The community of Agua by Agua Bendita
With a collection specially designed for Gucci Vault and defined by beautiful botanical prints, the designers’ duo discusses driving forces, inspirations, and their approach to sustainability in a deep dive into their vision.
Interview by Roberta Zedda
Pictures by Emilija Milušauskaitė
Creative Direction by Mulieris & Agua
Production by Nicolás Giraldo Bolívar, Miguel Mesa Posada, Maria J. Jaramillo
If you google ‘Gucci Vault,’ the first result reads ‘The concept store by Gucci.’ Inarguably true and straight to the point, Vault goes beyond what could be described as a simple online shop. The unique platform hosts a variety of hand-picked de- signers using upcycled Gucci materials, the House’s vintage pieces restored by its artisans, and one-off special collections that reflect Gucci’s quest for individuality and experimentation. Gucci Vault is a ‘treasure trove of unique objects representing beauty, dreams, passions, and above all, the search for ideas beyond the confines of time and space.’
Mulieris and Gucci Vault are both creative spaces in continuous evolution. Their narrative turmoil reflects in a shapeshifting format that blurs the lines between fashion, art, and personal stories. Thanks to a wish to narrate different realities that reflect their values, the binomial was a spontaneously shared platform that supports the clear message of Agua by Agua Bendita. Founded by Catalina Álvarez and Mariana Hinestroza, the brand is the creation of two Colombian women who set out to show the world the highly skilled artisan techniques of their Latin American heritage.
In this issue, Mulieris keeps exploring the meaning of creating links, here expressed through the eyes of the designers’ duo.
With their motto, ‘We’re not single stars, we’re all a constellation,’ Catalina Álvarez and Mariana Hinestroza chat about making their brand, their deep connection to the Colombian community, and the continuous fostering of local women.
LET’S START FROM THE ROOTS. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU MEET? WHAT WAS THE DRIVING FORCE TO START MAKING YOUR DESIGNS?
Catalina & Mariana: More than eighteen years of lessons and wisdom lie behind the history of our brand. We met at the university studying fashion design, and since then, we have been soulmates. We were young; we had a lot of fun; we used to go to Cartagena every summer with our friends and enjoy the beach and the sea. Then, in 2003 after a summer holiday, we started creating swimsuits using leftover fabrics from a local clothing factory and used my grandmothers’ sewing machines. Soon, high demand would lead us to partner with talented female artisans from our hometown, a bond we have cherished ever since. Our creativity was unstoppable; we dreamed big and kept creating authentic pieces with an identity that represented us.
WHAT IS THE STORY BEHIND YOUR NAME?
Catalina & Mariana: The name originated from our mother’s insistence that we bless the leftover fabric we used for our first collection with holy water - Agua Bendita in Spanish; later, we pushed the concept further by sending blessed scapulars tied to our pieces as a part of the packaging.
Then, in 2018, seeking to take our admiration for craftsmanship and our devotion to Latin America to new heights, we created Agua by Agua Bendita: The reference to water as nature’s perhaps most crucial element came naturally to an eco-conscious label that pays homage to the charm of Latin America and venerates artisanal designs.
AS WOMEN AND DESIGNERS, IS THERE A PHILOSOPHY YOU KEEP AT HEART WHILE MANAGING YOUR BRAND?
Catalina & Mariana: At our brand, we have always seen teamwork as our betting horse. Our motto is ‘We’re not single stars, we’re all a constellation’. Everything else is a continuous renovation of the values our team & we hold near to our hearts along each following season.following season.
WHAT DEFINES FEMININITY IS AN ONGOING DISCUSSION WITHIN THE FASHION COMMUNITY, AND DIFFERENT BRANDS OFFER THEIR VISION. WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TODAY?
Catalina & Mariana: A human expression of mother nature. The awe-inspiring power of the great outdoors is to nature what women are to mankind; We channel that female power.
ON THE OTHER HAND, WHAT DOES MAKING FASHION MEAN TO YOU?
Catalina & Mariana: It’s the only thing we know how to do, but that would be selling ourselves short; we’re also great mothers, experienced businesswomen, and tested leaders; however, we always go back to making fashion. It is perhaps our way to reaffirm our convictions. In our fashion, you can see what we hope for in the future and what we believe in. In that sense, it would be our guide map without it, we couldn’t be the great mothers, businesswomen, or leaders we are.
YOU MENTIONED YOUR WORK WITH COLOMBIAN ARTISANS’ WOMEN. IN WHAT WAY DO LOCAL REALITIES PERMEATE YOUR DESIGN AND INTERTWINE WITH YOUR INSPIRATIONS?
