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Bárbara Sánchez-Kane Mexican fashion gender fluid
Sánchez-Kane AW20 'Latino Couture'Photography Sandra Blow

Sánchez-Kane is the Mexican label exploring sex, masculinity, and machismo

Bárbara Sánchez-Kane draws on her heritage to create subversive, binary-defying collections

Examining fluidity, gender, sexuality, and the overarching binary is often done through the lens of the Western world’s perception of femininity. Not one to follow the status quo, Bárbara Sánchez-Kane, the designer behind Sánchez-Kane, instead examines Mexican machismo and masculinity through her beautifully tailored but wholly subversive gender boundary-blurring clothing. 

Brought up in a small, rural Mexican town by her American mother, Sánchez-Kane studied fashion design at Polimoda in Florence, with her graduate collection catching the attention of Vogue Italia, who labelled her a designer to watch. Soon after, she trained under German iconoclast Bernhard Wilhelm in Los Angeles before being asked to show her first collection, Courage of the Brave at LA Fashion Week in 2016.  

When it comes to her work, Sánchez-Kane draws not only on her Mexican heritage but also the pain she and those around her have suffered due to the culture’s entrenched machismo. “We don’t talk a lot about women’s sexuality in Mexico. It’s still very taboo,” she explains to Dazed over the phone. 

Despite the oppression faced by both genders, her label is a visceral exhibition of sex, emotion, and tenderness. With oversized tailoring featuring peekaboo cut-outs, Lucha Libre masks, and brilliantly bizarre accessories, all these eccentricities are part of the label’s DNA (case in point: the cheesegrater platform heels that landed back in 2019).

With Sánchez-Kane showing her latest collection, Latino Couture, at the Museo Experimental El Eco gallery in Mexico City this weekend, here, we catch up with the designer to discuss the Mexican creative scene, balancing fashion and art, and dressing the likes of Björk and Future.

You grew up in Mexico and lived in LA for a while. Where are you based now? 

Bárbara Sánchez-Kane: I am from Mérida, which is in the South of Mexico, but I moved to Mexico City a year ago. At first I was scared about my creative process being changed because I was working very well in Mérida. But we would have to come to Mexico City all the time for production, photos and all that, so it was time for me to move here. In moving here, a lot of things have evolved and the insights that I’ve gained have helped the brand become more oriented to art. Since being here, I started working with galleries and exhibitions and that was a big change. 

Could you tell me a little about the ways in which your focus has shifted to art? 

Bárbara Sánchez-Kane: I started the year with the Sánchez-Kane collection and a presentation in Mexico, before exhibiting at the Palais de Tokyo back in June. Earlier this year, I put on my first solo exhibition in Mexico at my space, the Licenciado Gallery, with around 17 sculptures and objects going on show. Although I call them ‘objetos absurdos’ rather than sculptures. They represent my day, as they are the objects that surround me, and I form new constellations with them. I also did more exhibitions with my friend Nika (Chilewich), who’s a curator and created a show called Bliss, made up of only women artists. It was all orientated around a beauty salon and I did an interpretation of an ironing board in a tantric chair.

What was the significance of that?

Bárbara Sánchez-Kane: In Mexico, if you say ‘iron’ it means having sex – or ‘planchar’. It’s very explicit. So it was about taking all these objects that society has said are for women – which is bullshit – and changing that. In Mexico, we don’t talk about women’s sexuality that much as we’re still living in a country that is very much male-oriented. It was nice to play with that and say women can be in touch with their sexual side, too.

What inspired you to focus your art on women’s sexuality?

Bárbara Sánchez-Kane: Even when I get a message on the Sánchez-Kane Instagram, most people think the label is run by two men. And I’m like, why do they think Sánchez-Kane are two men? So I started digging into that and I realised it might be because Sánchez-Kane is very sexual, and they think sexuality comes from men’s brains. From there, I was determined because we don’t talk a lot about women’s sexuality in Mexico. It’s still very taboo. 

How do you balance Barbara, the artist and Sánchez-Kane, the brand?

