How Mexico City’s Design Scene Is Separating Itself From the Pack

“Centro Histórico is layered with history,” says Carlos Matos of the Mexico City (CDMX) district where he and Lucas Cantú live and work. Together they make up Tezontle, a multidisciplinary practice named after the indigenous volcanic rock used for construction since the Aztec era. He means “layered” quite literally. The neighborhood in the city center—home to pre-Columbian restaurants, buildings of nearly every architectural style, and a dense network of hardware stores (“It’s like a big factory where we can source materials and get special things made”)—is actually built upon the ruins of Tenochtitlán, the ancient capital of the Aztec empire, invaded by Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés in 1519. That architectural patchwork serves up endless inspiration for the studio’s totem-like concrete sculptures and furnishings, which meld pre-Columbian aesthetics with contemporary material culture. As Matos, who grew up in CDMX, explains, “We see Mexico City as an archeological site that is still being unearthed.”

They’re not the only ones excavating inspiration in the Latin capital. In Mexico City, with a population nearing 9 million, a wealth of museums, and an internationally renowned art, food, and music scene, a rich design culture is thriving. (It was deemed the World Design Capital in 2018.) And now, as international design galleries open and creatives from near and far set up shop in the metropolis, the world is watching as the next chapter unfolds in a centuries-old history of making.

<div class="caption"> Founded in 2015 by Mexican architects Lucas Cantú (above left) and Carlos Matos, Tezontle is named after the indigenous volcanic rock used for construction since the Aztec era. The duo work at the intersection of art, design, and architecture, much like their predecessors Diego Rivera, Luis Barragán, and Mathias Goeritz. Totem-like sculptures and furnishings showcase material experiments, while ground-up residences in Oaxaca and Quintana Roo suggest a more elemental approach to living. Endlessly inspired by their neighborhood, Centro Histórico (a bustling city center, home to many hardware stores, built atop the Aztec city Tenochtitlán), their work melds pre-Columbian aesthetics with contemporary material culture. “We see Mexico City as an archaeological site that is still being unearthed,” says Matos. <a href="https://www.instagram.com/__tezontle__/?hl=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:instagram.com/__tezontle_" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>instagram.com/</em>__<em>tezontle</em>_</a> </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Sophia van den Hoek</cite>
Founded in 2015 by Mexican architects Lucas Cantú (above left) and Carlos Matos, Tezontle is named after the indigenous volcanic rock used for construction since the Aztec era. The duo work at the intersection of art, design, and architecture, much like their predecessors Diego Rivera, Luis Barragán, and Mathias Goeritz. Totem-like sculptures and furnishings showcase material experiments, while ground-up residences in Oaxaca and Quintana Roo suggest a more elemental approach to living. Endlessly inspired by their neighborhood, Centro Histórico (a bustling city center, home to many hardware stores, built atop the Aztec city Tenochtitlán), their work melds pre-Columbian aesthetics with contemporary material culture. “We see Mexico City as an archaeological site that is still being unearthed,” says Matos. instagram.com/__tezontle_

Photo: Sophia van den Hoek

“It’s like a volcano that is about to erupt,” says Cecilia León de la Barra, director of ZONAMACO Diseño, the design arm of Mexico City’s contemporary art fair, since 2014. She traces the boom back two decades. When she graduated in 1999, with a degree in industrial design, things were shifting in Mexico City. New restaurants were opening (Pujol, Enrique Olvera’s hotspot, built around indigenous ingredients and often called one of the best restaurants in the world, opened in 2000), boutique hotels were popping up, and all of these new spaces required design. Now famous architects like Tatiana Bilbao and Frida Escobedo were setting up their practices. Pioneers like designer and architect Hector Esrawe were finding ways of making and selling their work that were different from the European model, where big companies commissioned designers and paid them royalties. In Mexico City, it was more D.I.Y. Independent practices proliferated. León de la Barra and some friends opened a shop called Mob, in 2001, that sold furnishings by local makers. “People started to know design, buy design, and also build houses,” she recalls.

By the 2010s a handful of platforms for showcasing design were emerging—ZONAMACO Diseño, Design Week Mexico, Abierto Mexicano de Diseño—and a new crop of young talents was gaining international attention. Their work was different. It didn’t quite mesh with the Eurocentric standards of industrial design, rather, it created a new language rooted in the handmade traditions of the country. The Dutch-Mexican designer Emma Gavaldon van Leeuwen Boomkamp began working with a weaving community in Oaxaca to create modern versions of traditional Mexican wool rugs and braiding sisal pieces, typically used for bags, into large wallhangings. Sisters Phoebe and Annette Stevens of Anndra Neen collaborated with traditional silversmiths from the Taxco region to bring their whimsical jewelry designs—and now, accessories for the home—to life.

