—What motivated you to begin
this study? Do you personally like clothes?
—All women like clothes. We
may have more of a conscience about dressing than
men. That is a cultural and historical phenomenon,
though it hasn't been so at all times. But I entered
this study through art. While I was investigating
about culture and sculpture during Chile's Hispanic-Indian
times, I found in some documents dresses, suits,
all described with great detail. There were so
many references that it was clear that aesthetic
was then more present in suits than in paintings,
not just for the quantity and importance, but
also because of the price. During the 17th Century,
a nice suit could cost you the same as a house
close to Plaza Mayor (Madrid's main square). And
so, I saw nobody had worked about this issue in
Chile, with the exception of Fernando Marquez
de la Plata during the 30s. So I decided to throw
myself to the pool, thinking that if it was worth
it I would keep on swimming. I studied essays
about Fashion Psychology, by Humberto Eco, and
then I went to classic works about Fashion History.
I saw what an important topic it was, especially
during the Baroque.
—Do you think dressing should
be seen as part of our cultural heritage? What
is your opinion about fashion museums?
—It has to be part of our
cultural heritage. I think it is really interesting
there are Fashion Museums. I don't believe in
the division between major and minor Arts. This
separation started during the Illustration, in
the 18th Century. Previously, Art was not so much
connected to creativity but to a job, a handcraft.
Kant started with this Romantic idea of the artist
as genius. It is an idea that still survives,
so all that is handmade or useful stays on the
background. Clearly, during the 20th Century Fashion
as an Art form was vindicated. The Bauhaus architecture
or great masters like Mies Van Der Roe re-value
certain products like real Art works. A suit is
an aesthetical production the same as a painting.
In it you find a reflection about a way of being,
of thinking a time, a society.
—Can we say we find a Chilean
cultural heritage in dressing?
—We cannot pretend what's
Chilean to be typical. Chile has always been a
country inscribed in a larger Cosmo vision. Besides
its geographical isolation, Chileans have a marginality
complex. Everything that is done within the country
we think is poor, always comparing ourselves with
the outside. Chileans, especially those from the
elite, are very focused on the outside. That is
good when it allows you to be updated, but bad
if it produces a low valorization of what's done
here. We have always adapted from the outside.
What has been bequeathed from the past as a testimony,
even if it's not typically Chilean, must be maintained,
because there is no Chilean culture or Chilean
History away from the outside. There's exchange,
not just imitations, but relations and adaptations.
There are some very valuable elements.
—Which have been Chile's most important textile-fabrication centers?
—During the Colonial time it was forbidden for it to be textile industries. The King wanted to import all the products manufactured from Europe, sell them here and then take the raw materials back. At least, that was what the law said. But there were some textile works done at the South; at Valdivia, Chiloé, rugs from Chillán. Indians made their own clothing while the elites imported theirs. Sewers took ideas from foreign designs, making some adaptations. During the 19th Century there were no clothing factories but tailors who worked upon assignment. At the beginning of the 20th Century the first textile industries had a strong incentive, not just from the government but also because of the lack of resources after the First World War economic boycotts. The national industry was then strongly promoted.
—Do you think that, to some degree and even with the massive irruption of products and fashion, dressing is still a language for social differentiation?
—No, that was until the 60s. Not any more. It may be that the richest group has some differences about the quality of the knitting or the use of some pieces, but it's subtle. Designs, cuts, they are all the same. Dressing is no longer an element of segregation. For example, in Peru, the Indian population wears a completely different attire. That is not so in Chile. To the contrary, I believe that in here clothing has been a factor for social mobility and climb, because anybody can dress like the high-class.
—Is it possible to identify in other times subgroups differentiated by dressing, like now the gothics, rappers or hippies?
—During the Baroque, clothing was an indication of social hierarchy. In the 19th Century it slowly started the differences among groups: bohemians, bourgeois, etc. But it was very subtle.
—Do you agree that most Chileans are sober and not very bright when dressing?
—Sobriety is probably a characteristic of the Republican times. During the Colony, people dressed rigidly, very decorated, Baroque. And during the 18th Century dress became more local. Bourgeois fashion is one of sobriety, like the Chilean personality: self-critical, shy. In general, Chileans dress in a very functional way.
—Does this have anything to do with Catholicism and the moderation imposed by the Church?
—Right. The Church has always been worried about women clothing. Saint Anselmo, Saint Agustin, they all made remarks about feminine fashion. During the 17th and 18th Century, not just the Church, but also the jurors were worried about this. In general, the Church has more of a negative view about ornaments, "dressing lust", thinking it could distract men. So the Church used to rule dressing. Some of those rigid traditions lasted longer in America because of cultural reasons.
—We have heard our grandmothers making reference to "the lack of shoes" of somebody who's ignorant or not well educated. Where does this analogy come from?
—The shoe was a luxury during the 17th and 18th Centuries. Then, it became the privilege of a small group. During the middle of the 20th Century, there were still a lot of rural people who wore no shoes. The "ojota" was used; it came from the Indian sandals. So the use of shoes was for those who had been refined, it implied a social value.
El traje, transformaciones de una segunda piel (The suit, transformations of a second skin).
Author: Isabel Cruz
Publishers: Universidad Católica
Sold at: Centro de Extensión UC (Alameda and Portugal, Santiago).