There was a full moon over Medellín last week when Colombia’s favorite son, Haider Ackermann, came home. He offered a spectacular career overview to inaugurate the trade show Colombiamoda 2013 and mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Inexmoda, an organization that tirelessly promotes the country’s fashion industry.
I mean, 1,300 people turned out to hear him talk at a panel discussion on fashion entrepreneurship the day after his event. And why on earth not? How many satellite fashion entities around the world wish they could lay claim to that kind of connection, especially when Ackermann gave his gorgeous all on the catwalk?
The show itself played like chapters in an autobiography, each group of clothes tellingly matched to a different snatch of music, from the spectral pulse of Ackermann’s most recent Paris presentation to Leonard Cohen’s “A Thousand Kisses Deep” from his epochal Fall 2011 offering to sounds that merged into one long, sensual fugue as the hands of time ticked further back.
The designer parachuted in a platoon of familiar faces, among them Saskia de Brauw, Kati Nescher, Alana Zimmer, and Daiane Conterato, for assistance. There was also a baker’s dozen of his nearest and dearest—from his pal Jerry Stafford to his frequent traveling companion Waris Ahluwalia—for moral support. You still need friends when you’re sightseeing in Medellín.
That full moon was a reminder that the city looks best by night. Medellín is smeared across a bowl between mountain ranges, a geographic fact that becomes spectacularly clear when darkness falls and the almost vertical steepness of the settlements climbing up the enclosing walls is illuminated. Otherwise, this visitor’s most vivid impression was of a city racing to remodel itself after years of designation as the world’s most dangerous destination. Just how dangerous was made tragically, poignantly clear as almost everyone we met told stories about their own losses. It was much worse than what the journalists, who dared to descend into the hell that Pablo Escobar and his cartel cohorts created, ever detailed.
Which makes Medellín’s renaissance an inspiring story. Anyone who wants a lesson in the efficacy of successful mass transit might want to talk to the city’s mayor, Aníbal Gaviria. He’ll be able to tell you about the way in which Medellín’s metro and cable-car system generated liberating, citywide access for people who had previously been district-bound by the narcos’ violence. And anyone who disputes that fashion can be a force for positive change (that army is amassing even as I write) might care to check the way designers in Colombia are endeavoring to guarantee a social payback from their businesses. One example: Amelia Toro, training more than eighty single mothers and sharing her label with them so that they will be able to create their own businesses when they move on.
Medellín is primed for such change.
For more than a century, the city has been renowned for its textiles. Walking around the color-coded pavilions of the supersize Colombiamoda, I was first struck by fabric. That was before I noticed the Red Pavilion’s multitude of lingerie and underwear exhibitors.
“It’s what we do best,” chirped one exuberant passerby. But Medellín is clearly gripped by a sense of empowerment after years of subjection to the psychotic will of the narcos, and that promises a lot more than a nice bra. Ackermann’s presence was courted long and hard by his friend (and fellow Colombian expat) Victoria Fernandez, and in the afterglow of his show, she was all fired up about what she and a very agreeable government could make happen next. Remember, after BRIC in the annals of world economic development comes CIVETS. The C stands for Colombia.