Beyond the vest: Bulletproof clothing finds a fashion sense

MEXICO CITY -- Miguel Caballero makes discrete "bulletproof fashion" for business people and politicians in Latin America and around the world.
Written by Lauren Villagran, Correspondent (Mexico City)

MEXICO CITY -- What's "in" to wear this presidential election year? Bulletproofing.

Heading into campaign season in the middle of a violent drug war, Mexican presidential candidates, politicians and their security entourages are opting for both style and protection. Enter Miguel Caballero, the Colombia-based maker of "bulletproof fashion."

The company's Mexico City showroom — accessible by appointment only — sits just off a primary shopping corridor in the tony Polanco neighborhood, not far from Hugo Boss, Gucci, Porsche and a spotless body shop for bulletproofing vehicles.

In Mexico, high-end shopping goes hand in hand with high-end security.

Miguel Caballero makes undershirts, puffy vests, windbreakers, cargo jackets — all of a variety that would look normal on the rack at The Gap or L.L. Bean. But Miguel Caballero’s fashions are waterproof, fireproof and fitted with a flexible, proprietary lightweight bulletproofing that can stop a .44 Magnum gunshot on impact. The price tags are somewhat heavier: Miguel Caballero bulletproof clothes run between $300 and $5,000 apiece.

Spokesman Javier Di Carlo said the company keeps its technology secret but explained that Miguel Caballero uses a "special configuration" of polyethylenes and aramids to create its ultra-thin bulletproofing. The undershirt, for example, weighs 800 grams, or less than two pounds.

The company sells primarily to military and police, especially in Latin America, but has a growing client base worldwide of private clients including businessmen and politicians. The company has seen 10 percent annual growth in Mexico since the company opened a base here in 2006; Latin America and the Middle East are currently top markets.

"The problem of insecurity is being lived all over the world — not just in Mexico," Di Carlo said.

To prevent selling to criminals, all clients undergo an extensive background check and every piece of clothing contains an embedded, unique serial number that links to information about the wearer.

Miguel Caballero no longer releases the names of clients, Di Carlo said — although framed pictures of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and government officials from Paraguay and El Salvador hang on the showroom walls. But he confirmed that the company is outfitting "some" of the Mexican presidential candidates and their security teams.

While political parties here officially select candidates in February, there are clear frontrunners.

Enrique Peña Nieto, the former governor of Mexico state, is assured the candidacy of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who ran in 2006 and lost, is the chosen candidate for the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD. Three politicians are vying for the National Action Party nomination, but Josefina Vázquez Mota, a former secretary of education and legislator, is leading the pack.

Miguel Caballero used to have a women's line of bulletproof clothing, Di Carlo said, but due to low demand that collection is now by custom order only.

Photo courtesy of Miguel Caballero

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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