Backstage after Givenchy’s fall women’s wear show—an exhilarating blur of tailcoats, devoré velvet, crazy kiss curls and fierce face jewelry—journalists swarmed around designer Riccardo Tisci to get the lowdown on his inspiration.
The Victoriana was plain, but another reference the Italian designer threw out—Chola girls—was met with quizzical expressions among the European press. Afterward, an American scribe familiar with the underground style tribe explained, describing it as popular on the east side of Los Angeles, though glossing over its association with Latino gang culture.
In his show notes, Tisci said he juxtaposed the “dark and poetic spirit” of the Victorians against “the aesthetics of Cholas from the South American gang known for its aggressive aesthetics.”
The hair and makeup—hinged on dark lips and fine hairs gelled into designs on forehead and cheeks—was Givenchy’s most obvious sign of the so-called Chola look, recently popularized by recording artist FKA Twigs.
To be sure, it’s a style loaded with possible land mines, given its association with marginalized groups and violence. But fashion has a knack for embracing things for their aesthetic qualities only, while also shedding light on a phenomenon so far from the mainstream, even designers are not entirely sure of the interconnections.
“My collection was not so much influenced by the Cholas who are based in Miami, but the Cholombians living in Monterrey [Mexico]. Though I believe the two are connected—I just don’t know how,” said Jean-Paul Lespagnard, whose fall offer featured Chola signatures: oversize cuts, distinctive check prints and cotton fabrics.
The designer described them as “a group of young people who like to listen to cumbia—a mix of electronic music and traditional Mexican rhythms. They have a very specific style: half rap-inspired, half traditional Mexican outfits, which is also very urban. What appealed to me was that it is typically Mexican and yet very few people outside the country know about it. Also, I feel they bring something new into the Mexican tradition—I find them very progressive.”
London-based Caitlin Price also painted with the Chola brush, though she said she was mainly referencing casualwear in nightclub photos from the late Nineties/early Aughts.
“There are references to Nineties garage looks in the styling and the tracksuit shapes. It’s a mix I’ve grown up with and worn myself,” Price said.
As for the hairstyles, the science fiction film Dune was a reference—a twisted knot like the character Princess Irulan wears, with the curling baby hairs meant to resemble a breathing apparatus. Who knew?