Young fashion designer Ivo Barraza Castaneda talks about the launch of his brand 'Torofée', his life as a designer trying to break into the industry and Torofée's first fashion show in the fashion capital - Paris.
Ivo Barraza Castaneda, 29 years old, was born and raised in Santa Ana, El Salvador and moved to Paris in 2017 with a scholarship from IFA Paris to study fashion design. He had previously worked a lot as a stylist and costume designer for films and mostly did those jobs to survive, save and make a portfolio so I could get a scholarship to study fashion in Paris. As soon as he arrived at the Fench capital, he started interning and working for other designers, such as Rick Owens, AMI, etc. He worked primarily for their commercial teams because he wanted to learn how to manage his own brand. Ivo also worked as the design assistant for EKJO, a designer from Paris, but realized very soon that he could only do the job for a short period of time.
Having his own brand, Torofée forces him to be intensively creative. He has to find solutions for impossible-seeming things every day, and he thrives on that type of mental challenge. Intense mental labour is like oxygen to him, he says.
What is your relationship to fashion?
It's very interesting how you formulate the question because "relationship" is a powerful word but totally applies to me. My work in fashion is my number one passion and priority, also my longest relationship. I see fashion as my medium of expression. I was going to art academies, and I learned and tried it all, from music to painting, theatre. The one thing that left a mark on me the most was learning how to sew by hand when I was five years old. At first, I was mostly sewing Pokemon and Digimon plushes because I lived in a small town where we didn't have any shops with these toys. I discovered I could transform clothes in the search for materials, something my family suffered for years because they would often find their garments with one sleeveless or a big hole of fabric missing which I had transformed into some Pokemon or whatever.
I like fashion because the final result -for me- is the material for the expression of others. I see it almost as creating words that people can use to express what they want later.
What is your favourite part about being a designer?
To be able to be creative and that my creativity may be useful to others.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I read an interview with Jeff Koons where he said, "if you know what you are looking for, you are going to find it everywhere, the images are going to find you". I personally find a lot of pleasure in nourishing myself with inspiration, so it's something I surround myself with. I love philosophers, so I read them a lot. I try to translate their abstract ideas into fashion objects, and I love doing that. I am also a big fan of contemporary art, so I am looking at contemporary artworks all the time. My absolute favourite artist is MR. Mr Yanen, so you might find a lot of his influence in what I do. I also find myself very happy when I go to Bibliotèque Forney in Paris; it's like a wormhole into any moment of art, design, and craft history. Then, I'm very observative when I'm out in the street. Sometimes the way a person wears something can be inspiring, and sometimes I'm inspired to do all the opposite to what I see in the metro or on Instagram. Sometimes the way somebody curates their Tiktok can inspire me, but if you look at my work, there's a relatively clear visual universe, which is, of course, the most attractive to me. I try to make my universe dialogue with completely different ideas and contexts to keep things always new. Still, in the end, all these influences get filtered through me, so you will always see my gesture into whatever the result is, even if the inspiration is something you wouldn't even have guessed.
What was the main inspiration behind the latest collection?
The collection is divided mainly into three themes:
The Future Black Dress
These dresses are all made from up-cycled garments, the idea is really to provide an essential fashion dress for a girl who is very discerning in fashion. When curating the up-cycled garments it was important that they could actually be produced after the show. Of course each one has to be unique but they still need to be able to be produced.
© Ivo Barraza Castaneda - Torofée
One of the main themes of the Chicken Turtle brand is romance, the essence of the eternally romantic soul that loves and lives with passion and hungers for the thrill of the unseen. Therefore, this family of dresses was very directly inspired by the 19th century imperial romantic aesthetic. Under the vision of someone looking back to that era in the very distant future, a tape with the Chicken Turtle print was developed and it was used to form the basic corset of the female body, in the future body positivity is not an option is the norm.
© Ivo Barraza Castaneda - Torofée
It's about emancipating the new generation from design and art. It's about making Kawaii, the e-girl, fierce and chic. The garments are the answer to the need to create a unique visual language for this brand. Even though the construction of a skirt or dress takes the complexity of the female silhouette very literally - achieved through body-hugging stretch fabrics - there is a sense of abstraction created by the wavy shape of the flat garment.
© Ivo Barraza Castaneda - Torofée
Torofée's first runway show took place this month in Paris. How did you evade the measures regarding the Covid-19 virus and hold a show in the fashion metropolis?
I wouldn't say I evaded the Co-vid19 measures. I embraced them... I adapted myself to our current reality. I had initially imagined a more conventional type of show at a certain location. Still, as soon as I started hearing that there were no presential shows in Paris this season, I immediately started thinking about an alternative. I was sure that I wanted to bring something to people, something that would change their day and their mood, so I came up with the idea of making "home delivery shows". The idea reached the ears of Stephanie Veuriot, a famous fashion personality in Paris, who supported me and helped open doors for me; which allowed the first "home delivery" fashion show of Torofée to be brought to top-level journalists like Jesse Brouns, Diane Pernet and Lily Templeton from WWD. So you know, something that is a constraint for most designers became a blessing for me.
