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Pechuga Gets Dirrty: A Firsthand Look Inside the Roberto Cavalli SS03 Archives

Pechuga Gets Dirrty: A Firsthand Look Inside the Roberto Cavalli SS03 Archives

Pechuga Preface

   I want to first start by thanking the Roberto Cavalli archive for trusting me with this piece and by thanking Kris Fe for believing in Pechuga’s mission which is to teach and share fashion. Please note the views expressed in this article are solely my own.

On This Day in Fashion...

   I started yesterday’s Roberto Cavalli unveiling video with the question,  “what were you doing in 2002 ?”, for a reason. In 2002 I was 13 going on 14 escaping middle school in Los Angeles to go to high school on the West Side. Freshman year was going to start anew, I was going to get a girlfriend and everything was going to be great. 

   It was around this time that Christina Aguilera released “Dirrty” and everyone lost their shit. So this is what had been hiding in that genie’s bottle this whole time? Wow. Who knew? However, I still think I was slightly more oblivious than others. I grew up in an extremely conservative household. I wasn’t allowed to watch or listen to music from the time that I was about 10 to 14 years old. How did I even know about Christina Aguilera? I had a portable radio player and I would sneakily listen to my “ungodly” music on it.  When my mom would ask me what I was listening to I’d tell her they were church hymns. Now fast forward to the first year of high school. 

To Our Lady Xtina We Pray

The Dirrty Years

   Two thousand two was the year my world exploded with pop culture and I was a sponge that soaked it all up. However, there was one event that stood out from the rest, the music video to Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” featuring Redman, I was blown away, the song was epic, the imagery-  I didn’t even know people were allowed to dance like that. I swore I was in love with Xtina, she was going to be the girl that I would tell others I had a crush on and everyone would believe me then that I was straight. 

Haaay girlfriend!

   Come to find out I was really just extremely gay and mistook loving  Xtina to actually wanting to look like her, particularly at that time whe she introduced us to her alter ego. The “Dirrty” music video, which was directed by David LaChappelle and released on September 30, 2002, had it all: assless chaps, gyrating shower orgies, and….Redman? There was no in between you either loved the video or you hated it. Fans were shocked, Time called the video a gathering at an “intergalactic hooker convention” and Entertainment Weekly called Aguilera “desperate and shrill".

(Yeah, we're gonna need a whole article just to explain this union)

   Transforming into  Xtina really changed the course of Aguilera’s musical career. The impact trickled down, however. Amidst the backlash that the video received, the American artist would scoff and point out that she was the one in control in the music video and that critics weren’t comfortable when the male gaze was flipped. A bare-naked girl in a music video with a voice? The world wasn’t ready for it but Aguilera didn’t care. 

   But while the singer was taking control of her own image, empowering herself and other women at the same time, I just sat in the corner and thought, “Damn. I think I’m gay.” There was no denying the influence that Xtina had on culture at the time, she proved to have vocal range to be taken seriously as a singer but it was her smashing the image of the sweet girl-next-door that took everyone aback. 

   Now I’m not saying that Xtina’s “Dirrty” music video made me gay (lol) but it did open up my eyes to a world I didn’t know existed or was acceptable (do you see where I’m going here?). Being told your whole life you have to act or look a certain way is tiring. On that level I related to the alter ego that Aguilera had created. But what if it wasn’t an alter ego? What if that was her way of breaking free? As a closeted gay kid I felt the need to do the same. I needed to embrace my inner Xtina. 

This outfit alone was a cry for help

VH1 Best of 2002 Awards

   It was the month of December when the VH1 Best of 2002 Awards celebrated the year’s wildest moments in entertainment. It was an anything goes event and Aguilera was set to perform but not before she showed up in that red Roberto Cavalli number. Xtina shocked people yet again. The ice blond hair on top of the jet back extensions, the tan, and the whittled waist (could she breathe?). She deserved an award for that dress alone. 

Xtina, VH1 Best of 2002, Dec. 4, 2002

   The dress was part of the Roberto Cavalli Spring / Summer 2003 collection that had debuted about a week and a half before the release of the “Dirrty” music video. It was seen on the runway on Danish beauty, Louise Pedersen. The piece which is made of red leather panels, cinches at the back with mile long laces, and has a Victorian-like busk in the center went perfectly with Aguilera’s new image, she may as well have worn it in the music video. Cavalli would later declare Aguilera his muse and in 2007 he designed all 10 costumes for the singer's  “Back to Basics” tour. 

