Cholita fash­ion


A Bo­li­vian de­signer is look­ing to ex­port the out­fits worn by his na­tion’s in­dige­nous women to Euro­pean fash­ion cap­i­tals.

Cen­turies ago, Span­ish col­o­niz­ers forced their Bo­li­vian ser­vants to wear the puffy skirts that have come to sym­bol­ize the coun­try’s “choli­tas”, or in­dige­nous women.

To­day, one lo­cal de­signer is turn­ing the ta­bles with plans to ex­port high-end cholita fash­ion — blos­som­ing skirts, bowler hats and in­tri­cately wo­ven shawls — to Madrid, Paris and be­yond.

Fresh off her first show at New York Fash­ion Week, Eliana Pa co, a 34- year-old in­dige­nous Ay­mara de­signer, is ready to bring her take on a once stig­ma­tized style to the world.

Choli­tas — a diminu­tive of “chola”, a some­times deroga­tory world for a woman from Bo­livia’s in­dige­nous ma­jor­ity — were once seen as a silent un­der­class of maids and man­ual la­bor­ers.

But in a chang­ing Bo­livia cur­rently gov­erned by its first in­dige­nous pres­i­dent, Evo Mo­rales, Paco said she sees the tra­di­tional women’s cos­tume as a sym­bol of “iden­tity and pride.”

She has al­ready made her mark on the lo­cal fash­ion scene, where TV pre­sen­ters and cab­i­net min­is­ters of­ten sport the in­dige­nous look, up­dated and em­bel­lished.

Her mis­sion now is to “use that so­phis­ti­cated touch to cross bor­ders,” she told AFP.

She took a big step in Septem­ber in New York, where she made head­lines with her lat­est col­lec­tion, “Pachamama” (“Mother Earth”, in the Quechua lan­guage).

“It’s the first time a chola women’s suit has ar­rived on the run­way. There were 12 in­ter­na­tional mod­els wear­ing our de­signs,” she said.

Paco’s ex­u­ber­ant dresses, vi­brant shawls and grav­i­ty­de­fy­ing bowlers cap­tured in­dus­try in­sid­ers’ at­ten­tion.

“I love cholita cloth­ing. It re­minds me a lot of Yves Saint Lau­rent and the best era of Ar­mani, when he used bowler hats,” said Span­ish de­signer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.

“I would love to take (Paco’s de­signs) to Madrid, to Paris,” she told AFP in Lima, Peru, where she was pre­sent­ing her own col­lec­tion.

“Un­til now there had never been a cholita with the mar­ket­ing sense she has.”

In­ter­na­tional mar­ket

Paco said she sees an in­ter­na­tional mar­ket for her de­signs.

“I think it’s pos­si­ble Euro­pean women could use the shawls or hats for ev­ery­day wear,” said the de­signer.

She en­vi­sions her shawls ac­ces­soriz­ing Western dresses or jeans, she said.

Paco, the daugh­ter of two ar­ti­sans, takes pride in the qual­ity of her de­signs.

Her col­or­ful “aguayo” shawls are hand-wo­ven with nat­u­rally dyed al­paca or vi­cuna wool. The best ones take a team of three peo­ple two weeks to fin­ish.

The be­low-the-knee skirts have three or four lay­ers, each us­ing up to six me­ters of fab­ric. They can weigh up to 10 kilo­grams.

A full out­fit can cost $200 to $4,300.

For spe­cial oc­ca­sions, mem­bers of Bo­livia’s newly wealthy “cholita elite” add gold or sil­ver pins, brooches and jew­els that can add thou­sands of dol­lars to the price tag.

“Tome (the out­fit) sym­bol­izes cul­ture, iden­tity, pride and work, be­cause chola women work long and hard,” said Paco, a mother of three.

“It’s also about the em­pow­er­ment of in­de­pen­dent and pro­fes­sional women,” she said.


Bo­li­vian de­signer Eliana Paco at her work­shop in La Paz af­ter pre­sent­ing her tra­di­tional cre­ations at New York Fash­ion Week.

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