation for so long, we want to make sure that anyone who passes through has the best time possible,” says Cloclo. And they are clearly extremely hospitable to anyone adventurous enough to make their way down there, like Claire Distenfeld of Fivestory did last year. She was rewarded by an invitation to one of Cloclo’s legendary New Year Eve parties (always attended by various members of the Santo Domingo clan) and from all accounts it sounds like she had the trip of a lifetime. There is clearly a great time to be had, as the women recount stories of cabalgatas, picnics spent on horseback, sometimes with a radio attached to saddles for extra atmosphere, and late-night salsa dancing fueled by the national drink, aguardiente. “In Colombia no matter who you are, if you are the president’s son or the farmer’s daughter, you’ll be drinking aguardiente,” says Cloclo.

Laura de Gunzburg, wearing Pepa Pombo, @CREOConsulting, Instagram
Laura de Gunzburg, wearing Pepa Pombo, @CREOConsulting, Instagram

Colombia sounds like it could be the new Caribbean, even if its troubles aren’t entirely fixed. Cloclo has the final word on the topic: “Colombia, despite all its imperfections, is an amazing country. There is terrible traffic and the weather in Bogotá [the capital city] is not much better than London’s, and yet there is something magical about it. People still want to dance. Even with the levels of poverty, people are still smiling, we’re still known to be one of the happiest countries in the world, yet we’re never known to be one of the richest.”

It sounds like the last part might change, but hopefully the Colombians will still keep smiling.

Photographs by Billal Taright

Styled by Maria Cecilia B. Campos

Fashion production by Estefania Hageman

Hair and makeup by Rosita Di and Delphine Bonnet


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