Louise Pedersen for Roberto Cavalli SS03
   Dubbed the “Italian rock god of fashion” by Vogue in 2002, Cavalli’s SS03 collection had some impressive pieces. Delicate silk trims in floral patterns were combined with leopard accents; Chinoiserie in bondage with a rock n' roll bravado. Only Cavalli could get away with it. As an avid corset collector in 2021 the cinchers from this season are a must. You can already imagine my surprise when one day I received a text message from Kris Fe, stylist to Madison Beer. Ps. I met Kris when she put in a request on behalf Kourtney Kardashian, Pechuga was still in its trial period and Kris really just took a chance on me. 

   “You’re gonna die when you see this.” 

   Kris is full of surprises, she’ll come to me with the most fascinating requests and that's when we bond over our love for fashion and art history. When she told me she had styled Madison Beer in the archival dress that Aguilera wore in 2002 I flipped. To my knowledge the dress hadn’t been worn since then. Beer would go on to perform in the same Cavalli dress Xtina wore to a Vevo LIFT performance in December 2020. Iconic all around.

Madison Beer in Roberto Cavalli, Vevo LIFT, SS03 styled by Kris Fe; Dec. 2020

   About two weeks ago I invited Kris to my studio. While we were discussing our upcoming projects this red Cavalli dress came up in conversation (casually). I asked her where the piece was exactly and she told me. I flipped out again. 

I'm not crying, you're crying

“You mean to tell me this masterpiece lives in the same city that I do?!”

   It was at that time that I popped the question. 

Cavalli Pechuga Roberto Madison Beer

“Kris, do you think that the Cavalli archives would let me study and document the dress?” 

Cavalli Madison Beer Pechuga Corset

   To my surprise the request was approved. Four days later and the dress was hanging in my studio and the wheels in my mind were spinning.     

  Cavalli Corset Pechuga Vintage Madison Beer

I could stare at this angle all day

   The dress looked like it could have been painted onto the form. It has a hand-painted tattoo motif (a trend that the 2000’s did not shy away from), it exudes femininity with the lace up detailing in the back, but it looks almost surgical like with the interlacing panels (that look like bandages) and its imposing metal busk in the center. 

Cavalli Madison Beer Xtina Pechuga

Undoing and redoing the laces took about half an hour

    The series of events that led this dress to land in our studio were most definitely random but it made sense that we’d be the ones handling such a rare piece. It was that realization that prompted me to ask the team where they were in 2002. For someone who's obsessed with vintage I rarely like talking about the past, especially when it's too personal, but this was a rare instance wherein I sought insight from my team. My tailor told me he had just arrived to the United States at the age of 15, my assistant told me he had just turned two. Two different generations of queer Latino men in the same room with two vastly different experiences coming together in 2021 for the love of Cavalli, Xtina, and corsets.

   We then proceeded to blast “Dirrty” in the office. 

Xtina Cavalli Pechuga Corset

Legend

   It does not get any gayer than that. 

Xtina Wave Cavalli Goodbye Pechuga

   Toodles

Thank you for reading and until next time!

Johnny Valencia 

Owner



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The Making Of: Pechuga's Vogue Corset

The Making Of:  Pechuga's Vogue Corset

A Year in the Making

   Monday night as I lay down to sleep I told myself tomorrow was going to be a better day. Something didn’t feel right, however. Was it really going to be a better day? I had to say it out loud. So I said it out loud in Spanish. Mañana será un día mejor. I found that more comforting.

   Being the owner of Pechuga has been tough. I expected the work. I didn’t expect the paperwork, however. Nor did I expect the legal doings and the amount of people that were going to be involved in making this business not only successful but profitable. Oh, right, and a pandemic. I don’t think anyone was expecting that this year. After all wasn’t 2020 supposed to be the year of clarity? But I digress.

   I woke up Tuesday from a DM from Steven La Fuente, Ashley Graham’s stylist, with a link and little heart emojis. The link was to Graham’s “7 Days, 7 Looks Feature” in Vogue, one of my pieces was in it. Tuesday did turn out to be a better day, indeed.

   Any time Pechuga is mentioned anywhere I count it as a blessing (I got called a snake the other day by an anonymous user in the DM’s and even that was a blessing, it means they were thinking of me, I mean they took the time to write the message right?). But any time I’m mentioned in Vogue I’m always surprised. Pechuga, in Vogue? However, this time it wasn’t just any piece that was highlighted in Vogue and it wasn’t just on any person.

   This was a piece a year and a half in the making.

In the Beginning There Was Rosé

   July 2019, 2 bottles of rosé deep (fine maybe three, but who was counting), Jesse (the corset maker behind my Vivienne Westwood corset restorations one and two) was in his studio blasting Saweetie and working on our second project. I was taking pictures of fabrics, labels, I had just approved a $600 DHL customs and fees charge (heads up paying your bills drunk is the best way to go, it’s akin to falling flat on your face after a night of drinking and not feeling a single thing) for another Vivienne Westwood corset.

