Los Hombres de Teamo: Cuevas (left) and Sànchez
Deep in Mexico City, where a group of interdisciplinary designers are working together to make their country relevant in the global fashion market, a movement is afoot. At the forefront of this loose-knit syndicate is Teamo (Spanish for “I love you,” with the space removed; pronounced tay ah moh), the design partnership of former couple Rafael Cuevas and Roberto Sànchez. For the past four seasons the funky label have presented their shredded-hem-chic collections at one of Mexico City’s four fashion weeks to wide acclaim and international attention—tastemaker extraordinaire Humberto Leon of downtown style mecca Opening Ceremony has called in with fanfare—and, with growing invitations from the states and an NYC showroom on the horizon, now look to take the thing worldwide.
Schooled in the more parent-friendly arts of “Communications,” Sànchez, from Cuernavaca, met Cuevas, from Guadalajara, in Mexico City via MySpace. The networking site proved an effective to for their marketing and DJing careers (respectively) and the guys so adept in its use they became ‘experts’. “In fact,” says Cuevas, “when MySpace was huge in Mexico they used to invite us to give talks about it.” The tech-savvy duo, whose latest collection “Skate Witches,” takes as inspiration “that girl in high-school whose a little bit skate and a little bit goth,” are among the first in the web-phobic nation, wary of unreliable domestic shipping, to have a fully-functioning site and retail in the US. In what seems to be de rigueur for their milieu Cuevas and Sànchez are both multi-talented and allow their side work to influence their label. Cuevas is a musician and something of a showman who likes to choreograph his catwalk shows with exacting detail. Sànchez’s drawings of Courtney Love, Mary-Kate Olsen and especially Kate Moss on the label’s tee-shirts have caused something of a frenzy with stores clamoring for exclusive rights to carry specific renderings (Bonadrag won out on the Morrissey shirts and sells all that are to be had worldwide). Nor are they afraid of creative collaborations—their latest collection, SS10, will be presented in a video directed by their friend, the editor of Nylon Mexico.
Like many of their colleagues in the budding fashion scene the boys of Teamo are under 30 and grew up with an immediate awareness of fashion with the runways of Paris and Milan a mouse-click a way on their desktop. As Cuevas says, “Online made everything immediate. With that awareness we are pushed to be more creative, to compete on a global level.” So, in what has become a worldwide trend for artists, chefs and others seeking to reinvent themselves while holding themselves to a standard of authenticity, the designers of Mexico City’s nascent avant-garde looked inward, to their roots, to their country’s rich textile heritage and sartorial sensibilities, and sought to re-imagine them in contemporary terms. By comparison, “Jean-Paul Gaultier did a line inspired by Mexico a couple of years ago,” says Cuevas, “but it was pretty ‘folkloric.’” So, he implies, in deciding to do native Mexican style justice, Teamo had found their manifesto: to use Mexico’s design legacy and, well, make it cool. “For example we did a collection about Day of the Dead which is very important here. It is about not taking death too seriously. It was kind of scandalous, doing all black and white for Spring which in Mexico is usually all color. But we made it go from black to white, from death to life and it was very cool.” Chloë Sevigny thought so—she picked up a lucite bangle bedecked with skulls from the collection.
To give us a sense of what is happening on the vanguard of this scene Teamo took us on a tour of their friends’ showrooms. We met Carla Fernández, whose Taller Flora label, housed in a gorgeous Art Nouveau mansion, specializes in hand-woven geometric pieces designed for multi-purpose use. Indeed, each separate, huipil and scarf, sewn at one of the indigenous co-ops with whom she has exclusive contracts, can be worn in three or four different ways, as she showed us. Celebrating the native talent in her country Fernández has brought in some of the best tailors from London to work with the Maya craftsmen to whom she promises steady work engagements at a rate many times that which they would receive selling to a middle man. No surprise then that this forward-thinking designer, presenting real, sustainable progress for (at last count) more than 150 indigenous laborers in the Mexican countryside is putting together an installation based on the “emancipation of women”.
Isabelle Manhes and Sophie Massun are partners in Manhes Y Massun, an elegant womenswear line inspired by Manhes’s love of Golden Era Hollywood and Massun’s stunning Art Deco mansion home. As Manhes modeled foxy graphic pieces from their latest collection (“Electric Storm”), striding down the grand staircase of Massun’s ‘30s house to ooohs and aaahs, she talked about Dietrich and Ava Gardner as touchstones to the label. Like others in this group of friends, Manhes feels a great forward-moving energy among the young designers but posits a final breakthrough in the future. “We are wondering what will happen,” she says. “With sourcing of fabrics and placing pieces in stores, which is really difficult right now.” Noting that her label does exclusively special order at present, Manhes cites the country’s dated practice of consignment as a hugely prohibitive, and perhaps final, block to young designers’ growth.
Andrés Jimenez’s Mancandy, as do many other young brands, survives in part on the sponsorship it receives from textile giant Caltex—that and Jimenez’s many sleepless nights. After being inspired by his friend Sànchez to come to Mexico City and try his hand at designing a line Jimenez worked for 15 days straight and on the 16th presented the 20 looks of his first collection. Named after his own flip nickname—Andy Mancandy—the label aspires to dress “the man everyone wants.” His second collection won him the prestigious Lycra award and stylists came calling to dress Uma Thurman and others for the Spanish-language Elle and Harper’s Bazaar. Three years and five collections in, Mancandy is known for its unisex vibe—think boyfriend pants—and retails online and at cool spots in LA and NY. Not surprisingly—once you get to know this bunch—Jimenez is also the designer of his own very sleek website, photographer of his own lookbook and a million other things besides.
Many of the designers, including Cuevas, have congratulated the new Mayor, Ebrard, himself the son of an architect, on his celebration and support of the arts. “I finally feel like my country is behind me,” Cuevas said, “and it is really exciting to see all these boys—gay boys and straight boys—going into design. That is a big deal for such a macho country.” At their Juarez district storefront, beneath their second floor offices and a third floor atelier under construction, Teamo introduced us to a few more brands including Fou Fou Chat, a punky flea-market inspired line of jewelry, and Paola Hernandez, a sleek eponymous line of mens and womenswear by the Mexican designer educated at London’s Central Saint Martins.
Throughout our tour the theme stays consistent: A global generation of Mexico’s young designers, brought up online want to make clothes inspired by their country palatable without. And, like any self-respecting movement, this one has a hub. The art school CENTRO where a four year degree in fashion design (or interior design or cinema studies for that matter) involves deep historical background and professional training. Liza Niles, the director of the textiles and fashion program at the university has brought in lecturers from the top of the top of the worlds of fashion photography and design to give the students there an education on par with her alma mater where she also taught, Parsons. The resulting energy and attention places labels like Teamo in a mentoring position for aspiring designers fresh from school. “The younger generation looks up to us,” says Cuevas. With the inroads they’ve made into the world market, it’s not hard to see why. And, he concludes, of the younger generation for whom Teamo are pioneers, if not the entirety of Mexican fashion, “They follow right behind us.”
Teamo portrait courtesy of Teamo. All other photos by Carlos Giesemann courtesy of Mexico City board of Tourism