<div class="caption"> After Emma Gavaldon van Leeuwen Boomkamp traveled to San Miguel de Allende to collaborate with a local glass factory in 2013, she said, “I wanted to see what else I could explore in terms of craft.” An internship with textile designer <a href="http://maddaforcella.com/home/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Maddalena Forcella" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Maddalena Forcella</a> introduced her to the weaving traditions of Oaxaca, and she began working with artisans in the area to produce her own graphic wool rugs. Putting her economics degree to work, she’s also investigating sisal, a Yucatán cash crop. “What can be done with this fiber? How can it become more sustainable economically?” wonders Boomkamp, who has been weaving braided strips, traditionally used for bags, into large wall hangings. A selection of these will go on display at <a href="https://gardeshop.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Garde" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Garde</a> in L.A. this October. <em><a href="https://emmaboomkamp.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:emmaboomkamp.com" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">emmaboomkamp.com</a></em> </div> <cite class="credit">Ana Hop</cite>
After Emma Gavaldon van Leeuwen Boomkamp traveled to San Miguel de Allende to collaborate with a local glass factory in 2013, she said, “I wanted to see what else I could explore in terms of craft.” An internship with textile designer Maddalena Forcella introduced her to the weaving traditions of Oaxaca, and she began working with artisans in the area to produce her own graphic wool rugs. Putting her economics degree to work, she’s also investigating sisal, a Yucatán cash crop. “What can be done with this fiber? How can it become more sustainable economically?” wonders Boomkamp, who has been weaving braided strips, traditionally used for bags, into large wall hangings. A selection of these will go on display at Garde in L.A. this October. emmaboomkamp.com

Ana Hop

“It’s about collaboration,” says León de la Barra, who curated an exhibition about the artisanal turn of the CDMX design world in 2010. She acknowledges the complex and sometimes-colonialist tone these partnerships have taken in the past, saying that today, “It’s essential that designers collaborate with artisans rather than conquering or imposing. It must be an exchange.”

Fernando Laposse, who studied at Central Saint Martins in London and recently moved back to his native Mexico takes that thinking a step further: “I purposely don’t work with artisans using their traditional artisan skills,” he says. “Instead I work with Indigenous people and we create a craft from scratch.” In 2009, he began exploring the materials of his homeland: multicolored heirloom corn husks, the pinkish dye extracted, throughout history, from the cochineal insect, and sisal, used for centuries to make ropes and rugs. The last, a cash crop from the Yucatán, had fallen from favor when plastics and other cheaper, synthetic materials came onto the market. But Laposse reimagined the material as a fluffy textile, (he used it to create whimsical sloths for an installation at Miami’s Design District, last December), working with communities across the country to find a new way to repurpose the age-old material. Similarly, in 2015, he began collaborating with a village of Mixtec farmers and herders in the state of Puebla to reintroduce heirloom corn (many varieties were lost and farmland ruined when chemical additives and pesticides were introduced in the 1990s). Now, they harvest the crops, and use its colorful oft-discarded husks to create Totomoxtle, a decorative veneer made with marquetry which can be applied to walls or furniture.

“I like to transform humble materials into something luxurious,” says Laposse, but the material isn’t entirely the point. “It’s about a whole system. Reintroducing heirloom varieties that we’ve lost, working with Indigenous farmers, thinking about land rights, biodiversity, preserving our heritage.”

<div class="caption"> Studying product design at Central Saint Martins in London, Fernando Laposse (born in Paris and raised in Mexico) had an epiphany. “I realized I preferred to design with Mexican materials, for a Mexican reality,” explains the designer, who started by incorporating everyday loofah into elegant furnishings. Later came heirloom corn. Working with a community in Puebla, he now transforms their colorful husks into marquetry veneer. Laposse has also collaborated with a collective of female weavers and other artisans to create cochineal-dyed sisal surprises like the pink hammocks and furry beasts he installed in Miami’s Design District last year. “I like to transform humble materials into something luxurious.” <em><a href="http://www.fernandolaposse.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:fernandolaposse.com" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">fernandolaposse.com</a></em> </div> <cite class="credit">Ana Hop</cite>
Studying product design at Central Saint Martins in London, Fernando Laposse (born in Paris and raised in Mexico) had an epiphany. “I realized I preferred to design with Mexican materials, for a Mexican reality,” explains the designer, who started by incorporating everyday loofah into elegant furnishings. Later came heirloom corn. Working with a community in Puebla, he now transforms their colorful husks into marquetry veneer. Laposse has also collaborated with a collective of female weavers and other artisans to create cochineal-dyed sisal surprises like the pink hammocks and furry beasts he installed in Miami’s Design District last year. “I like to transform humble materials into something luxurious.” fernandolaposse.com

