For those in lofty positions of wealth and power, security is embedded into their way of life, and sometimes, even into the very fabric of their clothing. There is only one company in the world that manufactures high security fashion. Introducing Miguel Caballero, the bulletproof tailor of Bogota, also known as the Armani for moving targets. Founded in 1992, the company has developed its own armour plating technology to allow the subtle infusion of fashion and state-of-the-art personal protection. With a background in marketing rather than weapons or fashion, its CEO Miguel Caballero recognized and subsequently created what he calls the “high security fashion business.” Caballero discards clunky, heavy and uncomfortable Kevlar bulletproof vests in favour of slim panels that can be inserted into a wide range of tailored garments. That such an innovation took place in Colombia, which has one of the world’s highest violent crime rates, is no accident. A product manufactured for life in Colombia will stand up to life just about anywhere. With 80% of its orders coming from overseas, Caballero’s security-conscious customers appear to agree.
On an unassuming street in Bogota sits the white, low-rise building that serves as headquarters and factory for Miguel Caballero. With an elite clientele visiting for fittings and some 282 employees, security is tight. Bogota also has one of the world’s highest rates of kidnapping, and Caballero’s local clients in the financial, insurance and business sectors are prime targets. Visitors are screened in a waiting room before being buzzed into a modest showroom, demonstrating the wide range of products manufactured and branded by the company. Specialized plates inside loose fitting black leather jackets are capable of stopping bullet rounds, or even a knife attack. Here you will also find casual sweaters, the kind you might see on a jogger, only with strategically positioned lightweight armoured panels in the front. The company also makes suede blazers, raincoats, polo shirts, and a popular women’s line too. There’s even a bulletproof tie, available in various colours, and looking only slightly more swollen than normal. While Miguel Caballero has achieved fame for its security-conscious fashion products, it also supplies military, private security, and police forces with armoured garments, including riot gear, police uniforms, and flak jackets.
In an act signifying both clever marketing and faith in his quality, employees of the company are requested to try on the product before they are allowed to sell it. Then they get shot, to test first-hand its ability to stop a bullet. When your job description includes receiving a bullet, you better believe in what you’re selling. Only Miguel Caballero will fire the shot, and in some cases, this includes shooting clients or their bodyguards to satisfy the buyer’s piece of mind. Caballero employees are prepared to literally stand behind, and come under fire, for the products they make.
The factory receives regular and curious visitors, many of whom are given guided tours of the premises, although certain parts, such as the vest assembly area, are off limits for photographs. While company policy is not to reveal the identities of clients, Mr Caballero lists several satisfied customers. These include politicians, royalty and Hollywood stars. The action star is a VIP client who owns several customized items, including a one-of-a-kind bulletproof kimono. When it was reported that sources within the US secret service revealed Barack Obama was wearing a bulletproof suit at his inauguration, all eyes turned to Miguel Caballero. I'd expect Donald Trump did the same. Caballero, who founded the company while still a university student, cites company policy and appears content to neither confirm nor deny the claim. While the company has received its fair share of media attention, it values and promises its clients the utmost discretion. They are, after all, only safe as long as the bullet hits the area protected by the armoured panels.
The aim of bulletproof vests is to save lives, not prevent injury. Antonio Arias, the company’s ballistic director, carefully measures how each vest absorbs the impact of a bullet, ensuring that while the unfortunate recipient might walk away with a bruise, at least they will still be walking. The exact design of the armoured vests is a carefully guarded trade secret, but the company have been certified by a number of defence and security regulators (such as the US National Institute of Justice), and holds a half dozen certificates from impressive sounding acronyms like the IDIC, RENAR, and ICONTEC. Without getting into technical details, Arias explains that Caballero armoured panels are constructed by layering and compressing nylon and polyester that is designed to absorb and minimize impact. The added advantage of not using traditional Kevlar is lighter weight, flexibility, and the opportunity for increased discretion. To see for myself, I am handed an Uzi machine gun and allowed to fire into a vest, supported against soft clay that will absorb the bullet, simulate the impact on skin, and allow accurate measurement. The secured room is small, with employees looking on behind me through a glass window. Standing about ten feet away from the target, I slowly squeeze the trigger, and am immediately surprised how real guns make a sharp, deafening pop, as opposed to the bang we hear in movies. The bullet hits the target almost dead centre. Arias unhooks the vest to reveal a one-inch crater in the soft clay. According to Antonio, smaller bullets might feel like a “finger flick”, but an Uzi shot is going to leave a considerable bruise. Save lives, not prevent injury. I was looking forward to testing out a vest on myself, but my one shot to be, well, shot, was thwarted by Senor Caballero being overseas on business. With over a dozen distributors in countries like Lebanon, Spain, Ukraine and India, Senor Caballero has been on the road a lot these days. The company also has showrooms in Miami, Mexico City, Guatemala, and sells its wares inside Harrod’s of London.
Being able to embed safety discreetly into fashion is a mission of Miguel Caballero, and this means integrating international styles and customs. While a three-piece suit or leather jacket fits into the lifestyle of the United States, it might not work in markets with different cultural leanings. The key to the company’s success has been its unique ability to provide safety and style for to its clients, so they can feel protected without publicly advertising to others that there is any need to be. With this in mind, the company is developing Kurta Pyjamas, Nehru vests and coats for India, and colourful tunics that have been customized for African clients. In the showroom, I try on a hooded sweater that would not be out of place on a college campus. Covering my chest are flat panels stitched directly into the fabric of the garment. It feels like I have a paperback book in a pocket, one that uses state of the art technology and can save my life. After trying on a black leather coat, endorsed by Steven Segal, I slip on a traditional armoured vest and immediately feel the difference. While both products will protect me, one makes me feel like a target, the other makes me feel stealthily invincible.
Special measurement charts are available, and clothing can be designed and customized according to specification without clients needing to visit a showroom. Garments come in the typical sizes of S/M/L/XL/XXL, with minor adjustments made locally. There are various collections in the Miguel Caballero range, differing greatly in function and price. The Silver Collection is designed for private security, as in the traditional vests you might see on bank guards, transportation agents, and hefty bodyguards. The Classic Collection, in standard army or camouflage colours, is designed for military, government, and police operations. The Gold Collection is for high profile clients that follow an “American lifestyle” of sport, hobbies and multifunctional comfort wear, while the newly launched Black collection is designed to appeal, according to the company’s catalogue, to “people that prefer European fashion; sober, elegant and exclusive.” These include polo necks, slim cut leather jackets and lightweight Goretex waterproof coats. Each garment is further customized with an armoured level of low, medium or high, depending on the amount of risk, and the kind of weapons, one expects to be on the wrong side of. The heavier and thicker the vest, the bigger the bullet it hopes to stop.
While life may seem cheap in certain high crime zones, high security fashion is not. A typical Caballero Black item can range from US$2000 to $7000. Lining thick enough to prevent knife attack, and other customizations, may cost extra. With a boutique store in Mexico City alongside Louis Vuitton, Cartier and yes, Armani, Caballero products have the added value-point of offering life or death for its clients. There’s even an exclusive club for Caballero customers. To be a member, a Caballero product must save your life. How many members it has remains a company secret.
Whether it is world leader on a podium, visiting royalty, or just a businessman on an important trip to a city renowned for instability and violence, there’s no doubting the piece of mind that comes from knowing your leather jacket will stop a bullet. But while the labels inside Miguel Caballero’s high security fashionware give washing instructions, they do not explain how to prevent anyone aiming a gun at you in the first place.
For a complete catalogue of the company’s products, and to find out more information, visit the company’s website at: www.miguelcaballero.com
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After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your battered attention.
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