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Q&A: Colombia First Lady, María Clemencia Rodríguez

The first lady spoke with WWD about the need to rev up Colombia’s 1,000 fashion and textiles companies.

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María Clemencia Rodríguez

María Clemencia Rodríguez

Photo By Jimi Celeste

NEW YORK — This being Colombia Week here, the country’s first lady, María Clemencia Rodríguez, was more than happy to wave the flag at Wednesday night’s Colombia Knows Best event. Global-minded as consumers and politicians have become, Rodriguez said repeatedly how there is still room for nationalism.


Before a 20-minute runway show, the first lady spoke with WWD about the need to rev up Colombia’s 1,000 fashion and textiles companies. Juan Manuel Santos’ wife was striking in a chartreuse Joana Ortiz gown reminiscent of what is worn in the Manta Guajira region. Her Swarovski-encrusted Sylvia Tcherassi clutch was also a memento from her homeland, and an aide was quick to note single mothers created the delicate handwork.

WWD: Why did you feel it was important to be in New York for this event?
Maria Clemencia Rodriguez: It is very relevant because we want to show New York that Colombia is trendy and fashionable.

WWD: What would people be surprised to learn about Colombia?
M.C.R.: I think people are going to be surprised by the quality of our products, the colors and the variety of the things we manufacture.

WWD: Who are some of your favorite designers?
M.C.R.: In Colombia?

WWD: Or anywhere.

M.C.R.: There are a lot of people in Colombia designing wonderful clothes so I use them all and I like them all. And in the world, I do not have any preferences.

WWD: Obviously a number of countries are struggling with different economic issues. Do you think now is a time for nationalism and for public figures to step forward to encourage people to support artisans and designers in their own countries?
M.C.R.: Yes, I think it is very, very important for many reasons. First of all, we just signed a free trade agreement and we do have to prove not only to the United States but to the entire world that Colombia is an up-and-coming country. Colombia has a 100-year tradition of manufacturing. Something else that is very important is that many mothers and housewives are supporting their families with what they produce or make themselves.

WWD: Do you think there is too much scrutiny about what first ladies wear? There is a lot of interest in Michelle Obama.
M.C.R.: Yes, yes.

WWD: In your view, has it become too political? Currently, they are examining how much Kate Middleton, who is not a first lady, invests in clothing and how that reflects on the government.
M.C.R.: I know what causes the attention is the fashion, not what she invested in clothes. People like to admire how some people in the world dress and the fashion they wear.

WWD: What do you think is the best way to help create jobs in manufacturing and fashion?
M.C.R.: I am going to answer you only for Colombia. I can talk only about Colombia. Now one of the goals of our government is to generate employment. We need demand from the world so that people in Colombia can manufacture and we can create jobs.

WWD: What do you think most people would find intriguing about President Obama? I know you met him in April during the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena.
M.C.R.: He was amazing. He was very handsome. I liked his smile.

WWD: How did you manage to get Hillary Clinton so relaxed while she was visiting? Did you just hit it off?

M.C.R.: She is a very great woman, a marvelous woman. Her way of being is a woman who acts natural.

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