Mexico’s Design Stars

By Brooke Porter Katz  •  April 16, 2019

Mexico is teeming with creative talent in industries as varied as fashion design, architecture, food, and film—and the world at large is paying attention. Below, five geniuses who are leading the charge.

At long last, Mexico is having its moment on the world stage. In film, Roma made a splash in Hollywood, nabbing multiple awards along the way. In food, Enrique Olvera has become a household name, and Copenhagen’s Noma chose the Riviera Maya for an outpost last year. And New York and London museum-goers have lined up to see a gorgeous (and sold-out) Frida Kahlo retrospective. Here, we look at the creative individuals—accomplished in their fields yet little known north of the border—whose names you need to know.

The Fashion Designer: Carla Fernandez

Carla Fernandez’s innovative business method to preserve Mexico’s heritage has found its way into Harvard courses.

“The Future is Handmade” is a motto that Carla Fernandez takes very seriously. She began her career designing costumes for contemporary Mexican dance companies before launching her eponymous fashion brand. To create her contemporary, sometimes avante garde designs that put a twist on traditional textiles and patterns, the company works with rural artisan communities around Mexico who are still using ancient techniques. The purpose? To honor the country’s rich cultural heritage. “Artisans are already having to leave their crafts in order to look for other jobs,” says Fernandez, who has been featured in the pages of Elle, Vogue, Wallpaper, T,  The New York Times Magazine. “Forging these long-lasting relationships is the way to stop Mexican folk art from being extinguished.” Her efforts to preserve indigenous culture through contemporary fashion have earned global reputation; they’ve been studied at universities like Harvard, MIT, and New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, and helped earn her the Prince Claus Award, which recognizes artists making a positive impact on cultural heritage. Fernandez recently opened a flagship location in Mexico City’s La Juarez neighborhood, complete with a retail boutique, workshop used for classes, and space for a designer-in-residence program. You can also find her designs in boutiques across Mexico, including San Jose del Cabo, San Miguel de Allende, and Tulum.

The Interior Designer: Hector Esrawe

One of Mexico’s leading designers is now one of its most beloved furniture makers.

The industrial designer and founder of Esrawe Studio is just as likely to work on a residential space as he is a commercial one, be it a restaurant, hotel, or bar. (His design for the Mexico City taco spot El Califa won People’s Choice Restaurant of the Year in the 2019 Frame Awards.) “We’re interested in moving toward new languages and breaking paradigms with our designs—and in many ways that’s what makes us different,” says Esrawe, who has five restaurant projects in the works in the Riviera Maya. In recent years, Esrawe has nurtured another great talent: creating furniture. His handmade pieces are simple, structural, and double as works of art—such as a table made of walnut wood and black marble that was displayed at 2018 Zona Maco art fair and, from this year’s fair, the wood-and-brass, grid-like Trama shelves inspired by scaffolding. Visitors to Mexico City are welcome to stop by his Polanco showroom, where chairs, tables, lighting, and more are available to buy.

The Chef: Elena Reygadas

Elena Reygadas, by focusing on exceptional ingredients, shows that Mexican food today is about more than great mole.

Elena Reygadas never intended to become a professional chef—that is, until her brother, director Carlos Reygadas, asked her to cook for his crew while shooting his first film. And just like that, her passion became her life’s work. Today, Reygadas runs a growing empire of Mexico City restaurants (Panadería, Café Nin, Lardo and Rosetta—a mainstay on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list) and creates some of the city’s best bread and pastries. Her approach to food is simple: “For me, the ingredient—its quality, its varied flavors, its origin, its history—is the most important element in a dish, even more than the technique or cooking process,” she says. “And I use few ingredients in each dish, so you can always tell what you are eating.” As a champion of local produce, that could be pixtle (the stone of the mamey fruit), pápalo (a wild herb), or mesquite (a type of legume). Reygadas has no plans to slow down. She just released her first cookbook, and will launch Fortuna—a pizza and wine bar in Roma—in a few months.

The Architect: Enrique Norten

After more than 30 years, Enrique Norten is still Mexico’s architect to watch.

A highly lauded modernist architect with a career spanning three decades, Norten began practicing at “a very unique moment in Mexico,” he says. “It was still a very closed country, and rather than look to the outside, it was immersed in its own traditions. But I always believed we lived in a very global world, and that inspired me to leave.” After earning a Masters in Architecture from Cornell University, he eventually made his way back to Mexico,  founded TEN Arquitectos in 1986, and helped establish what it meant to be a Mexican, yet international, architect. “We were some of the first who cracked that inward-looking shell,” says Norten, who opened a New York office in 2001 and has taught at a number of American universities, including Yale, UCLA, Cornell, Parsons, and Harvard. “We opened up the possibility for many others who are now doing great work around the world.” His portfolio spans everything from residential towers to museums to hotels to even large-scale master plans (including an upcoming project in Mérida, Mexico)—and regardless of the building, public space is never an afterthought. Take the Amparo Museum, in Puebla, which required restoring and modernizing a number of colonial buildings into one cohesive cultural center. A former patio was transformed into a grand light-filled lobby, and the top-floor terrace “incorporates the view as part of the collection,” Norten says.

The filmmaker: Julio Chavezmontes

While Iñárritu, del Toro and Cuarón have represented Mexico at Hollywood awards shows for years, Julio Chavezmontes is fronting a new generation of filmmakers quietly making moves.

Taking risks is what defines the work of Julio Chavezmontes, whose first feature, Halley (an innovative take on the zombie horror genre), was a darling of 2013 film festivals worldwide. Today, his production house Piano—a partnership with director Sebastian Hofmann—is known for its boundary-pushing movies, including last year’s Time Share. A dark thriller with moments of humor, it won the Special Jury Prize for Screenwriting at Sundance Film Festival. “Each film was a colossal undertaking in which Sebastian and I risked everything,” he says. “I find it very satisfying that Halley and Time Share can be deeply polarizing. To me, that’s a sign that they come from a truthful place, in which nothing was calculated for success.” Chavezmontes is currently at work on a new screenplay that will be “an even bigger challenge than Time Share,” and is producing four films, including Memoria, by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul and starring Tilda Swinton.

Discover A Sense of Mexico

Explore the myriad sides of this sun-kissed country, from the shores of San Jose del Cabo, to the colorful colonial-era streets of San Miguel de Allende, to the jungle-lined Riviera Maya.


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