Mexico City and Oaxaca

Our visit with Mexican fashion label Yakampot epitomized our Mexican tour, which explored craft and design in Mexico today. Designer Francisco Cancino produces a sophisticated line of women’s fashion that is deeply rooted in Mexico’s indigenous and hispanic heritage. After describing his inspiring, creative collaboration with indigenous craftswomen in Chiapas, he asked us to tell people at home that good things are happening in Mexico. This set the tone for the rest of our trip!

With a gracious boutique hotel as our home-base, we set out to meet other designers with a similar mission. We met the son and daughter of a fashion designer who has pioneered Mexican-made fashion for over two decades with her vibrant eponymous label; we visited the studio of an award-winning designer who reimagines traditional garments such as the huipile, quechquémitl and rebozo; and we visited the showroom of a clothing company with a strong social and sustainable design ethos. We met the co-founder of a chic homewares and accessories boutique, and learned about her personal and professional background championing Mexican handcrafts. Our sightseeing focused on Mexican design—including a guided tour of architect Louis Barragan’s house to see how he fused classic modern design with a distinct Mexican perspective and a visit to the Frida Kahlo Museum, to see how Mexican handcrafts influenced her work and personal style.

Leaving Mexico City for our journey to the Mixteca region of western Oaxaca, we were lucky to have a clear day with a spectacular view of the volcanoes Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl. The next part of our journey, which took us deep into the countryside brimming with wildflowers, was an exciting contrast to Mexico City. Our hotel was located on the central plaza of a bustling regional town where we had a chance to see the activities of daily life. We also happened to be in town during a festival, with fireworks sounding each night! On day trips, we experienced remote village life and we were privileged to meet women making and wearing traditional clothing, the style of which varies between communities. These communities are rarely—if ever—visited by foreigners and it was a privilege to be a guest in the homes of indigenous female artisans and entrepreneurs, where we also enjoyed lunch, getting a taste for traditional, home-style cooking. It was interesting to see a slice of Mexico’s diverse indigenous culture, which informs and inspires many of the contemporary designers we met in Mexico City.

In Oaxaca City we saw dynamic artisan enterprises and collaborations at work. Stepping back in time, we visited Mitla, the Zapotec archeological site known for its stunning geometric stone fretwork, which continues to be a source of inspiration for designers and artisans. Also deeply rooted in Oaxaca’s history is cochineal dyeing, which we learned about while visiting a family of weavers and dyers from Teotitlán del Valle, which is famous for its flat-woven rugs. We were also excited to see many innovative contemporary collaborations and initiatives, including an organization creating new markets for potters from throughout Oaxaca; a company creating beautiful glassware made from and with recycled waste materials; a felting workshop that specializes in stunning, large-scale artist commissions and provides employment for local women; and an organization housed in an elegant old hacienda, which supports collaborations between international designers and local artisans in various mediums. We also enjoyed lunch at the home of a renowned ceramic sculptor who was the subject of a concurrent exhibition at Centro Cultural San Pablo. A highlight at the conclusion of our trip was touring the Museo Textil de Oaxaca with our exceptional guide, Ana Paula Fuentes, who was the museum’s founding director, and who also gave us such a rich experience of Mexican culture and crafts over the course of our tour. (For more insight and images from the trip see our Instagram feed.)

Touring the creative heart of Mexico, our amiable small group was introduced not only to immense visual beauty but also the welcoming makers of such splendid objects. Always well organized but not too exhausting, the tour exposed us to the delicious regional cuisine and an overview of the history of the area. I personally feel this tour was life changing. I have fallen in love with Mexico, an unexpected but wonderful outcome. It is a unique tour that can have that effect on a seasoned traveler!
— Kathryn Harris