Turning ‘C’est Beau’ into ‘C’est Bio:’ From Mexico’s Roma to New York’s Chelsea with Cihuah’s Franco-Mexican designer
Jet setting from a fashion show in Punta Mita to a pop-up store in la Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, founder of the fashion brand CIHUAH, Vanessa Guckel, also flew last week to New York where ethical bags designer Ingrid Bruha had invited her as a guest of honor for a special Mexican night.
With her blond and curly hair, Guckel has lived for 10 years in Mexico, a country where women are more likely to have dark and straight hair. Born in France, Guckel is an architect turned eco-fashion designer. She recently received praise for creating a fully bio-degradable garment that can dissolve over time when plunged in water.
“After discovering Mexico through a series of invitations to participate in the 2019 edition of Luxury Lab, in a Bazaar to benefit Pepita Serrano’s SIVAM foundation and a presentation of my work at Lorena Saravia’s boutique, I wanted to introduce to New Yorkers the work of a young designer who, like me, wants fashion to respect the environment,” explains Bruha. “Vanessa’s work seduced me so much that I asked her to share a story shaped by sufferings, encounters, inspirations and a strong commitment to protect as much as possible our resources,” Bruha added.
To recreate a Mexican feeling, Bruha also treated her guests with special tastings of Dona Vega Mezcal-based-cocktails, sips of Volcan de Mi Tierra Tequila, and a live performance with Baryton Jose Adan Perez and guitarist Jairo Marin. CBS Television anchorwoman Michelle Miller, Carole Holmes Delouvrier, Parsons School of Design professor Muriel Favaro, Chairman of the American Friends of the Paris Opera & Ballet Olivia Tournay Flatto, art dealer Emmanuelle Grelier, New York City Ballet musical director Andrew Litton, Amélie Lonergan, Founder of the eponymous New York gallery Eric Mourlot, Kering Foundation Board Member Rosario Perez, Mexican conductor of the Brooklyn Symphonic Orchestra Felipe Tristan, and former Accessories Fashion Director at Neiman Marcus Sandra Walser were among the attendees of this ‘Mexican Fashionable Evening,’ to discuss sustainability with Guckel.
Cihuah’s founder story starts with the tale of young woman raised in the eastern part of France and who suffers from a fragile back. At the age of 16, her kyphosis and scoliosis had left her no alternative but heavy surgery. “Titanium and stainless steel were placed on my spine for a decade to correct my posture,” she explains. “I first considered it a handicap, but I soon learned to adapt to this difference. This experience was for me a life lesson, the source of inner strength and a defining moment of my life as a woman.”
‘Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.’ Gabrielle Chanel
Soon after graduating as a young architect trained in Strasbourg, France, Guckel decided to embark on a long trip from Mexico to Brazil. She will never see Brazil though: her first stop on her journey turned into a love story. In Mexico City, she worked with some of the most renowned architects in the world: Tatiana Bilbao-whose projects are now conserved by the Pompidou Center in Paris-and Museo Soumaya’s architect Fernando Romero.
Yet, a desire to constantly renew her horizons led Guckel to explore the world of fashion. “I was looking to change the scale of what I was designing; I wanted to work on a product rather than a space whilst still being able to apply my architectural design tools,” says the stylist. “Above all, I wanted to continue working with the human body but with a different approach. As Gabrielle Chanel said, ‘Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.'”
“It is the strong, ambitious women who turn their dreams into reality that inspire me.”
So, in 2013, Guckel created the Cihuah brand—whose native word means ‘Women’ in Nahuatl. “It is the strong, ambitious women who turn their dreams into reality that inspire me,” says Guckel. She designs her clothes with the ‘Cihuah’ in mind: independent, creative, innovative and changemakers. Her creations also pay tribute to the craftsmanship of indigenous women in Latin America. While the cuts take on the geometry of traditional Mexican clothing, multi-color embroideries have disappeared, giving way to a contemporary vision that only black or white colors symbolize.
The respect for the environment is also at the core of Guckel’s values. The Franco-Mexican designer mischievously describes her activism for nature. “When my French friends visit me, they do not say ‘c’est beau’ (it’s beautiful); they say, ‘c’est bio’ (it’s organic).” The fight against plastic is one of her obsessions. Another is the constant search for ecological fabrics. Guckel works with recycled cottons, polyester and yarn; she also pays attention to the source of the fabrics and raw materials she works with, “especially the lack of use of pesticides” to produce them.
Recently, along with a chef—Axel Vazquez—Guckel met the challenge of inventing a new material, entirely organic: ‘bioartex‘. “We have jointly developed a bio-material based on living organisms: algae, bacteria, yeast, algea, fungi, and coconut charcoal.” The product, explain the amateur engineers, presents surprising qualities of resistance, flexibility and is even hypoallergenic.
Guckel then designed a garment prototype. “The material is so organic that the shape changes depending on the heat and humidity,” she says. Placed in the water, it would disappear in seven days. Not ideal in case of rain but effective for the planet because it can also be recycled into compost. “If you buy and throw away things, you can then do it consciously,” adds Guckel, amused. “But we will improve the resistance of bioartex and its impermeability while maintaining its biodegradable quality.”
Determined and resolutely original, Guckel continues to turn her story into dreams. She wears a necklace of four gigantic screws adorned with diamonds, which results from her imagination. These are the same screws that surgeons had used to straighten her back. Guckel thus created a full jewelry collection of earrings and rings inspired by this experience. It was her way of “sublimating pain and making it eternal;” it was even perhaps a kind nod to the fashion impact of another ‘Cihuah’ that has become a worldwide Mexican symbol of Femininity and Resilience: Frida Kahlo.