Ana Hop

Mexico City’s particular production possibilities—its specialties range from textiles, ceramics, and glass to stone carving and metalworking, with lots in between—have also attracted a steady stream of foreigners, who praise the city’s slower pace and affordability, in comparison to other international design hubs like New York, L.A., or London. French designer Fabien Cappello had been running a material- and process-forward practice in London. When he relocated to Mexico City, he began collaborating with the local taller oficios, the small-scale producers that made things like the public transit upholstery or the fake plastic fruit he saw in the market, products that hovered somewhere between craft and industry. Meanwhile Adam Caplowe (British) and Mark Grattan (American) of VIDIVIXI both found that the slower pace of Mexico allowed their creativity to thrive. They drank in inspiration from the local architecture, such as an abandoned Art Deco cinema opposite their showroom in Colonia San Rafael, and channeled it into elegant furnishings, some of which debuted in a digital exhibition by The Future Perfect this week.

<div class="caption"> “Everywhere I looked, someone was making something,” Fabien Cappello recalls of his first visit to Mexico City. Objects he assumed were industrially produced, he discovered, were actually made in small workshops. He wanted to delve deeper. Relocating from London in 2016, he has worked with a company that makes CDMX’s public bus upholstery to design graphic textiles; he has stacked decorative plastic fruit into table lamps; and he has conceived color-blocked lighting with a local glassworker. Many of those pieces starred in his solo show at the CDMX gallery <a href="http://www.ago-projects.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:AGO Projects" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">AGO Projects</a> earlier this year (shown here), for which Cappello aimed to “confuse the genres of craft and industry.” Mission expertly accomplished. <em><a href="http://fabiencappello.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:fabiencappello.com" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">fabiencappello.com</a></em> </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Ana Hop</cite>
“Everywhere I looked, someone was making something,” Fabien Cappello recalls of his first visit to Mexico City. Objects he assumed were industrially produced, he discovered, were actually made in small workshops. He wanted to delve deeper. Relocating from London in 2016, he has worked with a company that makes CDMX’s public bus upholstery to design graphic textiles; he has stacked decorative plastic fruit into table lamps; and he has conceived color-blocked lighting with a local glassworker. Many of those pieces starred in his solo show at the CDMX gallery AGO Projects earlier this year (shown here), for which Cappello aimed to “confuse the genres of craft and industry.” Mission expertly accomplished. fabiencappello.com

Photo: Ana Hop

As the design scene continues to grow, spaces have sprouted up to showcase it. After moving to CDMX almost three years ago, the L.A.-born artist and furniture designer Brian Thoreen created a nomadic gallery project called MASA with designer friends Age Salajõe and Héctor Esrawe. “Collectable design and art were becoming more relevant here, but there weren’t really places to show it,” explains Thoreen. Their roving shows, which tap talents like Su Wu, a curator and writer who recently relocated to CDMX, were some of the first gallery-like design exhibitions to focus on Mexican-made work.

<div class="caption"> As children in Mexico City, sisters Phoebe (above left) and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/picture_the_streets/?hl=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Annette Stephens" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Annette Stephens</a> idolized their grandmother, a jewelry designer who crafted treasures collected by the likes of Peggy Guggenheim and Frida Kahlo. In 2009, they followed in her footsteps, launching Anndra Neen, an accessories brand that works with a traditional Taxco metalsmith to realize their designs using local silver, stones, and shells. “These are techniques that, if someone doesn’t protect them, are going to be lost,” says Phoebe. Rings, cuffs, and clutches have since expanded into bowls, napkin holders, and mirrors, with the possibility of chairs and lamps to come. “We want to make things you can’t find anywhere else,” says Annette. “It’s in our DNA.” <em><a href="https://anndraneen.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:anndraneen.com" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">anndraneen.com</a></em> </div> <cite class="credit">Ana Hop</cite>
As children in Mexico City, sisters Phoebe (above left) and Annette Stephens idolized their grandmother, a jewelry designer who crafted treasures collected by the likes of Peggy Guggenheim and Frida Kahlo. In 2009, they followed in her footsteps, launching Anndra Neen, an accessories brand that works with a traditional Taxco metalsmith to realize their designs using local silver, stones, and shells. “These are techniques that, if someone doesn’t protect them, are going to be lost,” says Phoebe. Rings, cuffs, and clutches have since expanded into bowls, napkin holders, and mirrors, with the possibility of chairs and lamps to come. “We want to make things you can’t find anywhere else,” says Annette. “It’s in our DNA.” anndraneen.com

