The debate of whether or not fashion is art is as old as the history of the heel or embroidery. Not even the Met Gala, the annual Costume Institute event that merges the two, can acquiesce that they’re one and the same. Despite their similarities — creativity, materials, the finished product — it stands that fashion, like a sculpture or painting, gets better with time no matter the movement (from the Renaissance to Punk). And the world of couture is inarguably the closest fashion will ever get to art, wearable and not. Fashion — Jun 06
It’s why designers like Lucia Echavarria, the Colombian milliner behind Magnetic Midnight, aren’t just adroit as far as style is concerned — they’re artists in their own right. The name alone, inspired by the moment Earth’s magnetic poles align between the sun and an observer standing on its surface, stands out in a millinery space that sees most hat aficionados going by their own names. But it’s Echavarria’s eye for the ornate that sets her designs apart from what you’d see at, say, Coachella or the shelves of the costume closet of your college theatre department. And, as far as street style goes, a “hat” (for lack of better words) made out of Palm leaf dipped in gold makes a special-occasion accessory feel as fit for a stroll through the park or an afternoon dinner in a garden. Because, as Echavarria can exemplifies via design, when it comes to the bells and whistles of any outfit, it’s sometimes the bits of bullshit that mean the most.
Ahead, we chatted with Echavarria about why she started a hat brand in a market that rarely gets its due credit, how she sources the textiles for her belt and handbag offerings, and why it’s important that Magnetic Midnight customers know where their product comes from.
Why did you start Magnetic Midnight? And how?
Growing up, I loved finding or creating occasions to invent and make my own costumes — especially the accessories. After studying art history and comparative literature at Brown University, I did an internship at the Guggenheim and realized that I did not want to pursue a career in Art. So, I applied to study costume design as a way to combine my love of art, history, culture, and fashion in a creative and fun way.
When I went on a family trip to Shiraz, Iran, I visited the most beautiful mosque entirely inlaid with intricate mirror mosaics. I was struck with the idea of making a headpiece out of mirrors and began drawing and imagining the possibilities. I realized that through headpieces I could explore my love of costume, as well as accessories, and came up with the idea of Magnetic Midnight.
Since it was something that didn’t really exist, developing the idea required a lot of trial and error at the beginning — from figuring out how to make the perfect frame to finding the right artisans and materials.
What about millinery speaks to you? As opposed to doing ready-to-wear or another accessory.
Headpieces have been used throughout history in all cultures to mark and honor important occasions: ethnic dress and adornment, beautiful textiles, wedding and religious processions, celebratory dances, and carnival — all occasions where headpieces play an important role — have always fascinated me.
I love the versatility of millinery as a canvas that has endless possibilities: they can be timeless and innately elegant or even fanciful. I like the contrast between something that can be ceremonial and important or fun and whimsical (or sometimes even both).
Apart from their outward appearance, what makes Magnetic Midnight headpieces so ornate?
I think what gives each MM piece its intricacy is how it is designed as well as how it is made. Art history mostly informed my visual vocabulary and references while comparative literature enriched the way I combine and associate different ideas, drawing material from varied cultural, historical, and visual sources. Both subjects require a lot of research, which is still one of the aspects I enjoy the most in my creative process.
Additionally, each headpiece is entirely handmade so there is an intricate and time-consuming production process that passes through the hands of many artisans, requires many techniques, and uses an array of materials.
How do you go about sourcing materials?
I’m constantly searching and collecting materials I find on my travels in order to incorporate into my pieces. I look at materials in terms of their potential and viability and how they can be used in new, exciting, and sometimes unusual ways. Traditional Colombian crafts also offer an array of materials as well as techniques, so over the years, I’ve developed a close relationship with artisans from different regions to learn how a specific material can be used and interpreted by understanding and respecting its traditional use.
What inspires you from season to season?
I find inspiration from lots of different sources. It can be the composition or colors in a painting, the texture or quality of a particular material, the structure or history of a building, the geometry and beauty in nature, literature, travel, popular culture — everyday objects. As a result, my collections many times reflect where I’ve been. My last collection Arabesque was inspired by my trip to Uzbekistan.
Who would you say the Magnetic Midnight customer is?
I think the Magnetic Midnight customer is someone who is looking for something unique and special; a statement piece that has a story and lasting quality — in design and craftsmanship — of a piece you buy to collect, or in the hope of keeping for your child.
Do you think women should get bolder with their headwear?
I don’t think headwear is necessarily for everyone or everywhere but I do think when the occasion calls, people should embrace it! I think people who wear headpieces wear them because they’re flattering; they frame the face, add height and stature and create a presence. Ultimately, the person who wears the accessory defines it, not the other way around, so the way you wear it is what will create a bold effect; whether it’s a small headband or a towering hat, and whether it’s worn as part of a costume, a piece of jewelry, or as an adornment to mark an important occasion.
Why is it so important that each piece is made by hand in Colombia?
I’m Colombian. For me, it’s important to support local traditions and create employment opportunities. There is such varied and beautiful craftsmanship that I’m very proud to be able to work to sustain these traditions. A small family of lamp makers outside of Bogotá makes the frames, which are then woven by artisans across Colombia, specializing in different techniques. The gilding is also done in Colombia in a small family owned workshop. Throughout the production process, and as the brand has evolved, family businesses have been able to grow with our support.
Besides employment opportunities and capacity building in production process and quality control, I enjoy having the opportunity to travel to remote areas to work closely with the artisans. Knowing that they are happy and proud of the work they create and of being able to support their families through their talent is, for me, the most rewarding aspect of my work.
What are your hopes for Magnetic Midnight, as a brand?
Most of all, I would like to work toward ensuring the preservation of traditional techniques, designs, and materials of artisanal communities across Colombia — and I hope that I’ll be able to continue to do so through Magnetic Midnight.