She is a mother, a designer and a LVMH 2021 finalist. After having studied fashion design in Milan, Kika Vargas knew she wanted to bring all she had learnt back home and fuse it with her specifically Colombian knowledge, establishing her eponymous fashion label in 2011. Constantly inspired by how different artists approach their work, Vargas digs deep into the intellectual and compositional elements of art in her designs. She talks about her emphasis on sustainable values and how fashion is a tool for self-discovery, bonding and creating relationships.
First of all, congratulations on being an LVMH 2021 finalist! How does it feel knowing that your passion is getting acknowledged and appreciated?
I am very honoured and humbled to be part of this year's collective of LVMH finalists! It is an absolute dream come true! Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to be a designer and thankfully I have had the good fortune to have incredibly supportive parents who always pushed me to explore my creativity. There have been several people throughout my career who have believed in me and opened their doors to me, and I am so thankful for every opportunity that has come my way. This just gives me even more energy to fight the good fight!
Your creations are influenced by your upbringing around art and architectural forms. How do you translate these sectors into your pieces?
I am very inspired by artists, their work and how they approach their work. It’s a combination between colour, movement and space. As well as what inspires them, how they approach their work, and how they create. I appreciate the intellectual side behind an artwork as well as elements of composition. Art comes from emotion and generates emotion and that is what I try to bring into my work.
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 4.jpg
You explore balloon shapes a lot in your designs. Does this concept evolve from the stereotypical feminine silhouette that you want to try and defy?
To me, femininity means confidence and feeling strong and powerful. This sensibility gives us courage to go after our dreams and it's what I define as beauty. I love experimenting with volume and shapes because I feel the structure represents this kind of beauty and protects us and makes us feel unique. I try to have my designs embody this version of femininity to allow those wearing the brand feeling confident, strong, powerful, and beautiful.
One of your favourite artists, Peter Opheim, paints colourful and goofy creatures. What elements of his clay sculptures and paintings do you take inspiration from?
I really like Opheim's process. I like how he starts every painting with a study in miniature clay models before blowing them up on canvas. The idea that anything can come from something tiny and turn into something huge is really interesting to me and it hits close to home. His large-scale paintings also have thick and incredibly tactile surfaces. To quote him, “I like to think of them as paintings on top of paintings on top of paintings." Opheim works the surface of his paintings layer by layer, building up and scraping away, and I really relate to this. In my work, layering is really important and I often think about piece over piece over piece, similarly to Opheim. I dream about structures and I like to build over them and then deconstruct them. I am also always drawn to colour and Opheim has a wonderful use of colour, which inspires me as well.
It was your time working at Missoni which ignited your love for bold colours. Do you still have this attraction towards bright colour palettes or do you think that you’ve dialed it back a bit?
I believe as Latinas we are colourful in nature. It is in our blood; we are just vibrant! I believe my time in Missoni gave me the confidence to work with an endless palette of colors at the same time. I think colour will always be part of who I am and what the brand stands for. However, I have learnt through the years to feel more comfortable with more muted colours and understand their importance and value. What seems more important to me is to be able to talk about colour any and every day of my life.
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 5.jpg
You’ve studied in Milan, a notorious fashion capital. What made you decide to go back to Colombia to start your fashion label?
For me, it was really important to come back to my roots and apply everything I learnt from my education back in my country. I was very keen to come back and take what I learnt to create opportunity, generate employment, and give back to my community and the younger generations through education. I take a lot of pride in the craftsmanship here in Colombia so it was really important for me to utilise and embrace this, and even find a way to showcase it because I know there is a way and place for us on an international scale to make everything at home.
You also released an exclusive baby and kids capsule collection, with matching mother-daughter styles. Do you think fashion can be used to bond people and create relationships?
Fashion is an experience. It is a never-ending conversation and it can bring up many emotions. It is an important conversation with ourselves and with everyone around us. For me it is one of the most important tools one can have to feel confident and beautiful. It is also a tool for self-expression. It allows for a lot of opportunity to bond with people and create personal relationships. It is an armour of protection where we can feel powerful and help shed our insecurities. I have met wonderful people around the world just because I will compliment someone for their dress, or vice versa. It is a powerful tool for self-discovery.
Working from home as a fashion designer must not have been easy, creatively and practically. However, for some, without the pandemic they wouldn’t have been able to accomplish certain things, acknowledging it as a silver-lining to the chaos. Have you experienced that in the past year?
Working from home definitely brought its challenges, but I have always believed that creativity and design have to be the solution to everything. We had to think outside the box, and come up with ways to make our dream work. And it is thanks to these kinds of exercises that push us to think differently. I am thankful for this opportunity because I learnt there is no one right way of doing things. We had to adapt and act quickly and that has paid off on a personal level as well as professional. I believe we are a much stronger team today than we were pre-pandemic. We focused our attention on our core values and what we want to stand for therefore we applied a more local approach to our sourcing and sustainable business. We focused our attention on building our dream from our beautiful Colombia.
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 8.jpg
Your products are locally crafted in Colombia. Does your heritage and culture play a big part in your creations? Do you blend what you learned during your time in Italy and the US with your roots?
I am very proud of my heritage and being able to live my dream of creating a brand for the world that is made in Colombia is very humbling to me. I think my creativity comes from every experience I have been fortunate enough to have throughout my life. There is a blend of Colombia as well as the years I spent living in the US and the years I lived in Italy. I apply techniques I have learnt along the way with our amazing craftsmanship here in Colombia to give the brand a global spirit. Different cultures and the perspective of understanding different ways of living one's life has given me the opportunity to open my mind. There is an important need for emotion and empathy behind my work and having all these mixed cultures engrained in who I am as a person translates into my designs.
In your latest collection, you experiment with Colombian denim. Do you try and stick to local materials and textiles for your collections or do you enjoy branching out to explore other techniques as well?
Sustainability for us means only moving forward. This pandemic has made us work harder on our mission to work for the planet. As a mother, as a designer and as a leader, it is my joy to be able to bring forward alternative ways of doing things that will be less impactful to the planet. We are always talking about what steps we are going to take to ensure we are moving in the right direction toward a more conscious and sustainable brand. With this pandemic, we have focused our energy to sourcing locally, which is a complete challenge on its own. Our previous way of working required us to bring all the material from Europe to Colombia, have it manufactured in Colombia and then exported out again.
However, this process does not translate anymore – the environmental footprint was too large. So in hindsight 2020 has been very rewarding for me, looking into Colombia as a source for materials, more inspiration, and a way to share our world and the wonderful craft that exists here. Going forward, mixing materials and sourcing locally will be a crucial part of every collection and engrained in the ethos of our brand, so we can carry this forward to have a more unique and sustainable approach.
Since launching your brand in 2011, you have experienced a lot of accomplishments. What are in the cards for the future?
We see our brand as growing strong and steady and evolving to eventually become a well-rounded lifestyle brand. We want to create a universe where you can find beauty in every object we make. Being able to explore and create is our biggest fuel, and creating a Kika Vargas world is our biggest dream!
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 2.jpg
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 3.jpg
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 6.jpg
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 7.jpg
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 9.jpg
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 10.jpg
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 11.jpg
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 12.jpg
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 13.jpg
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 14.jpg
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 15.jpg
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 16.jpg
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 17.jpg
Kika Vargas Metalmagazine 18.jpg