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Designer Combines Sustainability With a Unique Franciscan Touch


GREENWICH VILLAGE — If life imitates art, then the glamorous pieces that fashion designer Caterine Sanchez brings to fruition are clothes that embrace sensuality, femininity, imagination, and nature, while incorporating movement, hand-drawn images, and, if one digs a little deeper, even symbols of her admiration for a group of Franciscan friars.

“I’m really close with the friars, I love them a lot,” Sanchez said. “It’s just the community, the love, the animals, St. Francis.”

The professional designer and dancer met the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFRs) on Easter Sunday three years ago. Even though her dad’s Peruvian side of the family is Catholic, she considers herself a Christian who is heavily involved in the Catholic community.

Since she lives not too far from the friars’ Harlem residence, she has volunteered with that community’s different outreach programs. They organize weekly soup kitchens and cafes and spend time with neighbors offering prayer and fellowship.

“You find a community, and you get involved,” Sanchez said. “I’ve been really involved in the Catholic community for years — Frassati (a prayer group for young adults) and the young adult Mass” in the Archdiocese of New York. Her closeness to her faith, she added, prompts her to regularly attend a Holy Hour at St. Malachy Parish in Midtown.

As a visitor walked through the hallway of Sanchez’s design studio, which also serves as her Manhattan apartment, her latest fall collection, which debuts in late September, came into view on a clothes rack. Pieces of fabric in warm red and canary yellow undertones were taped to the wall. On a table nearby, a box contained quaint gold metal headpieces and crowns that only a ballerina would get away with.

One might not equate the serene and organized ambiance in her studio with the excitement of her show at New York Fashion Week on Sept. 7. She explained the comfort of experiencing her essence.

“I knew at age 7 that I wanted to be an artist and that making art was important to me,” Sanchez, 35, said. “It was just figuring out how to express that.”

Years of professional formation and education in the arts eventually led her to study fashion textile design in Milan, Italy. That experience abroad was the catalyst for her creative backgrounds coming together.

“I love movement and my dance background, and it all came together, and I was like, fashion it is,” she said.

Flowers that attract her are drawn and then become prints for her dresses. Delicate fabrics, feathers, and string tapestry are sewn because she envisions how a woman walks or moves in her designs. Her sparrow print? Each sparrow is inspired by a different Franciscan friar. The symbolism of nature and faith is a special way of incorporating her personal story into her pieces.

“For me, I was going through a season of my life, and I just felt like I was uniquely loved by God, surrounded and protected.”

Sanchez worked at several companies, including fashion powerhouse Alexander Wang, until two years ago, when she decided to go solo and launch a clothing line that bears her name.

She continued to teach dance, then come home and do volunteer work, all the while melding art and motion into her creations.

Now, seeing her designs being worn and showcasing them to the world brings everything full circle for her.

She said she feels “a sense of awe” when someone “can wear this poetry in motion that I created.” The fabrics are “my canvases.” 

It’s no wonder that her brand’s mission, echoing “Laudato Si,” is to thoughtfully and continually practice social responsibility and sustainability, as well as minimize waste. She works with local manufacturers for her printing and sewing needs.

“Laudato Si,” which translates approximately to “Praise be to you, my Lord,” is an encyclical written by Pope Francis, focusing on love of nature and care for creation.

“I love creating beautiful things, and I do want to create something that is just exquisite,” Sanchez added, “that takes your breath away.”

Fast-forward to the night of her runway show in Greenwich Village and the vibrant energy that cascaded from one side of the art gallery to the other. Whether it was the moves of the models who sashayed down the catwalk to the rhythms of a live salsa band, or the post-event dancing of the guests, a peaceful convening of strangers seemed to commence, in true Franciscan fashion.

“I did read that salsa and music are her inspirations, so that’s amazing,” said fashion show attendee Marina Kaljha. “It’s very beautiful. The colors are so vibrant and energetic.”

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