Colombia native Adriana Castro is known for bringing Latin American indigeneity to high fashion, producing handbags in modern, geometric patterns with natural elements. By drawing from artisan techniques, Castro preserves the long-lasting history of Colombia and translates it into practical pieces for the everyday woman. Her Zenú design takes precedent from the Colombian sombrero vueltiao (meaning turned hat), woven with locally grown cane. Castro is an adamant supporter of sustainable practices, believing that quality and time will always trump a disposable trend. L'Officiel got a window into Castro's philosophies on the role of a good handbag and what it means to derive inspiration from a geographic essence.
How has your Colombian ancestry influenced your designs?
ADRIANA CASTRO: I was born and raised in the northern Caribbean coast region, in Barranquilla. It is tropic and it is culture. I fell in love with the natural expression of happiness of the people, and also with the color and parties of the city. No one shies from laughing or dancing at all times ;). The city is home to one of the most important folk and cultural festivals of the world, the Carnival of Barranquilla.
Colombia is a culturally rich country and carries a long tradition in its back, with a focus on art and crafts. I began to explore in depth our land in terms of inspiration, materials, techniques and processes.
There are many traditional pieces of clothing and accessories in Colombia. There are two that have always been in my memory and heart, the 'Sombrero Vueltiao,' and the 'Carriel'. The 'Sombrero Vueltiao' is native to the Zenú culture and has inspired a whole family of bags that bear his name. As the original hat, our iconic Zenú bag is woven in caña flecha, a locally grown cane.
The 'Carriel' has also been very traditional in the Paisa region of Colombia and has conquered me so much that I turned it into one of the iconic bags of the Adriana Castro brand and have recreated it in different materials, colors and sizes.
How does practicality play a role in handbag design?
AC: In handbag design, practicality is as essential as quality. I am a woman on the go and I understand how fast we move, we need a bag that fits our day to day and our needs and changes of attitudes. To the working woman as to the housewife, to the fashionista, to the classic one. A clear example of this philosophy are the Azza, Zenú and Mini carriel bags, which in their different variations can be carried from day to night, from couture to the simplest of casual.
Does your production stand to change as your reach gets wider?
AC: We are a brand that reflects a slower process and pace. Our pieces are made with love and passion, by hand, using traditional artisan techniques. Purpose in every piece is more important than quantity and trends and we don’t want to compromise our key values and ethics.
For us, sustainable and purposeful luxury is a way of life. We have committed with the hands that weave and materialize dreams. We want to continue to work with artisans and indigenous communities not only from Colombia, but also from other countries.
How do you blend modern and retro qualities in your designs?
AC: They are a reflection of who I am, my essence, spirit and style (and the places I love that made me or continue making me who I am). It’s also a way of seeing life of the artisans we work and collaborate with, a very classic vision but one that does not forget modern times.
We love telling stories through each piece. Based out of our main atelier in Colombia, master artisans combine traditional techniques with new ways of thinking. We are constantly exploring combinations of forms and materials and feeding on culture and new artistic expressions.
We want to celebrate tradition and not trends, we mix history with a brushstroke of the present creating timeless designs in bold, sensual textures and colors – without compromising our ethics and key values, the new definition of luxury.
How do you feel “slow fashion” stands out in a world consumed by highly disposable “fast fashion”?
AC: Yes, it is true that we live in a world of trends, but I believe that the future of fashion is sustainable, and that makes me feel calm and confident. Global consumer trends are demanding a change that has been taking place gradually, it’s all about accumulating experiences and not possessions. People are turning their eyes to more conscious options, so the Adriana Castro brand is looking beyond: our mission is to create luxury with a purpose, timeless pieces blending traditional craftsmanship with modern classics. We will continue to focus on what we care about most: enjoying time designing and creating the best piece possible with the very finest materials, hand in hand with local artisans. We believe that when a piece is consciously made and is of the highest quality, it is destined to survive the fast-pace of fashion and to be passed onto following generations.
For me, sustainable and purposeful luxury is a way of life. I have committed myself with the hands that weave and materialize dreams. I want to continue to work with indigenous communities and artisans not only from Colombia, but also from other countries.
I have also acquired a greater responsibility with the Latino Impact Summit that takes place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, looking for new ways to, from Adriana Castro, contribute to reduce inequalities in Latin America and work towards achieving the UN sustainable development goals. I have also reaffirmed my commitment to craftsmanship, and to preserve their ancestral techniques through their pieces.
Do you feel that natural solutions will always have a place for the modern woman?
AC: Absolutely and I am proud they have a place for the modern woman.
Our iconic Zenú bag is a proof of that; there is waiting list. It has become a collection piece charged with exceptional craftsmanship and sustainable materials. The design is connected to Colombia and celebrates my culture. Stories that are embodied in a bag that after a hand-made braid, come to life at the Adriana Castro Atelier.
What are the qualities of a perfect handbag, in your opinion?
AC: The perfect handbag has to tell a thousand stories. Consciously made. Exclusive and authentic, it has to carry with it the perception that the wearer is somebody special. Timeless, it never bends to trends. Survives the fast-pace of fashion and is destined to be passed on to following generations. Finest quality, not only noble and uncompromising materials -but quality from the social component of who’s making the piece. Practical. Versatile.
What elements of your design do you think can appeal to both high-profile celebrities and everyday women? How do you strike that balance as a luxury brand?
AC: Each piece we create is a divine universe of love and full of secrets that is destined to connect/match with the right person — and that’s our ongoing quest.
I did not find in the market a timeless, authentic, handmade handbag of impeccable quality and uncompromising materials, with a story with which I identified myself, not so focused on trends. I liked the idea of seasonless, when you don’t know which season it is or which year you bought/designed it. That’s how I connected in 2009 when I founded the Adriana Castro brand.
Your work links heavily to your travels and to geographical culture. How do you gain inspiration on your travels?
AC: I am a wandering heart. I love traveling, it is one of my passions. I am always on the go discovering and uncovering the beauty that surrounds me, which makes my trips true sources of inspiration. During my travels love, culture, architecture, an aroma, a place, a feeling or even flavor, inspire me to create. My designs surrender to tradition, one of my strongest sources of inspiration is Latin America and especially Colombia.
The colors of the world's landscapes allow me to play with textures and palettes of colors that seem impossible at first sight, but that complement each other as if they were part of a work of art, as if they always belonged to each other.
How do you choose which locations and cultures to draw your designs from?
AC: I do not choose them, I ask for adventure. I love discovering new cultures and just blending in. Where I feel most alive, most probably new designs will evolve from.
Do you believe there’s a bag for every occasion, or do you stick by a go-to in your everyday life?
AC: I believe that among the most important qualities of the bags should be practicality and innovation in both, design and materials. With the speed at which the world moves today, the pieces that we invest in must fit our needs, ever changing attitudes and personalities, the active, the worker, the mother, the traveler, the one that ends the day of daytime activities to go to a dinner or party at night; that's where our true challenge as designers is.
For example, our iconic Azza bag exploits completely its ability to transform, since it can be held directly from its handle, as a bracelet, or by its additional strap.
Where have you been getting your inspiration lately?
AC: Lately I've been traveling through Colombia, back to my roots, so I've fallen in love with incredible places that are pure magical realism. Barranquilla, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Nabusimake, Valledupar, Corozal and a little town called Chorrera have been some of my latest destinations. Right now, I am in Spain and soon heading to the French Riviera to continue working while enjoying summer and I hope to finish it happily in Cuba or Indonesia. I am sure that all these adventures will result in new fun creations, full of soul.
This interview has been edited for length and/or clarity.