  

 

   This Vivienne Westwood AW90/91 “Portrait” corset needed customs clearance (she would later sell for $12,000, by the way). That’s when I had another idea. The corset trend was in full throttle, Pechuga was spearheading the busty movement forward with rare Westwood corsets that at this point were locked up in museums all over the world but now suddenly found themselves in my hands (in Koreatown out of all places).

   “Why don’t we make our own corset…?” I asked Jesse.

   “Sure.” He said rather bluntly.

   I continued, “…Because, see, I found this dress.”

Pechuga's White Whale

   When I used to work for Vivienne Westwood there was a piece in the shop that I remember being completely enamored by. It was this red lurex corset with the most ostentatious bejeweled appliqués in peridot hues. It was from Vivienne’s SS13 Gold Label show, if I remember correctly it was around $2-3,000.

 

 

   The corset was purchased by the daughter of a 70’s rock legend and I have never been able to find the corset ever again. In my weekly quest to locate the red number seen above, I stumbled upon a diamond in the rough.

   Those appliqués! I knew this dress had to be from the same season as that red corset from the shop, I went ahead and purchased the dress and that’s when the wheels started turning. Now you may be wondering why this took a year and half to make? Well because with as much that piles on a daily (mind you, Jesse himself as a full time job) there needed to be a reason to push the project forward, after all I was going to be funding this all by myself (in the back, Shangela’s infamous Drag Race “Sugar Daddy” speech plays softly). 

The Call

   Finally in September of 2020 I got a call, a client needed a corset made for a project she was working on. There were two requests, the corset needed to be a size US 16 and preferably with sleeves. That’s when I called Jesse and we hit the ground running.

Let's Get to It

   I wanted to use as much fabric from the dress as possible, purchasing the dress was a risky investment already. Ruining it by cutting it up was going to break my heart. However, Jesse said this was feasible, he would take the bottom part of the dress and use it as the side and back panels. As soon as we got the measurements from  my client, Jesse started to make the muslin.

 

  

 

   After a couple of days the body of the piece was starting to take shape. Jesse had boned the stomacher and the back. The appliqués had all been rearranged to flatter the shape of the corset better and now it was time to make the sleeves. For the sleeves I asked Jesse to send me some reference images. From the images he sent over I chose the sleeves from a 1770 stays. 

 

   I particularly loved this 18th century piece because of the soft ribbons at the shoulders. Plus this meant options with our new corset. The wearer can choose to take the sleeves off simply by untying the silk chiffon ribbons. I love having options when I wear certain pieces. My clients should have options as well. 

 

   Jesse was successful in using most of the fabric for the side and back panels. However we did need to make two more runs to Downtown LA to purchase more fabric, for the sleeves and for the ribbons, and lastly for the zipper closure. I wanted the zipper closure to be sturdy but I also wanted it to look expensive and dainty, I went with a metal teardrop ("Metal Teardrop" is also the name of my new metal rock band, we only wear Westwood, look us up).  

 

An Emotional Rollercoaster

   From start to finish making this piece was no easy task. There was a pandemic that we had to tip-toe around, fabric stores were operating at irregular hours, zipper shops were essential businesses but somehow trimmings weren't. Throughout the whole process, however, I had my client's expectations in mind and making her happy was really the end goal here. 

   The corset was a success, the client was happy, I crossed off another task on my never-ending bucket list of things I wanted to achieve for Pechuga: design an upcycled piece for the shop. 

 

                  
 This is what the original SS13 dress looked liked

...and this was the final result

7 Days, 7 Looks with Vogue

   In mid-November I received another DM, it was a pull request for Vogue's newest series, "7 Days, 7 Looks". Ashley Graham was going to be the model featured and they needed looks sized US 14. I always get a bit nervous pitching pieces to clients. My thoughts sometimes betray me. What if they hate my options? Or worse yet, what if I send over options and they tell me that it wasn't what they expected it?

   The Pechuga corset needed some mending, some of the metal boning was sticking out. I was a bit embarrassed to send over a piece with that slight imperfection. But as they say, time waits for no one and when Vogue and Ashley Graham want something uh, you better send. 

   The end result was nothing short of fabulous. Thanks again, Steven, for letting me be a part of this, Ashely for looking stunning, Jesse for bringing my vision to life. Hope you enjoyed the post, fellow reader!

   Until next time. 

xx

Johnny

 

 

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