Tanya Meléndez, the Mexican Curator Shifting FIT’s Focus Toward Latin Fashion

By Fernanda Tapia

“Without fashion museums, material culture lacks a space for its preservation and analysis.”

For decades, designers of Latin American heritage like Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, and Haider Ackermann have been central figures in the fashion industry, paving the way for new generations of talented creators such as Gabriela Hearst, Willy Chavarria, Carla Fernández, and Kika Vargas.

However, the most relevant media outlets insist on presenting Latin American fashion from an external perspective, depicting the region as a homogenous and exotic entity.

Tanya Meléndez Escalante, the Mexican Chief Curator of Education and Public Programs at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, has dedicated a significant portion of her career to combat this view and emphasize that there is no singular Latin American style, but rather a diversity of talents that continue to shape contemporary fashion.

One of her most recent achievements was the opening of ‘¡Moda Hoy! Latin American and Latinx Fashion Design Today,’ an exhibition at FIT that challenges Eurocentric perspectives and offers a decentralized view of fashion studies, curated by herself this year in collaboration with Melissa Marra-Alvarez.

“Latin fashion often reflects the dual experience of being of Latin American descent and living in the United States. This hybridity is rich with meaning and experiences lived by Latin people. We aim to showcase this duality through the looks presented in the exhibition,” she explained.

From art to sustainability, the thematically organized exhibition highlights the influence of Latin fashion in areas such as craftsmanship, elegance, gender identity, indigenous heritage, politics, and popular culture, through over 60 objects from the museum’s permanent collection and new acquisitions from names like Víctor Alfaro, Maria Cornejo, Oscar de la Renta, Luis Estévez, Carlos Falchi, Carolina Herrera, and Isabel Toledo.

For Tanya, fashion is a complex discipline that must be studied from various perspectives due to its cultural, social, and political implications. Furthermore, its performative nature makes it a fertile field for artistic exploration. Therefore, it’s not surprising that in her professional work, she has also paved the way for its exploration from academia, education, and entertainment.

Over the past fifteen years, she has collaborated with artistic organizations, where she has led and managed projects aimed at showcasing and promoting fashion, visual arts, and performing arts, both in Mexico and the United States. At FIT, she has organized over 100 public programs, including ‘Cross-Pollination,’ an intercultural dialogue space with international educational institutions where students have the opportunity to work on fashion-based projects.

A graduate of the Master’s program in fashion and textile museology at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT-New York) and a Bachelor of Humanities from the University of the Americas – Puebla, Tanya has also worked for the British Council Mexico as a cultural advisor and at the National Museum of Design Cooper Hewitt. She was a Fulbright-García Robles fellow and a recipient of the National Fund for Culture and the Arts. In 2000, she received the Miguel Covarrubias Award (Bachelor’s Thesis in Museology) from the National Institute of Anthropology and History. She has also been a mentor for the TALLER Fashion Development Project.

“I hope to influence the growth of a stronger fashion culture in Mexico,” she stated in an interview with other media. “The more people learn to appreciate fashion, the more successful our industry will become. And there are many conversations that we’ve only just begun to have… I hope to contribute with texts, events, and exhibitions that can serve as catalysts for others.”