How New York-based, Mexico-born designer Victor Barragán went from playing with his food to outfitting FKA twigs.
Victor Barragán is on a roll. His spring/summer 17 presentation, a gloriously stone-studded conjunction of the paleolithic and plasticized, was one of the most memorable shows of New York Fashion Week — a feat made all the more impressive when you consider that Barragán had never stepped foot in the city until a little over a year and a half ago.
While studying architectural design in his hometown, Mexico City, Barragán founded his own casual wear brand, YtinifninfinitY. He garnered an impressive digital following by isolating facets of late-90s pop cultural iconography and warping them into fresh relevancy — aesthetic fodder for the Tumblr era — without any of trace of the banality that often comes with those nostalgic pre-Y2K references. His Instagram, populated with still lifes of pierced food products, even caught the attention of FKA twigs, for whom he later designed custom flower-shaped jewelry.
Now based in New York, Barragán is rebranding under his own name and aiming for global domination. His first collection as "Barragán" still incorporates the motifs that underpinned YtinifninfinitY — there's a t-shirt emblazoned with "LESBIAN" in the text of the Friends logo, for instance — but it's also noticeably matured from the designer's Big Cartel days, with a focus on sheer, flesh-toned ruffles and chasmal chainmail. We sat down with the 24-year-old designer to discuss everything from his latest campaign to the perils of revisiting 90s sitcoms in 2016.
How did Barragán evolve into a brand from your previous efforts?
I was studying architectural design in Mexico City; studio fashion in Mexico is tricky and expensive, so I couldn't afford going to school for it. I started a brand in 2010, Ytinfninfinity, selling t-shirts, raincoats, things like that. It was totally different. I started having more sales and real work, so I quit college to build the brand. I didn't know anything about sewing, so I took a class. I started hiring people to work for me. The brand name was really complicated, so upon moving to New York, we simplified it to Barragán — for buyers, for everyone. With this new collection, we're starting a new brand, in some ways. I kept saying, "Let's try something different." We're more secretive about what we're gonna do and how we're gonna do it now.
How has the move to New York impacted your design?
When I moved here, it was the first time I'd been to New York. I thought, "Let's see if I like it or I don't." The first year was really hard. It was the first time I'd lived in a cold environment. So, I hadn't understood many factors about fashion in some ways — in Mexico, it's always hot, so we don't have clothing seasons. This is a city where the economy is much better than Mexico and people invest in clothes and art. I had to adapt the brand to the city, and that was part of the transition to Barragán.
How did the concept for this season's collection come about? I'm particularly intrigued by the stones that the models rolled around at the presentation.
My friend and I were inspired by the story of Sisyphus, who was condemned to push a rock up a mountain, just to let it fall again. We tried to adapt the fashion runway into a performance piece with the intention of showing the clothes in a different way, so people could see them from the back and from the side. We used the same stone material to make bags and earrings. We created an environment where everything was stone. That was inspiration for that collection, along with an emphasis on keeping most of the items transparent with chainmail. We cast the show, as we have for the the past three shows, through Instagram.
Speaking of Instagram, your account is really interesting because you work a lot with food photography — how did that idea come about?
When I moved here, I was living in Queens and was kind of isolated from a lot of things. All of the food is really cheap there, so I was trying new stuff that I'd never eaten before. For example, I'd never had access to an Asian market. At the same time, I didn't have money for certain materials, so I started working with the food that I was gonna eat. I used food like art supplies. In the beginning, I didn't have any idea what I was doing — I was trying to show the food as skin and body, mixing my own Mexican culture with so many cultures that I was experiencing. I started with piercings, and then I tried to incorporate more humor through Swarovski stones and things like that. People like that still-life style, and I received so many requests from magazines. That all happened in a very organic way. The idea is to showcase all the silver hardware I use for earrings and things like that. I incorporate the food so the jewelry can look different.
Many of your pieces update elements of pop cultural history — the shirt that has "lesbian" spelled out in the Friends lettering, for example. What parts of pop culture were you into growing up?
In Mexico, we consume a lot of American culture in a different way. We'd always watch American TV at home, and my older brothers would show me different movies and shows. I was really affected by that as a kid. I guess that's why I always have 90s references in my head. With the Friends tee, I've watched the show all my life. Recently, I was watching one of the first seasons with my friend and we noticed a trend of making jokes about gays and lesbians. Someone said "lesbian" and there was a fake laugh. We were like, "This stuff is fucked up!" At the time, we may have thought it was funny, but it's different now. That was a critique of the show that we realized too much later.
If you watch shows like Sex and The City, you don't feel it's that old because some of the topics are still taboo. When we were young, all of that 90s sex revolution stuff felt so crazily open. I feel like we're kind of going back to that, in some respects. I don't know why, maybe it was the new millennium and new ideas. Maybe not in New York, which is like a bubble. But we're playing with these topics. We consume TV and the internet in a different way. We work with all the topics we like because that's how we consume pop culture.
Where would you like to take Barragán as a brand?
It's hard, everytime you try to sell a brand, you have these arcs: at the beginning you think you're so cool, and then you have to sell yourself in some way. You need to adapt your influences to a bigger market. I don't want that to happen! I would feel my essence is gone. This business is always so classist, so I try to keep certain things accessible, and always show the clothes in a performative way. Clothes are just clothes, the value is in how we present them.
Text Salvatore Maicki
Photography June Canedo
Styling Tess Herbert
Models Alexandra Myshalov and Richie Shazam