Many aspiring designers dream of the day when their collection is shown on a runway. How does it feel to have actually reached that first big milestone?
One week before the first Torofée show, I was really moved, really touched about the fact that we were showing this debut collection and that so many people were collaborating. A few days before, reality hit me up. It is usually the case with me that I am extremely courageous and take extremely difficult, impossible and dangerous paths. Only right before the end, I realize that I am doing what I'm doing, and all the fear of dangers hits right there. I don't even want to tell you that post-show recovery should be a clinical definition one day after. Personally, I mute all my own problems, my emotional problems when I'm working intensively. So post-show recovery for me means finding back all those monsters under the bed. Two weeks after the show, I am happy, and I'm proud that I did what I did. I have many ideas for next season already, so my mind is a lot more on that next collection than on the one I just showed.
How would you describe the impact of Covid-19 on young fashion brands?
I think the most difficult thing for young brands is to monetize themselves through wholesale right now. The most practical way to sell your work as a young brand is to sell it through retailers. I know for a fact that retailers are much shyer in picking new designers, small brands or making orders at all because some cities and countries are not even operating economically because some places are already suffering an economic crisis.
The brand has changed its name recently. What are the reasons behind the changes, and what does the new name stand for?
I decided to see this first collection, and its process as a pilot, a pilot of my work. As a new brand and as a new designer, a lot of things are still getting polished. For example, half of the collection, the iconic pieces (the scalloped contoured ones), I only designed and crafted two weeks before the show. I had previously finished the other seven looks, and I replaced them entirely with these iconic looks—the same thing with the name, or most importantly, with the main character of this brand. I worked with a different character that didn't represent the values that I am trying to spread. Torofée is a self-portrait, "a heroic vision of the self"; the fashion designer defines it. The inspiration for creating a character through which the author shares his vision comes from Nietzsche's Zarathustra and Castaneda's life long fandom for the universe of cute collectable characters, such as Pokemon My Little Pony etc. Torofée is meant to represent the most important values of humanity; creative intelligence and emotional connection. Torofée -as his semantical meaning describes- is a purple bull with butterfly wings. Toro- which means "bull" in Spanish and -Fée, as in "fairy" in French, brings together my both proclaimed home-countries. I was born and grew in a small town from El Salvador, Central America, and now live and work in Paris, the French capital.
Most people understood and embraced the character change immediately. A very few people said to me, I was wrong, that changing my brand's name is bad for SEO, etc. I don't care. The most important thing for me is to carry the right message to people. I have to admit that I was wrong, publically. I don't mind doing it. If more people did that, the world would be a much better place.
© Jewellery made by Anjum Musbally, Ivo Barraza Castaneda - Torofée
What is torofée's stance on sustainability, and how is the brand contributing to a more sustainable world?
Torofée will always stand for change, change for the better, for the greater good. In that sense, we are glad as a brand that a larger part of society has become aware of the importance of taking care of our planet's resources. Change requires creativity. In that sense, the goal of Torofée is to keep looking for new ways of better solving the sustainability problem.
In the AW21 collection, 60% of the materials are upcycled from different sources, 30% of the collection is made of dead stocks, and 10% is things we produced out of new matter. As proud as I am of these numbers, and as important as they are, I am ambitious enough to find even more exciting ways to work in sustainable practices. There is literally everything to be done in that subject.
The fashion industry is constantly changing. What do you expect of the future of fashion, and how would you want torofée to contribute to it?
I see a big change in fashion on the horizon, where we talk less about companies and brands and more about the craft. The idea of just trying to make a brand or designer grow economically at any ethical cost will start becoming updated. The technological tools and the public are pointing in the other direction. People are supporting more and more micro "businesses", and when I say business, it might be just one girl who makes one thing and spreads it on Tiktok.
As for Torofée, I want the brand to be at the head of this movement. I produce everything in reasonable quantities, which allows me to work with small-owned ateliers and factories. I like working with people who are invested passionately in what they do. I prefer to give a chance to a passionate young person who wants to make jewellery rather than mailing a big factory asking how much is their minimum. I have a lot of fun myself creating all the elements that surround the brand's work, and those are things that I plan to keep doing.
What are torofée's aims for the future?
I hope AW21 will sell well, and I hope SS22 will blow people's minds. I want the brand to get to a point where more people can work with me to make it happen. I want to sell worldwide, and I can't wait for the day we build the first Torofée store. In some ten years or so, I would love to turn Torofée into an institution, too, a program, something related to education and creativity in countries where access to those types of studies seems kind of cryptic...