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Mara Hoffman Spring 2012 Collection — Que Viva México!

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Never one for the drab or dreary, designer Mara Hoffman treated fashion insiders to a performance by a Mariachi band as they circled their way around The Box at Lincoln Center on Friday, September 9th, ogling at the Mexican-inspired designs comprising her exuberant, free-spirited, and deliciously sexy Spring 2012 collection.

It’s Hoffman’s aesthetic wanderlust, her ability to celebrate other cultures without the end result feeling gimmicky, opportunistic, or imperialist and vulture-like, that makes her such a beloved figure within the fashion world. Her often flowy, relaxed silhouettes conjure up a free-spirited energy that is further amplified by the visual anthropological journeys on which she embarks when creating custom prints, embroidering fabrics, and adding bead work or stitching detail.

For Spring 2012, Hoffman turned to Mexico for inspiration (hence the Mariachi band), incorporating folkloric prints and embroideries into her rompers, dresses, shorts, and blouses, then adding her own modern, urban touch through sheer fabrics, exaggerated silhouettes, asymmetrical hemlines, and technicolor accents. As an ode to the late Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, TIGI stylist Nick Irwin created massive braids and twisted them atop models’ heads. But, instead of creating the crown-like form associated with Kahlo’s signature updo, which involves a single thick braid running from the back of one ear to the back of the other ear in an arc-like shape along the top and center of the head, Irwin took the braided strands and twisted them in pretzel-like formations for more exaggerated, spiraling ‘dos — some of which could’ve rivaled Carmen Miranda’s headdresses in height. To add even more Kahlo charm, colorful printed ribbon strips were woven into models’ strands, rosette accents were tucked inside their updos, and tall blades grass were occasionally tucked along the back of models’ heads.

The Make Up For Ever team, meanwhile, conjured up Kahlo’s spirit by giving the models’ skin a golden bronzed glow, particularly along the top of the cheeks, and darkening their brows for a stronger overall look (thankfully, they circumvented the temptation to give them faux unibrows). To complete the Coyoacán-ready accouterments, Hoffman enlisted Holst and Lee to create threaded rope and seed bead necklaces in vibrant colors and to produce custom wedge sandals featuring wooden soles and woven straps incorporating her new Spring 2012 prints (tying the footwear back to the apparel).

With so many flamboyant and matching elements at play, the collection’s styling could have easily veered into comically costume-y territory — particularly given the exactitude with which Hoffman channeled her inspiration (i.e. sans any coy elusiveness). But minimalist naysayers be darned, when pieced together, all these elements actually intensified the picturesque and festive quality of the setting. Sure, there were kitschy elements, but they felt playful and flirtatious, both attributes the Mara Hoffman girl appreciates.

Traditional Mexican textiles, like the striped, blanket-like serapes worn across the country, informed some of the collection’s pieces. In fact, one of the new custom prints introduced this season was dubbed “Serape,” and it surfaced in pieces ranging from a high-waisted short with angled seams to a cropped bustier bralet and a roomy tote bag. The tribal-flavored “Veracruz” print, meanwhile, incorporated Mayan and Aztec symbols, then layered them to create geometric patterns. Rather than earthy sienna, taupe, burgundy, and mustard shades for this ethnic print, Hoffman chose neons like fluorescent pink, acid green, incandescent yellow, and electric violet, thereby giving the motif a modern, youthful feel. This stunning print was emblazoned across the front panel of a pale, icy blue, sleeveless, sheath-like maxi dress, infusing some energy into an otherwise highly structured garment. It also adorned one of the collection’s most stunning pieces: a sheer chiffon caftan blouse that grazed the hip area along the front but extended to the floor along the back and which featured exaggerated wispy sweep sleeves, all of which helped to yield a stunning high-priestess-gone-disco effect. The “Techno Animal” print, depicting multi-colored birds and florals (the type of visuals you’d often find on embroidered peasant blouses and dresses), surfaced on the strappy wedge sandals worn by models. This whimsical print was also used for some of the more vintage-feeling pieces, such as a sleeveless black chiffon maxi dress with a prim, Mandarin-esque neckline, and a flamenco-ready voile skirt with vertical ruffles forming an arched shape along the asymmetrical hemline.

A white dress with a subtle diamond-like print, V-shaped neckline, wrap-like bodice, belted waist, ethereal butterfly sleeves, and a maxi skirt with a ruffled tier was reminiscent of the dress depicted in Kahlo’s The Two Fridas self-portrait and yet, of course, it brought the garment into contemporary times through the low-cut neckline and the sheer airiness of the fabric. Similarly, a sleeveless, white cotton maxi dress with a multi-tiered ruffle skirt and cut-out details channeled the grace and innocence of traditional Mexican wedding gowns.

Other showstoppers included: a floor-length caftan in sheer navy blue a ribbon-trimmed, V-shaped neckline and lime green embroidery along the chest area; a long-sleeved, figure-hugging crochet maxi dress in a cream color; and a purple jumpsuit with Hoffman’s ticker stripe embroidery detailing.

Take a cue from Kahlo and draw a self-portrait in your mind of yourself wearing one of these frocks!

Check out more photos after the jump!

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