Princess Gollum and Tótem spotlight young Mexican designers
The history of Mexican fashion is deeply rooted in the walls of the capital. Almost as deep as the country’s turbulent relationship with indigenous politics, music or culture. Almost every major tenet of Mexico’s rich history can be described by one piece of clothing – the silver-embellished buckles on mariachi jackets, the embossed leather boots worn on the agave fields grown to distill tequila in Jalisco, the sumptuous and showy lazo rosaries that Mexican brides will wear on their wedding day.
In a rapidly changing fashion industry, where the arbitrary boundaries on maps drawn by men in power millennia ago pale in comparison to Instagram, it’s no wonder the work of Mexican New Age designers captivates the hearts and minds of style lovers everywhere, regardless of background.
The mission of transporting local and exclusive designers to the stages of fashion keepers is one that César Alvarez has always championed, leading the stylist and editor-in-chief to the birth of Tótem magazine, a multidisciplinary platform for the young generation of her country – a platform that rejects outdated beliefs that queer, brown, designs that feature women aren’t meant to be trendy. Who does not deserve a place at the table.
Tótem was born in Mexico City and raised in Los Angeles, often a reflection of the Latinx arts community in Southern California. Alvarez has his roots in CDMX – the Spanish acronym for the nation’s capital – but will always have a special love for the City of Angels.
The exploration between these two worlds led the media mogul to create his own pop-up store, Tótem Tienda, in order to bring emerging Mexican designers to the United States. Nestled in the heart of Los Angeles, Tótem Tienda is a carefully curated showcase of clothing and accessories for everyone. It is a deliberate act of recolonization of spaces and aesthetics so often deemed inaccessible or gender-defying.
To celebrate a special photoshoot with internet personality Princess Gollum, PAPER met up with Alvarez to discuss all things Tótem, Mexican fashion, and celebrate an inclusive space not often found in Latin American culture.
Explain to me a little bit about the creation of Tótem and how it was created – from the initial stages to the magazine, then elevating that platform into a physical space.
Tótem started with the goal of showing a side of fashion in Mexico that was rarely seen, a side where everyone was included: all bodies, all genders and all those who wanted to express themselves mainly through photography. and fashion. Among friends, we started to create online editorials like Tótem Magazine to expose our tastes and show our creativity through our own brands. Along the way, we included other young designers in these editorials and started creating pop-ups in homes, patios and places so that we could sell our pieces. After moving to LA, the next step was to open a real store. We had already built this community in Mexico City, and it was the perfect opportunity to tell their story and sell their pieces to a new audience.
Was this the first physical event produced by Tótem in the United States since the pandemic?
He is. In fact, the opening of Tótem Tienda only happened a few months before the start of the pandemic and it was very special. A lot of the Latinx and non-Latinx community came out for this, and people were really amazed at all the talent and hard work of all the designers.
Why Los Angeles for the Tótem Pop-up rather than another big city like Miami, New York or Chicago?
I decided to move to LA after spending some time exploring different fashion and design opportunities in Mexico. I had been to LA a few times growing up to visit family in the summer and always loved the California vibe, although I’m still a town person. In terms of fashion, I think Mexico City has a very special touch, and I don’t think there’s a place in Los Angeles that really captures it.
What does the fashion scene in Mexico look like to someone who has never been there? How is the environment different from other fashion centers that most people recognize?
The local fashion industry in Mexico City has grown a lot in recent years. The scene is very glamorous, even ambitious, but definitely with a unique twist. Due to our history and location, we consume European and American trends but we own it and give it a Mexican touch. In Mexico there are a lot of parties, cultural events and in general many places to go out and have fun. You can use public transportation to get around the city, you can walk from one neighborhood to another in a matter of minutes and I think a lot of the inspiration for designing clothes is on the streets. Wearing clothes as a means of expression is important to connect with the city and the pace of life.
Guide me through the designers featured in the store. How did you meet some of them and why did you recruit them for this project?
I met a lot of them when we were younger and were taking the stage, building our brands and the local industry in Mexico like Paloma Lira and Baby Angel. Now I see a lot of that same energy in the young designers that we carry and it makes me nostalgic. I am inspired by their vision and it is gratifying to be able to give visibility to their incredible projects. Banzo, Grosera, Ondear and Sabrina Ol to name a few.
In Latin American culture, there is always an idea that fashion and design is a feminine thing. For queer men and creatives, the cultural education of machismo can often overshadow the passions they have for fear of violence. What is your opinion on this?
Absoutely. Male chauvinism and misogyny are still deeply rooted in our culture, but I’m happy to see that these stereotypes are slowly changing. This is why I think it is so important to speak out and build community, to highlight the importance of feminism and to keep the struggle of the LGBTQ + community in the conversation as a way to break down these cultural barriers that divide us. . It couldn’t be more important when it comes to the trans community. The transphobia that exists in Mexico, and everywhere, needs to be addressed, especially in the fashion, art and music communities that have embraced other parts of the queer community but continue to ignore our trans community. . Every time I go to Mexico, I am very happy to see graffiti on the streets in favor of women and the queer community, because it gives visibility. I have the impression that at least in Mexico City, the idea that being different or a woman is bad is starting to change. The same is happening with clothes, more and more I see people daring to dress differently and go out on the streets and empower themselves through their clothes with confidence, and I see more respect coming from the straight community. This visibility empowers the next generation.
Tótem Tienda looks like an urban, rainbow exploration of art and authentic passion. What feelings do you want to express when someone walks into the store?
May they be welcome, that they feel included, that anything goes, and that this is a safe place to experience. It often happens that they come to try on clothes that are outside their comfort zone and leave without buying. Soon they will come back after thinking it over and buy what they did not dare to wear before. We encourage people who come to try on things they wouldn’t wear in another setting. Often times, they buy tops, skirts or accessories that they never imagined would be so comfortable and sexy.
What was it like filming with Princess Gollum? How was this partnership born and what does it represent for Tótem?
Across the wonderful world of the Internet. Princess Gollum has an incredibly unconventional style, and she’s also part of a minority like us and despite that, her style and personality has helped her stand out. That’s why I loved the idea of her wearing these clothes for PAPER readers. The message we want to get across is that Mexican art and design can be relevant on a global scale. Now we’re friends and she’s become a fan of the pieces we have in store. I like his particular vision which allows him to appreciate the unusual and that’s what we have in Tótem.
What do you think American customers take away from being in such a rich and luxurious environment designed for and by Mexican designers?
They love it! I think we give them a very special and interesting take on what Mexico is, in particular CDMX. We also have pieces from designers from Tijuana, Hermosillo, as well as Chicano artists who express their connection to Mexico through clothing.
What is the future of Tótem?
We want to do a lot of collaborations, workshops and pop-ups with designers so that Angelenos can meet them and experience their process firsthand. We even want to do art exhibitions and get involved in larger projects that allow us to showcase Mexican and Latin American talent. Thanks to Tótem Tienda, we can show more people that Mexican fashion and design is global, and we can do our part against the stereotypes of yesteryear.
Do you have any exciting projects coming up that you can spill the tea on for the PAPER audience?
We do! We have worked hard to expand our audience so that our designer talent reaches more people in our community and we are able to increase the visibility of Mexican talent in fashion. From September 10th to 12th, we have a pop-up at the Canal Street Market in Manhattan around NYFW and we’re very excited about it. Also in New York, we’re producing a fashion show featuring our designers in collaboration with Vans and Channel 66 as part of Latinx Heritage Month. We hope the New York community welcomes us with open arms.
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