Ana Hop

But that hole is closing fast. Last December, Rodman Primack (previously the creative director of Design Miami) and Rudy Weissenberg (they also run the AD100 firm RP Miller) debuted their new CDMX-based design gallery, AGO Projects, at Design Miami. With talents like Laposse, Anndra Neen, and Cappello on their roster, they’re building on the international interest in Mexican design, and, in time, hope to develop the market in Mexico itself (for now, Primack says, most Mexican collectors still prefer imported goods). People couldn’t stop talking about it. The work was colorful, soulful, unexpected, and it highlighted that quality that so many—locals and newcomers, alike—emphasize: the endless possibility of making in Mexico.

“You can make things happen here,” explains Weissenberg. “Magically, you can find someone to help you with glass. Someone to help you with metal. It’s very artisanal. And that’s not just post-colonial; it goes back thousands of years.”

<div class="caption"> “Part of moving here was the chance to do more working and building with my hands,” says Brian Thoreen, the California-born designer and artist, who arrived in Mexico City almost three years ago after making his name in Los Angeles. “I just felt better here, more alive.” He has since gotten back to his fabrication roots, experimenting with industrial materials like rubber, silicone, tar paper, and wood glue. Along the way, he and some friends founded Masa, a traveling exhibition program, in response to the city’s growing art-and-design scene. “There are some common threads here,” he explains. “The materials, the processes, the influence of local architecture. When you fall in love with Mexico, you fall in love with that stuff.” <em><a href="http://www.brianthoreen.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:brianthoreen.com" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">brianthoreen.com</a></em> </div> <cite class="credit">Ana Hop</cite>
“Part of moving here was the chance to do more working and building with my hands,” says Brian Thoreen, the California-born designer and artist, who arrived in Mexico City almost three years ago after making his name in Los Angeles. “I just felt better here, more alive.” He has since gotten back to his fabrication roots, experimenting with industrial materials like rubber, silicone, tar paper, and wood glue. Along the way, he and some friends founded Masa, a traveling exhibition program, in response to the city’s growing art-and-design scene. “There are some common threads here,” he explains. “The materials, the processes, the influence of local architecture. When you fall in love with Mexico, you fall in love with that stuff.” brianthoreen.com

Ana Hop

Some version of that appeal has been operating for the last century, bringing a global mix of people to the Latin American metropolis. In the 1930s, Cuban furniture designer Clara Porset settled in the metropolis. German painter and architect Matthias Goertz came a few decades later. Artist couple Anni and Josef Albers made frequent trips between the 1930s and ’60s, visiting with friends like Porset and the Mexican architect Luis Barragán, who collaborated with all of the above.

“I would say it’s happening again,” says León de la Barra. “Right now in Mexico City, it’s not really about who is Mexican and who is not, it’s about doing things, sharing things, having new connections.” She likens the resulting design landscape to the vernacular architecture that permeates the city, from the pre-Columbian ruins in Centro Histórico to Spanish colonial cathedrals, to an Art Deco cinema to the colorful houses that line many streets. “It’s not always pink, always wood, always stone, but when you see it all together, it just makes sense.”

A Sampling of Work From Mexico City’s Top Talents 

<h1 class="title">Fernando Laposse</h1> <div class="caption"> A cocktail table made using Totomoxtle, a veneer material—which is made with husks of heirloom Mexican corn—developed by Laposse and Mixtec farmers in Puebla. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of Fernando Laposse</cite>

A cocktail table made using Totomoxtle, a veneer material—which is made with husks of heirloom Mexican corn—developed by Laposse and Mixtec farmers in Puebla.

Photo: Courtesy of Fernando Laposse

<h1 class="title">Fernando Laposse</h1> <div class="caption"> Laposse’s Dogs are made from sisal, the raw fiber from the leaves of agave plants, which was historically farmed in the Yucatán and used to make rugs, rope, and fishing nets. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of Fernando Laposse</cite>

Laposse’s Dogs are made from sisal, the raw fiber from the leaves of agave plants, which was historically farmed in the Yucatán and used to make rugs, rope, and fishing nets.

Photo: Courtesy of Fernando Laposse

<h1 class="title">Fernando Laposse</h1> <div class="caption"> For an early project, Laposse integrated everyday loofa—a material found in most Mexican households—into luxury furnishings. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of Fernando Laposse</cite>

For an early project, Laposse integrated everyday loofa—a material found in most Mexican households—into luxury furnishings.