Catalina & Mariana: Yes, our AB Hearts. Agua by Agua Bendita could only exist with them. They are the ones who give life to our stunning garments, all handmade here in Colombia. Our exquisite embroidery and hand-illustrated fabrics are possible thanks to their delicate work, which generally takes between 40 and 200 hours of labor. The way we push our aesthetic and quality every season in our pieces represents our continuous commitment to honor the artisan’s crafts today, and always; we keep each other’s work alive.
These women, who could not otherwise work because they had to stay home to care for their children, have proved they are immensely talented, capable of developing impressive creations from their homes, and we are thankful they have allowed us to tell their stories and share their talents through our pieces. They have been our trusted partners and one of the most important pillars for us.
We currently have more than 600 artisans, which are certainly the added value to our pieces. Their traditions and perspective also inform our research season after season.
WHO DID YOU HAVE IN MIND WHEN YOU CREATED YOUR EXCLUSIVE COLLECTION FOR VAULT? CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?
Catalina & Mariana: We wanted to represent the Colombian flora and fauna connected to Italian botanicals in an impossible garden that only existed in this magical capsule.
Here Agua goes dark in a healing selection of empowering plants, sometimes misunderstood, depicted in a collection that travels time and space between Italy and Colombia, the Middle Ages, and contemporaneity.
BOTANICAL PRINT IS AT THE CORE OF YOUR DESIGNS. SO WHERE DOES YOUR INSPIRATION COME FROM?
Catalina & Mariana: Every element incorporated into our brand is inspired by Latin America’s enchanting biodiversity and culture,
a story we are passionate about sharing with the world. As a Colombian-based brand, we are surrounded by exquisite nature that fills us with inspiration in every stroll we take. Our first collection was inspired by the botanical expedition of José Celestino Mutis, an academic interested in recording the riches of our territories; ever since then, botanical prints have been part of our DNA. Our design department is in charge of creating our prints, one of the distinctive allures of our brand. Various techniques are used to create these unique pieces in the development process. These techniques include hand illustrations, digital illustrations, and a mix of both.
Taking these illustrations to embroidery is another one of our design team’s expertise. There are also manual and mechanical textile ennobling techniques that take the concept further in the finished garments. Our in-house team of graphic/textile designers uses different techniques to illustrate these botanical delicacies, such as watercolor, color pencil, and digital illustration.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW SUSTAINABILITY INTEGRATES WITH YOUR BRAND? WAS IT ALWAYS PART OF YOUR ETHICS, OR DID IT NATURALLY DEVELOP WITH TIME?
Nature and sustainability have always been our greatest sources of inspiration. That’s why we strive to honor it in all our practices. We are committed to creating less and better, producing only three collections a year for our creative process and reducing our environmental impact. We believe in designing pieces that can be worn and loved for years for their timeless style and excellent quality.
All fabrics and materials used for our ready-to-wear garments are natural fibers such as cotton, silk, and linen, and our team strives to locate certified fibers in our sourcing process. We manufacture our swimwear in Colombia without sacrificing
quality or softness, using reclaimed polyester from recycled PET plastic bottles. Our printing techniques also reflect our deep love for the planet. We print our stunning ready-to-wear pieces using a digital approach that saves water and reduces the overall environmental impact of our production process. Furthermore, we create our swimwear styles using sublimation printing and water-based inks that are safe for workers and the environment.
Furthermore, every piece is manufactured in Colombia.
VAULT, MULIERIS, AND AGUA BY AGUA BENDITA ALL OFFER A PLATFORM FOR WOMEN TO THRIVE IN THEIR FIELDS, CREATING A SPACE TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES AND EVOLVE. IS THERE SOMETHING YOU STILL HOPE TO ACHIEVE IN THE FUTURE? WHAT WOULD BE THE NEXT CHAPTER FOR YOUR BRAND?
We want to keep exploring our roots and bring into life beautiful collections and projects linked to Latin America
and Colombia, specifically. Art and nature are our greatest sources of inspiration, so we strive to honor them in everything. Through innovation, craftsmanship, sustainability, and mastery, we pursue a dream bigger than Agua by Agua Bendita. We envision the power of where we come from by showing the world the immensity of our region.
When we went to school for design, creating our brand felt like a natural bet. Now, twenty years in, we hope our brand becomes a creative hub and home that bets for the local talents in the same way we bet for ourselves.