Lucia Cuba

"I try to create work that can have an activist and political intention."

A designer’s background is fundamental in their approach to fashion. Typically coming from an artistic field they draw on their experiences and learn to form a certain vision that they then translate into their work. But what if their background is not artistic at all? Peruvian designer, Lucia Cuba, uses her background as a social scientist to create fashion with a social, cultural and intellectual connection beyond an aesthetic. Her resistance to the commercially-centred approach to fashion, result in provoking designs that push the boundaries of how we approach contemporary fashion.

How did you get into fashion?
Even though I used to work with mixed art media as a hobby, I never realized I was interested in design until after a first “exploratory fashion design experience” in 2004 (some friends that knew I worked with dyes, garments and painting invited me to participate in a fashion performance in Bolivia). By coincidence, this first fashion experience happened while I was finishing an MSc in Psychology.

This experience moved me to a point where I felt attracted to the idea of exploring the meaning of clothes and decided to study Fashion Design. At that time, the local cultural and creative scenes for fashion practices were rapidly emerging and I joined a wave of independent designers. Meanwhile, I kept my practice as a social scientist and fortunately in a very organic way, both of my practices started to merge until I came to realize that the tools, theories and different approaches of my works were able to combine and complement each other in a natural way. The rest is still happening...

Where are you from?
I was born in Lima, Peru, in 1980 and am now based in New York. In Lima I complemented my bachelor and graduate studies in Social Psychology, and Public Health with Fashion Design. In 2004 I created my own independent creative Lab, and over the years began to explore the potential impact of a social scientific approach to design. I also started to engage my practice from a research and academic perspective, and focused more on the interactions of the body and the social, rather than on a commercially-centered approach to fashion.

Peru, and, in general, the Latin American region, are definitely embedded in my approach towards fashion design. This also influences my research approach since I am interested in the study of the development of local creative systems that converge within different fashion design-driven communities and practitioners from the global south.

After being awarded a Fulbright scholarship in 2010 I arrived in New York to be part of the first graduate class of the MFA 'Fashion Design and Society' program at Parsons, The New School for Design. After graduating in May this year, I became an Artist in Residence at the Textile Arts Center. These experiences have set a new chapter in my life, both professionally and personally, in which I am now, more than ever, organically exploring the importance and understanding of cloths, and not just clothes.

How do you define your particular style or approach to fashion?
My approach is based in both research and practice, with a strong consideration of the social and the body. I like to think that I build active garments that have open dialogues with people. I also consider my practice as an interdisciplinary one, and try to create work that can have an activist and political intention.

As I am actively engaged in research and practice I like to combine both in a formal and informal way (analysing theories, drawing, giving lectures, draping, etc.). This allows me to keep learning constantly, reaching out and discovering new modes of interdisciplinary work.

What has influenced your approach?
In general, since the beginning of my practice both in social science and in fashion design my main influences come strongly from emotional responses to people, experiences and moments. These can be very diverse and may come from conversations, books, films, photos, videos, etc. Even as a child, I was encouraged to recognize the importance of understanding self-expression and freedom. These ideas strongly shape my work.

What is the problem with fashion today?
Perhaps the main problem is that “Fashion” is still conceived as “one” thing. However, every context, group or person defines their own meaning and understanding of Fashion. The challenge today is to conceive fashion from its foundation, as a diverse whole of actions and meanings. It is also a challenge to consider Fashion as diverse and multicultural, dependent and independent, emergent, individual or global; to allow other systems and actors to emerge, interact and recreate “Fashions”.

If you could change one thing about fashion what would it be?
I would start by including an ‘s’ to the word and build the idea of FASHIONS. As mentioned above, the consideration of diversity, can allow us to rethink the impacts of Fashion as practices or systems, but more importantly as people, communities, stories, cultures or moments.

Do you think it would be easier being a designer in another country?
It is always challenging to be a designer, no matter where you or your practice are based. We might agree that some cities or countries have developed more fashion systems and that they have also become “global references” in fashion. However, I believe that creativity should not only be expected to come from specific locations or established ideas on how these systems should work and what they should provide us with. The challenge is to accept that design practices and processes occur everywhere.

What do you value more, process or outcome, concept or quality of craftsmanship?
I value the work that grows organically, process/processes borne from critical thinking, capable of engaging with diverse practices and approaches. I value concepts that are coherent not only with the outcome or outcomes, but with the foundation of the complete creative process.

How does fashion affect your view of the world?
My view of the world affects my understanding of fashion much more strongly.

What does the future of fashion look like?
I hope that all the positive actions that promote awareness of fashion design as diverse practices and systems can strengthen and empower designers to approach their practice from a critical and analytical understanding. Considering their practice as part of a whole, in direct interaction (and with direct impact) not only on the self but also on others.