Photo: Courtesy of Fernando Laposse

<h1 class="title">VIDIVIXI</h1> <div class="caption"> Switch Sideboard, in leather, walnut, and black oak by VIDIVIXI. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Jorge Abuxapqui</cite>

Switch Sideboard, in leather, walnut, and black oak by VIDIVIXI.

Photo: Jorge Abuxapqui

<h1 class="title">VIDIVIXI</h1> <div class="caption"> Eight U-shaped curves interlock to create the base of the Café Con Leche walnut occasional table by VIDIVIXI. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Jorge Abuxapqui</cite>

Eight U-shaped curves interlock to create the base of the Café Con Leche walnut occasional table by VIDIVIXI.

Photo: Jorge Abuxapqui

<h1 class="title">VIDIVIXI</h1> <div class="caption"> The Docked en Rio bed frame, fully upholstered in channeled velvet, is the first VIDIVIXI design to get the world’s attention. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Jorge Abuxapqui</cite>

The Docked en Rio bed frame, fully upholstered in channeled velvet, is the first VIDIVIXI design to get the world’s attention.

Photo: Jorge Abuxapqui

<h1 class="title">Fabien Cappello</h1> <div class="caption"> Silla Tabachin by Fabien Cappello. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of Fabien Cappello</cite>

Silla Tabachin by Fabien Cappello.

Photo: Courtesy of Fabien Cappello

<h1 class="title">Fabien Cappello</h1> <div class="caption"> Fabien Cappello collaborated with local artisans on this rug-slash-chair and other items for Room With A View, an environment he created in 2017 for Dos Casas Hotel’s project space, The Garage. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of Fabien Cappello</cite>

Fabien Cappello collaborated with local artisans on this rug-slash-chair and other items for Room With A View, an environment he created in 2017 for Dos Casas Hotel’s project space, The Garage.

Photo: Courtesy of Fabien Cappello

<h1 class="title">Emma Gavaldon van Leeuwen Boomkamp</h1> <div class="caption"> A wall hanging by Emma Gavaldon van Leeuwen Boomkamp, made using sisal pieces from Xocchel, a village in the Yucatán. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Sergio López</cite>

A wall hanging by Emma Gavaldon van Leeuwen Boomkamp, made using sisal pieces from Xocchel, a village in the Yucatán.

Photo: Sergio López

<h1 class="title">Emma Gavaldon van Leeuwen Boomkamp</h1> <div class="caption"> Tapete Sarah by Emma Gavaldon van Leeuwen Boomkamp, made with weavers in Teotitlán del Valle, a village in Oaxaca. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Angela Suarez</cite>

Tapete Sarah by Emma Gavaldon van Leeuwen Boomkamp, made with weavers in Teotitlán del Valle, a village in Oaxaca.

Photo: Angela Suarez

<h1 class="title">Emma Gavaldon van Leeuwen Boomkamp</h1> <div class="caption"> Anne Grey rug by Emma Gavaldon van Leeuwen Boomkamp. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Laura May Grogan</cite>

Anne Grey rug by Emma Gavaldon van Leeuwen Boomkamp.

Photo: Laura May Grogan

<h1 class="title">Brian Thoreen </h1> <div class="caption"> Rubber tables by Brian Thoreen on display at a 2019 installation by MASA. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of Brian Thoreen</cite>

Rubber tables by Brian Thoreen on display at a 2019 installation by MASA.

Photo: Courtesy of Brian Thoreen

<h1 class="title">Brian Thoreen</h1> <div class="caption"> A rubber and brass console by Brian Thoreen. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of Brian Thoreen</cite>

A rubber and brass console by Brian Thoreen.

Photo: Courtesy of Brian Thoreen

<h1 class="title">Brian Thoreen</h1> <div class="caption"> Glass vessels made by Brian Thoreen in collaboration with Vissio, a Mexican glass studio. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: ETULAIN</cite>

Glass vessels made by Brian Thoreen in collaboration with Vissio, a Mexican glass studio.

Photo: ETULAIN

<h1 class="title">Anndra Neen</h1> <div class="caption"> Cage mirrors by Anndra Neen. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of Anndra Neen</cite>

Cage mirrors by Anndra Neen.

Photo: Courtesy of Anndra Neen

<div class="caption"> Canasta cage bag in silver by Anndra Neen. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of Anndra Neen</cite>

Canasta cage bag in silver by Anndra Neen.

Photo: Courtesy of Anndra Neen

<h1 class="title">Anndra Neen</h1> <div class="caption"> Mushroom mirror by Anndra Neen. </div> <cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of Anndra Neen</cite>

Mushroom mirror by Anndra Neen.

Photo: Courtesy of Anndra Neen

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest

Source Article