April 9, 2014

Student Design Spotlight – Caterina Gutierrez

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Caterina Gutierrez ’14 invited the Sun to her office in the Latino Living Center on Tuesday to get a glimpse of her new collection and her work process. Talking with Caterina required many pauses — for me to ask for spelling and clarification — as her collection is intricately tied to Mexican culture and every decision that went into each piece of clothing is a careful nod to one story, game or stereotype or another. Caterina’s collection, she says, reflects her belief in the ability to use clothing as the impetus to a performance, and each look she designed corresponds to a specific character. She showed us a blouse with the words “My Parents Went to College,” studded on the back, part of a look which she calls the “Educated Cholla,” and precedes by acknowledging its sarcasm and calling herself “kind of, like an asshole.”

Many of the characters that Caterina uses in this collection are taken from the Mexican equivalent of a Bingo game, Lotería. Specifically, she showed us a dress covered in Spanish gendered slurs and explained that it is a reference to the stereotype of over-feminized Brown girl, seen in the Lotería character of La Dama. Caterina’s designs confront stereotypes, she says, by bringing them to the forefront — “These are mean things for you to say but I’m going to sugarcoat them with some glitter.”

Caterina’s collection has a distinctive handmade aesthetic, which she says is a reference to the assumptions made about Latin American arts and crafts culture. Many of her designs are hand-beaded or hand-sequined, and with the help of a laser cutter, she has engineered intricately windowed pieces that are to be reminiscent of Cinco de Mayo tissue paper decorations.

One of the last pieces we saw was a sheer corset, designed to be a part of a mermaid-inspired piece and an acknowledgement of the oversexualization of Hispanic women. Caterina’s collection will be worn entirely by plus-size models, she now tells us, and she’s excited to confront the audience’s expectations for femininity by showing them the “big girl nips” they’re not expecting to see. Most of all, Caterina hopes that her designs can inspire confidence — she wants everyone who wears them to feel like “the coolest person in the world,” even after they take them off — and that they will be a warm acknowledgement of the somewhat stereotypical assumptions about her culture as one of excessive emoting and revelling. “Over-the-top: That’s sort of what our culture has been thought of. We have this attitude of you guys are sort of dicks, but we’ll have a party anyway.”

The Sun: When did you start designing? How did you end up at Cornell for design?

Caterina Gutierrez: I started designing when I was around eight. I first began with Barbie clothes, but since I had no idea what I was doing, a barbie dress turned into a Barbie pillow. ‘Make it work,’ right? I’m an Ivy legacy. My dad graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in the ’70s and because my siblings didn’t go Ivy, I had no choice but to. It was a hard choice at first, deciding to come here instead of a traditional art school, but I really appreciate the opportunities that I’ve had to explore other areas of study. Plus, between you and me, I’m pretty (secretly) conceited. People are always impressed with an Ivy grad.

Sun: How would you describe your design style? What inspirations should we be able to see in your designs?

C.G.: My design style is something of a glam rock chola. My aesthetic philosophy is “Fuck it. More sparkles. Now hand me my beer, but remember it’s my last — I’ve got church in the morning.” I always say I’m a drag queen trapped in a chola’s body. I think that explains it pretty well. Because I’m always so inspired by my culture, I’d hope you can see these Mexican influences. From the colors I choose to the music I play when working, it’s always about having a good time.

Sun: What are your goals for designing? What type of person do you imagine that you’re designing for?

C.G.: My major design goal is to promote confidence. As a designer, and more recently as a designer that specializes in plus-size attire, I’m all about ensuring that the person wearing my clothing feels like they’re untouchable. There’s a term for these fly girls that gets used in cholo culture — firme hyna — essentially a dope chick. I want my audience to feel like they’re the firmest of hynas, even after they’ve changed out of my clothes.

Sun: If you could design for one celebrity, who would it be and why?

C.G.: Richard Simmons. As a fat girl from the start, I’ve always appreciated RSims love for oldies and inappropriately short bedazzled shorts. I dressed as him for Halloween a few years ago and wear the costume often. You haven’t lived until you’ve Sweat To the Oldies with Richard in matching red and white striped shorts. Body glitter required.

Sun: Could you give us a little preview of what to expect at the April show? What type of collection are you showing? What are the inspirations behind it/the philosophy guiding it?

Sketch by Caterina Gutierrez ’14