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‘Bulletproof’ Fashion Hits Mexico’s Runways and Streets

Designer Miguel Caballero has forged his own niche where clothes combine style and the ability to stop a slug.

by John Holman
Apr 13 2014, 6:46pm

Photo by Gaetan Mariage

It’s the sports jacket that fits the need of every Mexican gentleman — light, elegantly tailored and more importantly, bulletproof.

Colombian designer Miguel Caballero has forged his own niche where the worlds of fashion and violence collide with clothes combining style and the ability to stop a slug.

Photo by Gaetan Mariage

This is a big moment for the company, the world unveiling of Caballero’s 2014 collection on Friday.

As a well-heeled crowd nibbles on canapés, female models strut down the catwalk in jackets and tank tops. They’re followed by men wearing skimpy vests and then leather biker jackets. It all looks indistinguishable from high class high street fashion — and it can all take a bullet.

Photo by Gaetan Mariage

The brand has gone global — the client list is secret but is said to include King Abdullah of Jordan along with the presidents of Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala, while Barack Obama is strongly rumored to have used a Caballero suit for his inauguration.

Photo by Gaetan Mariage

But the company has chosen to unveil their new range in their most important market, Mexico.

A third of Caballero’s clothes are bought here — more than anywhere else in the world.

Photo by Gaetan Mariage

When asked why that might be, Juan Carlos Muñoz, the company’s Mexico director, said they “don’t want to get into the politics of the situation.”

He might not want to offend the Mexican politicians who wear his brand, but it is almost certainly to do with the on going violence that has seen Mexico’s homicide count surge to more than 100,000 over the last six years.

Photo by Gaetan Mariage

The Need for Protection

Since former President Felipe Calderon declared war on the country’s criminal groups, they have splintered and multiplied, battling over territory and drug routes in many areas of the country.

The general public has not been spared during the years of killings and disappearances and many of those with money have looked to protect themselves.

As a result the security industry is booming.

Sales of armored cars alone have gone up by over a third since 2006. And since a growing number of criminal gangs are getting hold of high calibre weaponry, rich Mexicans are now paying out even more for armor that can stop an AK 47 or AR-15 assault rifle.

Cartel shootouts and executions are plaguing Northeast Mexico. Read more here.

In 2006, 80 percent of cars we sold were armored against short arms, and 20 percent against assault weapons. Now it’s 50 – 50, said Esteban Hernández, vice president of the Mexican Armoured Car Association.

Hernández says sales are highest right now in the State of Mexico, the area which surrounds much of Mexico City.

A wave of violence and extortion has hit the zone, and every corpse dumped by a roadside or bar room shoot out adds to the fear, and the demand for private security services.

The NSA has set up shop at the US Embassy in Mexico. Read more here.

It’s where Luis Garcia is based. He works for the firm, Protection and Transport Service, supervising a group of 20 bodyguards. The company has had to take on new staff.

“The truth is we’ve doubled in size because of the increase in violence in the last six years”he told VICE News.

Garcia said his biggest worry is not their clients getting shot, but snatched.

Kidnappings in Mexico rose by more than 30 percent last year, according to the National System of Public Security.

A long-term problem has turned into a crisis which Garcia says the government isn’t handling.

“Unfortunately we’ve got a terrible police force and there’s a lot of mistrust in the authorities. That’s why we’re hired,” he said.

According to prominent Mexican NGO Stop Kidnapping!, seven out of 10 kidnappings involve current or former policemen. In particular, state and municipal forces are generally viewed as inefficient and corrupt.

That’s a gaping business opportunity for private security firms who pick up the slack.

Mexico’s self-defense militias follow cartels into deadly internal conflict. Read more here.

For those who can’t afford their services, life is getting increasingly tough.

Both Garcia and anti-kidnapping organizations told VICE News that criminal groups are increasingly setting their sights below the well-protected mega wealthy, on middle class business owners who make easier pickings.

The 98 percent of Mexicans who don’t have the money for a $1,500 Miguel Caballero jacket or a team of bodyguards are largely on their own, and the criminal groups know it.