Nick Remsen meets the creatives distilling Mexico City’s rich heritage into dazzling modern design.
There’s a reason why Mexicans so often use the word “magic” when talking about their capital.
Mexico City has a ferociously unconfined beauty. At its core are gleaming, modern skyscrapers; at its undefinable edges, the crawl of cinderblocks and haze-washed streetlamps; and, throughout, poplar and pine trees and palm-studded parks in which chipped painted benches and brass statues sit patinated with car exhaust fumes and high-altitude burn. Somehow, in this complex sprawl, some 22m people live.
From these myriad urban aesthetics has emerged an expressive design identity, heavily informed by the local cultural and geographic heritage, but screened in contemporary, easy-going appeal. As resident Karla Martinez, formerly at W Magazine in New York and now a freelance consultant, says: “The creative scene here is young and vibrant, and a movement has surfaced — one that mixes the traditional and the non-traditional. I’d call it ‘modern artisanal’.”
That is certainly a fitting description for Anndra Neen, the accessories label founded in 2009 by Mexican-American sisters Annette and Phoebe Stephens. Their brand has grown famous in fashion circles for its skeletal cages of forged silver and brass, which feature in everything from geodesic earrings to pyramidical pendants to lenticular handbags to gridded iPhone cases, textured to mimic the rough-hewn stone of the city’s famed Teotihuacan pyramids. Everything they sell is produced from a newly opened atelier in the rising La Juárez neighbourhood, located by chance on the street where their father once owned a chemical company (the Stephenses were born and raised in the city, but now call New York home).
Anndra Neen’s pieces uphold a “combination of deeply traditional elements with enlivened modernity”, the sisters say. At their workshop, eight artisans realise the designs using traditional metalsmithing techniques, and yet they create a final product that feels wholly applicable to the now.
The brand is a brilliant distillation of the verve of Mexico City. “There’s a certain relaxed but refined sense,” the sisters say. For AW16, the Stephenses collaborated with designer Mara Hoffman on jewellery, bringing back archival pieces such as hammered metal chokers and cuffs.
There are more. Yakampot — which Vogue Mexico and Vogue Latin America fashion editor Valentina Collado has called a “huge success” — sticks to neutral-toned and flowing silhouettes. There is still, however, a crafted handmade aesthetic in the brand’s ease and diaphanousness.
“There is a demand for artisanal goods that are also luxurious in quality,”
says Carolina Herrera of Binge Knitting, the Monterrey/Mexico-based knitwear label that has recently gained traction thanks to its thick-gauge wool beanies and circle scarves — its knitted fringed clutch bag for SS16 is tactile and distinctive. Binge Knitting sells at multiple locations in the city, including the hip 180 Grados, in the La Roma neighbourhood. Herrera’s words recall Martinez’s catchphrase “modern artisanal”.
Mexico City’s buzz has reached fever pitch among culture vultures, mainly thanks to developments such as the now highly touted Zona Maco art fair, and the arrival of big-splash museums such as the David Chipperfield-designed Museo Jumex, which opened in 2013.
Its fashion forces, too, have crossed the globe. Anndra Neen is carried on Net-A-Porter, Yakampot at Florence’s formidable Luisa Via Roma. And the potential for further impact is promising. As Martinez concludes, “the energy is nonstop”. Pure magic.