Why Mexico City Fashion Is Everywhere Right Now

Photo courtesy of Stendhal Store

Is it the Trump effect?

When Regina Vega was in high school in Mexico, she spent two years of lunch breaks on-hold, trying to connect by phone with the Jeffrey Campbell team in Italy. When her parents—who paid her phone bill—discovered what was going on, well, they weren't happy.

But, it was the height of the Jeffrey Campbell 'Lita' shoe craze and young girls everywhere were pulling whatever stunts necessary to get their hands on a pair of the cultish, impossibly high platforms. If Jeffrey Campbell wasn’t distributing in your country, those stunts might have meant devising a plan to open up shop and start selling them yourself. Such was the case for Vega who, at 19 years old, co-opened Stendhal Store with her sister, Gladys, in the posh neighborhood of Polanco in Mexico City.

Today, although they still stock the shoe giant’s newer collections, they’ve set their sights on designers who work closer to home, and have an inventory comprising 80 percent Mexican designers. Rather than being a move of convenience—quite the opposite, actually—it’s because they truly believe in the fashion coming out of their own country. They’re betting on one of their brands becoming the next Jeffrey Campbell, with its own ‘Lita’ to make stubborn teens around the world drive their parents crazy.

For a long time, being a designer in Mexico City was a thankless trade. Young, experimental fashion designers looking to find an audience for their work were involved in patterns of rejection, and would eventually leave for more open-minded markets, adding to the creative brain drain taking place in the city. What they found in their own country was a culture closed to new ideas coming from within.

Designer Salo Shayo describes the phenomenon as malinchismo. He says, “the malinche was the native person that lived in Mexico when the Spanish people came and conquered. She was the one who helped them translate everything, she helped them conquer Mexico. We use that term for [people who have] hate for the things that are made here... a certain rejection of the things that are made in Mexico by Mexicans.”

There are a lot of reasons why Mexican consumption is the way it is: NAFTA, the economic crash of the ‘90s, the far reaching grip of European luxury marketing, the competition-crushing production models of fast fashion.

But over the last year, the pattern has been shifting. Suddenly, emerging Mexican designers feel that they are finally getting the opportunities and recognition they need to emerge.

Shayo, who makes gorgeous cotton and felt garments in unexpected cuts under his eponymous line, Salo Shayo, took a break from showing his collections internationally—he’s a regular at Berlin Fashion Week—and has doubled down on efforts locally. His new line, Roots Projectfocuses on simple textiles and universal silhouettes. He says he’s had to "tropicalize" the prices a bit, but that he’s gaining traction among Mexican consumers like never before. The idea is to crack the code locally and then expand to markets like Los Angeles and New York—an inverse of his previous approach.

Designer Barbara Sanchez-Kane, who runs the gender-fluid brand, Sanchez-Kane, has also bounced back and forth between Mexico City and international markets over the last couple of years. Her designs are not what Mexican consumers have come to expect from high-end fashion, nor are they what international markets imagine when they hear ‘Mexican designer.’ For instance: the bulletproof vest-inspired top and belt buckle made of wire, bent into the shape of a fetus, that she sent down the runway for her latest collection at New York Fashion Week. She says, “my brand is really different in Mexico. It's taking Mexican folklore and twisting it in a different way—in a hilarious way, in a political way. So it does break a lot of stereotypes of what a Mexican brand should be.”

Like many Mexican fashion insiders, Sanchez-Kane has mixed feelings about her brand taking off after finding success overseas. “For me it was very difficult to enter Mexico. I sent a billion emails after graduation and no one answered, but then emails started to arrive after the first time I showed at VFILES in New York,” she says. “It was backwards. Not because I don't want to be in Mexico, but because they don't comprehend [my designs].”

Suzzan Atala, owner of Tuza—a concept store in the hip neighborhood of Roma Norte, where she sells her own jewelry designs as well as other Mexican-made brands—shares this ambivalence. “I have been in Dazed magazine as the coolest brand in Mexico. I’ve had to have international recognition in order to have national recognition.”

Even so, the exposure to other markets has helped catapult Mexico City’s fashion scene into the global eye. For one, Atala’s vagina necklace going viral (Ryan McGinley can’t live without his) after being sold from the New York workshop where she first launched her line allowed her to finally open Tuza in her hometown, Mexico City. She has since opened up a second store in New York City’s Chinatown, and says that the name recognition has encouraged more designers to want to show their pieces in her Mexico shop. “Tuza is starting to be a destination. That’s the plus that I offer above anyone else that has a store in Mexico. We’re not massive, but people are starting to know who we are.”

The city’s customers are becoming more worldly, as well, thanks to platforms like Instagram, which opens up channels for discovering new ideas in fashion and speeds up the dispersion of trends.

Regina and Gladys Vega of Stendhal Store recount how young shoppers will visit their store and ask, “Do you have Off-White?” It’s a bit of a pick-up line, they admit, but it’s telling that edgier brands are taking priority in the minds of young Mexican consumers over Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci, to which their parents’ generation were so loyal.

For their part, the Vega sisters are educating their customers on the Mexican designers they carry. This might mean pulling up designer Man Candy’s Instagram account, or showing off a new editorial featuring H. por Hector. One of the main tenets of their strategy is interspersing Mexican designs with more recognizable international brands, like GCDS from Italy. “We wanted to use this space and concept to demonstrate that Mexican designers are up to the global game,” says Regina.

When pressed about why this sudden interest in Mexican fashion was happening now, a grimmer admission emerged. Since Trump’s election, designers have described their country as more urgently united than ever before. “I know it sounds bad, but maybe it was a good thing,” says Atala. “It’s going to make people realize how good it is to be united.”

The concept of mutual support in Mexico is not a given. Atala describes the culture as “crabs in a bucket.” She says, “If we see that one is getting out of the bucket, we’re going to pull it back down. That’s a sad thing about Mexico, but things are changing.”

Fervent patriotism in response to anti-Mexican sentiment broadcasting (and tweet-storming) from the White House has instilled a new urgency in Mexican consumers to support homegrown brands. The social pressure to shop local, even in the luxury sphere, has shot up. After decades of chasing European and American goods almost exclusively, consumers are returning their gaze back home, and what they are finding is a wealth of highly evolved, incredibly thoughtful, distinctly Mexican designs.

“It’s not like ‘if it’s from Mexico, you have to have wood boxes and huipiles [traditional woven garments],’” says Regina Vega. “No, you can see another part of Mexico that has brands that can compete all over the world.”

“We’re using our heritage. We’re using artisanal traditions in modern techniques and designs,” says Sanchez-Kane. “We’re stepping forward not just copy-pasting on a shirt, but playing with artisanal work and the folklore that is our tradition in Mexico.”

For her part, she believes the boom Mexico’s fashion scene is having right now is emblematic of bigger change. “When you want to change your country, you need to have your own DNA. We stop copying Europe and the United States, and we start trusting what we have and our abilities to create. We’re Mexican... we’re not in Europe or New York or L.A. We have this creativity, and it can come from inside us.”

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds



Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.