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Kika Vargas

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There aren’t many people who would commit to a photoshoot the day after completing the London Marathon, but Kika Vargas is one of them. It’s the perfect example of the driving ambition that’s got the Colombian designer to where she is today.

After years working for Missoni in Italy, she moved back to her native Bogotá to launch her eponymous brand in 2010. Over a decade on and she’s become beloved for her signature voluminous occasion wear, which draws inspiration from her colourful Latin heritage. When we meet her at the MATCHESFASHION Townhouse at 5 Carlos Place, she’s (understandably) exhausted but joyful – just like her designs – as she poses for portraits in pieces from her exclusive capsule for the luxury fashion retailer.

Here, we speak to her about the secrets to perfecting event dressing, her favourite pre-party rituals and the music that will always get her on her feet.

Starting your own label was, in part, inspired by childhood memories of watching your mother dress up. Can you tell us about some of those memories and the outfits your mother wore that captured your imagination?

You know, the part of my upbringing that inspired me was more my parents’ love for art. They made a huge effort to always take us to galleries and museums, and the art conversation was always present, so that had a big influence. I guess I always wanted to make things and create stuff. My mom dresses up every day of her life and I also think that was a big part of my upbringing. I don’t really remember any of her outfits, but I do remember her effort to dress up and look the best she could throughout the whole day and the evenings. I remember the act of her getting ready, of putting on her make-up and her creams, dressing up, putting on her jewellery and perfume and the ritual of pampering herself, rather than the actual looks.

You were raised in Bogotá, Colombia, and then moved back there to start your own label after stints in Italy and the US. How does your Colombian heritage and the way you celebrate special occasions there influence your designs?

I think, as Latins, we’re very warm people. We’re very joyful; we love dancing, we love music, we love parties. We’re very colourful and I think that translates into the DNA of the brand. I also think that, living in the tropics, there’s so much biodiversity. There are so many flowers, so many different species, you get to see so many fruits. So it’s a very colourful life and I think that’s what translates into the brand.

Event season is upon us, with everything from weddings to garden parties. You’re known for your beautiful occasion wear – what do you think makes the perfect event outfit?

I love structure and volume, and I do love a statement piece. I don’t think there’s a specific style I would recommend for evening – I’d just say, know your assets. Know what part of you you like and accentuate it. So, if it’s your shoulders or your legs, work with what you really feel confident about. The perfect event piece is the one that makes you feel beautiful – it’s all about how you feel in the dress.

“The perfect event piece is the one that makes you feel beautiful.”

At Wardrobe ICONS, we’re all about building a wardrobe that endures and a huge part of that is finding pieces that are versatile and can work for multiple occasions. This can be harder when it comes to occasion wear. What are your tips for choosing occasion-wear pieces that stand the test of time?

I would look into the fabrics. If you choose fabrics that have sparkle, they’re harder to translate into the day, or if it’s a velvet or a heavy material, I would say it’s harder to wear for different occasions. So, I’d stick to polys or nylon – we’ve been working a lot with nylon and it has a great effect because it holds the structure really well but doesn’t have a shine to it, so you can wear it during the night or during the day, for several different occasions. And then, when it comes to styling, ask yourself: is it a piece that you could wear with flats? Is it a piece that you could wear with Birkenstocks or tennis shoes? We’ve been styling our dresses with Converse recently. For me, the shoes are always what dresses a piece either up or down.

How would you describe your own special-occasion style?

It really depends on the collection we’re working on. For example, volume is really important for us, but recently we’ve been working on more form-fitting silhouettes. Right now, I’m very into the shapes we’ve done for the MATCHES capsule, like the Anne dress. I do like to wear something that’s a statement, something that has an interesting shape to it. So, I’d say that my style would be whatever is different or has an interesting structure to it.

Occasion wear can hold so many memories of wonderful times – tell us about the piece that holds the best memories for you.

The Met Gala was yesterday; we have a version back here in Colombia for the Modern Art Museum of Bogotá. They have a special night where everybody gets to dress on theme and outside of the box to raise funds for the museum. It’s a really beautiful event and the dresses that we’ve made for that – and that I’ve made for myself – are very close to my heart.

“As Latins, we're very warm people. We’re very joyful; we love dancing, we love music, we love parties. That translates into the DNA of the brand.”

Party dress codes can be hard to decipher sometimes – how do you navigate them?

I try to speak with whoever’s organising the event, rather than other guests, to get a sense of what they’re thinking. I actually never ask guests because that gets me confused. Then I try to stick as close to what I want as I can – so, if it’s a tropical-themed night, I think, ‘What is tropical for me?’, instead of looking for references. Also, I would say, never go too crazy because you don’t want to spend money on something you’re only going to wear once, and try to stick as close to your personal style as possible, so that it’s something you can wear over and over again.

Accessorising is key when it comes to occasion wear – what are your top tips for doing it well?

Less is more. I know accessorising is huge, but I don’t really wear that much. Rings are my favourite go-to; I feel like they don’t take away from the look. Think about what you’re trying to emphasise – is it your neck? Then go for necklaces. It’s fun to play around with jewellery and accessories. If I could wear sunglasses throughout an event, I would be the happiest – I feel like that’s the strongest accessory I can have.

Which women, past or present, do you think always get occasion dressing right?

I was telling my husband last night that Anne Hathaway is having a huge moment – she’s really doing it right lately. I would never have thought of her a couple of years ago, but recently she’s just on point. I love Cate Blanchett – always perfect – and Jessica Chastain, and, of course, Zendaya.

Are there any iconic occasion-wear moments that you find yourself continually drawn to when looking for design inspiration?

The fun thing about our mood boards is that they actually have a lot of art pieces and art moments on them, rather than fashion moments. There’s also a lot of flowers and a lot of interior design, which is a fun fact that nobody really knows.

Who are your dream party guests?

Brad Pitt! I would love to have Obama. I would love to have Dr Peter Attia, who is a leading doctor in longevity, which is something that’s very interesting to me right now. He’s just done a documentary with Chris Hemsworth, so he could come, too, and his wife, Elsa Pataky. I’d love to have Sofia Coppola, I love her. There’s this amazing artist that I’m very obsessed with right now, from Spain; his name is Rafa Macarrón. So many people, there’s a never-ending list!

What rituals do you have when getting ready for a special occasion?

I love the beauty part; it’s very important for me. I don’t wear a lot of make-up, so my routine is really quick. I do try to stay as organic as possible. The ritual I love the most is just being in a robe and taking time to put on all the different creams, serums and face masks, and dry body brushing. It’s more of a wellness routine rather than a beauty routine.

What beauty essentials will we find in your handbag for a big occasion?

I love Elizabeth Arden lip glosses – I even wear it on my cheeks and eyelids for a little shine.

What music never fails to get you in the party spirit?

I’m sorry to say this, but it’s reggaeton! It has to be! I wish I could say something more interesting that doesn’t make me so Latin!