Every May, Americans come together to celebrate the incredible underdog victory of Mexican forces over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862—or are you telling us Cinco de Mayo is just an excuse to drink margaritas and eat tacos? (Do we really need an excuse? That's literally called Tuesday.)
For a more sophisticated cultural exchange, we called Araceli Graham, the founder and CEO of Cooperativa, a Houston-based online shop dedicated to bringing luxury fashion and accessories from across Latin America to an American audience since 2015.
"Mexico City is a very sophisticated, cosmopolitan and refined city. I would go and see all these new designers and it hit me that there was this creative movement going on. In the past five or eight years I've seen this movement grow and grow, these new designers, from selling jewelry to their friends to opening stores—the quality is great, the inspiration is great. I am a proud Mexican—I want everyone to see what we’re doing," says Graham.
I asked Graham, who regularly returns to Mexico to scout new lines, to give me a run-down of her favorite Mexican designers working now, creating everything from handbags to harem pants.
One of Cooperativa's most popular brands is the fun, feminine line by Sandra Weil, a Peruvian designer who is based in Polanco, Mexico. "She's so talented; she's one of the best designers," says Graham. "Her signature is these incredible bustiers in different fabrics and different shapes every season. They are so well done, they are great on the body." Weil's tropical print maxi dresses, ruffled pencil skirts and one-shoulder crop tops are basically irresistible for summer, especially if you've got a trip to Tulum booked.
Graham says she literally can't wait until the handbags from this made-in-Mexico-City line are available on her site, which she hopes will happen this summer. Once available at high-end department stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Pantera designers and sisters Laura and Alejandra Laviada switched their focus to the domestic market a few years ago, opening luxe boutiques in the capital's tony shopping centers and filling them with clutches and totes made from exotic python and lizard leathers.
One jewelry brand that has really found an audience with Cooperativa customers is Caralarga, which creates surprisingly sophisticated necklaces and earrings using bleached rope. "It's so different, and it’s a statement type of jewelry. It's perfect for when you go to the beach, or when you go to a resort—it's still casual but it elevates your outfit," says Graham. She also finds the brand special because the designer works with a community of women, many of them single moms, in Querétero to produce each one-of-a-kind piece. Bonus: prices start under $60.
Julia y Renata
This elevated, couture-like collection from another pair of sisters has received international recognition from magazines like Vogue for its refined, contemporary aesthetic. "It's not for everybody—not as tailored, more artistic—but their fabrics are just fantastic," says Graham. "They are not from Mexico City, they're from Guadalajara, and what I like about it is they are not that influenced by what everybody else is doing — they stick to their own thing."
"He's very well-known in Mexico, one of the favorites for Mexican socialites for events and galas," says Graham. "He has always done very feminine clothing for women—he changes fabrics and colors but it's always very feminine, nothing with weird shapes, he's very focused on femininity. The Columbians use a lot of ruffles, too, but in a more obvious way. His way of doing it is more subtle, more unexpected. It's a more modern approach."