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Carolina K’s ethical designs are a celebration of Latin American artisanship and sustainability.
CLOSE YOUR EYES. Think of a beach, with soft sand and waves lapping at the shore. The sun’s on your face, breeze at your back. We can all visualize it, right? Well in this fantasy, there’s another key visual for me — my outfit. In my tropical dreams, the clothes are made by one designer: Carolina K.
Since launching her eponymous brand in 2005, Carolina Kleinman’s designs have been rooted in two things: sustainability, and supporting local artisans across the most remote regions of Latin America and India. Prioritizing natural and recycled fibers in its materials, the brand’s goal is the preservation of ancestral craft. Working with 300 artisans, pieces are made by hand over a range of 10 to 50 days, with details like embroidery and appliqué providing a spellbinding visual of what true, slow fashion really looks like.
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I had the pleasure of actually living out these tropical fantasies, visiting Carolina K’s new store at the spectacular Auberge Etéreo. The boutique is a dazzling setting. Gliding out of the store in my new flowy garb for a plate of chilled ceviche by the shore is a sequence of events I’ll reflect on with misty eyes come winter. Etéreo, located on the Riviera Maya coastline and floating above a mangrove reserve, is a stunning ode to Maya culture, and home to some of the most incredible food (melt in your mouth cochinita pibil, sushi with fresh-caught fish, and one of the best Japanese curries I’ve ever had — in Mexico! Who knew!). I was blessed by a shaman upon arrival, in a series of rituals with smoking copal and instrumentation, allowing for respectful entry to the historically Maya land.
The Carolina K boutique is located at the center of the property, filled with rows of silky fabrics in rich colors, as well as earthy home goods made by local artisans. I selected the Guida Kaftan in the Crowned Cranes pattern (the style has other stunning prints like Moroccan Red and Jardin). It’s made of sustainable viscose (a plant-based material made from the fibers of trees like pine, bamboo, and eucalyptus). The raw materials are Forest Stewardship Council-certified, meaning from forests providing “environmental, social, and economic benefits.”
The piece drapes like a waterfall down the body. Though loose in shape, subtle tassel-ended ties can ruche the waist to desired shape, with an option to knot at the sides, or tie in the back or at the front (what I like to do). Staring at myself in the mirror, I was mesmerized by the fabric’s pattern, an array of artfully sketched flora and fauna that seemed to make my face look more alive. While intricate, the print is delicate and harmonious enough to keep from seeming busy. Posing this way and that, I felt, frankly, beautiful. The fabric is light enough for a hot day, but substantial enough to feel not in the least bit like a coverup. You wouldn’t wear this piece over your bathing suit on the beach — but to dinner on the shoreline? Or back in New York City, on your way to a nice lunch, memories of paradise still draped on your sun-kissed skin? Perfect.
Carolina K’s designs demand travel to magical places — not only to have an occasion to wear them, but to honor the magical hands and minds behind each stitch.
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Sophie Mancini is an editor at Departures. Born and raised in New York City, she holds a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and has a background as a writer in brand and editorial.
Ahonen & Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.
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