Home Featured Alexandra Flores: Connecting with Culture and Identity Through Design

Alexandra Flores: Connecting with Culture and Identity Through Design

by Art U News
On-location image of Alexandra Flores' senior thesis collection. Photo by Alexandra Peskova.

By Rachel Reyna

“If I’m going to do a Western collection, I’m not going to make it American Western. It’s going to be Mexican Western. It’s going to be vaqueros, and it’s going to be charros,” said Academy of Art University School of Fashion alum Alexandra Flores.

The School of Fashion requires every graduating student to turn in a senior thesis in which they create a collection that showcases their skills and the aesthetics unique to their point of view. Flores’ senior thesis drew inspiration from her family and her culture.

“I started thinking [about my senior thesis] and was like, ‘Do I want to do American Western, like TV Western?’ No, I don’t want to do that,” said Flores, who graduated in Fall 2023. “I did a lot of research on what it means to be a cowboy, and I learned that it’s all stolen from Mexican and Native American traditions.”

Southwestern aesthetics have been manufactured as such for decades. According to writer Lakshmi Gandhi of History.com, Southwestern cowboys have been historically and most famously portrayed in old Hollywood Western films by white American actors. What most don’t know is that these ‘aesthetics’ are simply the traditions, customs, and culture of Mexican Indigenous people, whose art, textiles, and ways of life heavily influence the American Southwest. 

For her thesis collection, which walked the runway during the 2023 Graduation Fashion Show, Flores drew inspiration from her grandfather’s cattle farm in Jalisco, Mexico, which her father grew up working on. 

“Alex’s project was personal, and I think that’s where things become more successful for students in general,” said School of Fashion Director Gary Miller. “It was about her heritage and her culture. It was something that she wanted to explore. You can pull more accurate references or points of view.”

Flores cited Miller as someone whose lessons she will remember throughout her career. Miller was someone who pushed the designer to challenge herself in her work and to apply to all opportunities. 

Flores explained that before starting her senior thesis, she’d begun to force herself to stay away from leather to learn how to work with other fabrics and materials. Once she realized the cultural significance of her specific style, she learned to lean into her designer identity and also into her cultural identity.

Studio image of Alexandra Flores’ senior thesis collection. Photo by Alexandra Peskova.

“I struggled with the two middle years at the Academy because I was so confused [about] what I wanted to do and what my designer identity was, and [it was] not a coincidence at all that I was having inner turmoil about who I wanted to be and my culture and my identity and speaking and living differently than how I grew up,” explained Flores. “I wasn’t sure how I wanted to present myself as a person, so then deciding what my designer identity was, was such a challenge. I decided that this is what I wanted to do. I love leather. I’d been pushing it away, and I decided, let me stop pushing away all these things I love because [of] how I think I should be presenting myself in this space.”

Flores’ collection is comprised of various looks that incorporate materials such as embossed cow leather and handwoven fabric from Guatemala. Select pieces also include Mexican-inspired hardware. For ‘buttons,’ she used pieces of saddles. Flores visited Mar Vista Stables in Daly City, where she learned about horse saddles. 

“What was important for me is I wanted my materials to come from Mexico or support Latino heritage in some way, shape, or form. I almost hopped on a plane to go fabric shopping in Mexico,” shared Flores. “I ended up sourcing some handwoven fabric from Guatemala, which I thought was really beautiful. The reason I wanted to use Guatemalan fabrics is because, at the time, the only other Latino people that I was meeting in San Francisco were from Guatemala, and I felt really connected and included by them.”
The photoshoots for her project were taken at a horse stable in her hometown of Gonzales, California. Flores’ senior thesis, among her other work and collections, can be found on her website.

Not only does Flores feel that she’s grown as a designer through this project, but she has also grown into her identity and become more connected to her culture. She hopes to incorporate some aspects of her cultural identity into her work going forward. 

“I feel closer to my culture, yes, through the collection itself, but more through all the research I did,” said Flores. “I did a lot of family research and a lot of research on what it means to be Mexican [and] what it means to be a cowboy.”

“I feel confident in that’s who I am. It’s what I love, and it’s who I am. There’s always going to be a dash of western or a dash of leather.”

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