Bárbara Sánchez-Kane: They cross over but it’s the same person. I don’t think about how the art is going to give to the clothes or how the clothes are going to give to the art because it’s the same heart, the same mind. 

Sometimes during the process of producing an exhibition, there are elements that inspire the brand, you know? This year Monse Castera (MOMO productions) got this huge building that was about to be torn down for my show, Las Puertas Al Sentimentalismo in Mexico. The building itself was a piece of art, but we covered everything in foil and made it look like a tropical gold Island in the middle of Mexico City. I got my girlfriend (Morena Valdés) to sing while the models were walking and I was breaking a block of ice on the runway. 

“I don’t think about how the art is going to give to the clothes or how the clothes are going to give to the art because it’s the same heart, the same mind” – Bárbara Sánchez-Kane

This show was so emotional it made me realise I wanted to break fashion down in order to make a statement but also make people feel something. It could come from something beautiful or something ugly, but it would make you feel. I remember during that show I turned around and I saw people crying. That’s what clothes should do, it shouldn’t just be about producing things. This is what I want to keep doing, creating an ambience where the clothes are welcome. It was very emotional, to like see people crying during a runway show. 

I read somewhere, that after Future wore one of your pieces, and ever since you’ve had a slew of celebrities pulling your designs. Who has been a recent highlight?

Bárbara Sánchez-Kane: I did an internship with Bernard Wilhelm in LA and he is very good friends with Björk. So when she came to Mexico for the Cornucopia concert tour, her stylist contacted me. She asked to pull some things, but I didn’t think Björk would actually come to the studio. I open the door and it’s actually her! She was amazed by everything in my studio – which was filled with my sculptures too – and it was a very cool interaction because she got to see that I did more than clothes. It was a fucking amazing experience. 

Is there anyone else that has made an impression on how you design and work?

Bárbara Sánchez-Kane: One artist that I met this year was Sarah Lucas. I had an amazing conversation with her during the LA opening of her solo show. It was refreshing to share each other’s creative process and how everything that surrounds us is family to our work.

Tell me about your AW20 collection. What was the inspiration or themes? 

Bárbara Sánchez-Kane: The collection is called Latino Couture and was shown at the Museo Experimental El Eco. This is going to be the first collection where I designed it all. Normally I start with two outfits, which has been my process since I started in fashion but for this collection, it was just there immediately. I’m still talking about Macho Sentimental, so it’s the same experience of my other collections, but I’m integrating objects from Mexican culture. 

I actually adore taking photos with my phone, not professionally, just with my phone. I like going onto the Metro, turning around and seeing ladies wearing these amazing jackets or shirts with details or an Uber driver that arrives wearing an amazing parka. So the mood board for the collection is made up of details I’ve seen from different people on the streets of Mexico. This year, because I’ve been doing a lot of installations and performances, I’ve had news ways of showing my emotion through objects. So this collection has more sentimentality than others, for sure. 

What is the Mexican fashion scene like?

Bárbara Sánchez-Kane: For me, it’s a privilege to be part of Mexican creative culture. I can say it is a city where you see a lot of collaboration and we are always proud when a Mexican realises their dreams. There are a couple of brands with their own identity and that is a very important starting point because you create a world where you invite people to join, in my case the Macho Sentimentales. There is more openness for different aesthetics for brands and models here. Since moving to Mexico City a year ago my work has been inspired by all the collaboration from sculpture to even acting in a play.

What themes are you going to explore next through your work? 

Bárbara Sánchez-Kane: Well, I think now in Mexico the most important things that we need to talk about feminicidios. (femicide, the murder of women because of gender, kills 12 women daily in Latin America according to the UN.) The rate of which has been going up and up, not down. It’s very sad to see that in Mexico, they describe protests as ‘Oh look at these women putting up graffiti and murals’, then you see footage of New York from the women’s marches and it’s framed differently. Instead, it’s ‘Look at these women fighting for their rights’. These are such different perspectives. But in reality, it’s happening to me, it’s happening to others, and walking alone in the streets is not even safe.