The design heritage of Mexico has its roots in the crafts of the many Mesoamerican, pre-Hispanic cultures who were painting, weaving, and molding materials into everyday objects for the home, long before the Europeans arrived and added their ideas and styles to the mix. Writer, poet, and TV presenter Salvador Novo defined true Mexican artesanía—handmade craft and design—as a blending of European and indigenous tradition, with items produced for domestic consumption, nodding to the production of pottery, leatherwork, textiles, and toys.
Artesanía in Mexico is often tied to both national and indigenous identity, and today a new generation of Mexican designers is building on the country’s history, combining it with modern practices and a thoroughly 21st-century global sensibility. We meet four of its rising stars.
Nailea and Denisse Arnaiz, Arudeko
“We get inspired by everything around us—architecture, nature, light, shadows, repetitions, patterns, art, music, absolutely everything. We study and evaluate current trends and use them as a guide, but we always maintain the essence of our brand,” says Nailea Arnaiz, who, together with sister Denisse, creates bold, graphic rugs, cushions, and table mats for Arudeko. The pair chose the name as it “represents the strength and union of a family of artisans.”
The sisters studied textile design in Mexico City, after which Nailea did a masters in fashion styling and visual merchandizing, while Denisse studied artisanal process and weaving. “One day we sat down to talk about what we were doing at that moment and we realized that for both of us the processes in which a product or object is created, and the people who are involved in it, are very important. And we realized that in Mexico and other parts of the world, the people involved are rarely recognized, much less paid what they deserve for the work they do,” says Denisse. And so they decided to “develop a project around it.”
To create their homewares the sisters work with a group of “artisan families” from different communities in the Valle de Oaxaca, all of whom have home studios. “Handmade work is something that conveys a bit of the person behind it, and Mexican designers and brands are definitely leaving their mark on everything they do by sharing objects of great design and exceptional quality, through new materials, and controlled and well-paid production,” says Nailea.
“We believe that the importance and interest in Mexican design has grown a lot in recent years because the people who are developing all these new projects and brands are taking into consideration our history, our traditions, our culture, and the richness of the handmade processes,” adds Denisse.
Camila Apaez, Ila Ceramica
For Camila Apaez, ceramics are more than just a job—they helped her return to “creativity and inspiration,” which she had blocked after experiencing some personal challenges. She says the repetitive motions of throwing quieted her mind, before admitting, “I love the possibility of being in touch with dirt. . . . Since I was a child I would always come home full of mud as my school was in the woods. [With ceramics] I can still work with something that came from the earth. I also love that it’s a very timely process, meaning that things take a set amount of time, and there’s no way to rush it . . . it’s a really different approach to many things in this modern world.”
Apaez heads up a team of three women working as Ila Ceramics, offering a permanent collection of vessels inspired by “voids in time and memory, as well as organic shapes that allow space to seep through,” and one-of-a-kind pieces. “I would like to think of it as work that calls for contemplation and silence,” says Apaez, who also experiments with her chosen material, lately adding organic waste material into the mix and trying out different glazes, as well as digging up local clays “from significant places in my life.”
“I believe we’re all tired of mass production,” says the ceramicist. “Of synthetic materials that don’t have much history, so being drawn to craftwork, small-batch production, and handmade objects, which we have here in abundance, is a counter to this.”
When asked why her home country has such a wealth of artisanía and practitioners, Apaez says, “I believe that all pre-Hispanic cultures developed a deep relationship with nature and thus myth… which I guess allowed for metaphors to develop and for people to make things that reflected these. Also, just out of necessity, people made what they needed—pots, textiles, etc. When these two merge (necessity and symbolic thought) many beautiful things can be created.”
Not that her customer base is limited to Mexico—thanks to digital technology Ila Ceramics has fans in the U.S. and Canada as well as “loyal clients” in England, France, and Japan. “I do believe there is a wider interest in Mexican craft and design. I think there is a larger interest in Latin American work right now, be it in contemporary art, craft, and design… but in a way I think it has to do more with the possibility of e-commerce and social media rather than the objects themselves, because in Mexico there has always been a great deal of talent, from artisans and designers, so I guess these technologies have just allowed us to reach clients that really do value these kinds of pieces.”
Sebastián Angeles, Dórica
Industrial designer Sebastián Angeles is the man behind furniture brand Dórica, which “reinterprets the natural beauty of wood and incorporates a minimalistic aesthetic, giving life to objects that bring comfort and elegance to spaces.”
“Since I was a child I found my passion in creating,” says Angeles. “I spent most of my time drawing or playing with clay, I made paper objects, I reconfigured my toys… I always visualized myself doing something related to art. At first I wanted to be a plastic artist, then I began to have an interest in developing functional products, I entered the world of design, and I fell in love with furniture, objects.”
Recent creations include the Sensato table, a rectangular piece for the dining room—“one of the most important rooms in the house”—that contrasts wood with either a marble or granite top, and the Balance chair, which the designer says is a “delicate fusion between a profuse minimalism and sinuous forms.”
Angeles is based in Mexico City, a place that fuels his creativity. “There is so much cultural diversity—there’s so much happening all the time. You can go to a street and on the corner there is an amazing restaurant next to some workshop or studio. There are many possibilities for creative people, since it is a city where it is very easy to develop ideas and make them come true thanks to the large number of artisans and workshops. The city is a very attractive space for artists or designers, since in other parts of the world it is more difficult to bring your ideas to life.”
As well as selling his original designs through Dórica, Angeles has created pieces for brands such as Breuer and Pirwi. “The incredible thing about collaborations is that I can do something that is too complicated for me or my company to do on my own, so I can develop a product of great value and get fully involved in the process. I think seeing your ideas come to life is the best thing about being a designer.”
José Bermúdez, Studio Bermúdez
“I’m so excited to see all my colleagues showing their pieces more and more in different countries, and I’m really excited to be part of that,” says José Bermúdez, whose studio is based in the heart of Mexico City’s Centro Histórico. Studio Bermúdez has been creating furniture for just over five years, using processes he describes as “low tech,” and which have a decidedly Japandi aesthetic.
Originally hoping for a career in car design—“unfortunately car design here in Mexico is a little bit limited”—he set his sights on studying industrial design instead. A semester spent in Sweden “studying joinery and furniture design definitely changed my perspective on design.” Also a fan of Japan, “one of my favorite countries thanks to the heritage of techniques and how they relate and apply with more contemporary design,” Bermúdez decided to merge both cultures with his Mexican roots.
“Mexican culture reminds me a lot of Japanese culture. Each city or state has a well-known technique, so I try to use that heritage in my design as well.” Standout Studio Bermúdez pieces include the Nordic-inspired, pared-down Shelf N01, available in a range of woods including tzalam hardwood and blackened oak, and the Leaf rug, a collaboration with Zaavia, which was designed to bring “a landscape full of leaves” into the home.
Collaborations, often with international brands, feature regularly in the studio’s output. “Mexican design and architecture are very important to the world nowadays, and are breaking down barriers,” says Bermúdez, “I’m very proud to be part of a new generation of independent designers.”
Banner image: Sculptures by Ila Ceramica