IT ALL STARTED IN MEXICO CITY, IN 1976.
Michael Rose, was a globe-trotting hippy self-made journalist in his mid 20s, and had settled in Mexico City, writing for the local english-language newspaper ‘The News’ (so original). Patricia Moreno, in her early 20s, was a student of archaeology at the INAH – the National Institute of Anthropology and History. One evening, they both attended a house-party of young Mexico City intellectuals in the Colonia Cuauhtémoc neighbourhood (where I now live). Patricia, the black-sheep of her wealthy and conservative family, was intrigued by this long-bearded, slightly dishevelled Englishman. And likewise, Michael was taken by her. Fast-forward 6 months, and they were engaged to be married, it would be an inter-religion marriage, Catholic (Patricia)-Jewish(Mike)– quite boundary breaking for the time, especially for the rigidities of Mexican society.
This is the anecdote of my parents of course, and the very beginning of the story of Rose Moreno– one in which two wonderfully different cultures and worlds come together. Rose Moreno is not just any new fashion brand, but a heartfelt project that allows me to explore my mixed heritage and identity through my passions for Mexican culture, contemporary fashion, textiles, colour, pattern and giving back.
MY EARLY YEARS
Now, I still want to take you back a little, if you can bare with me, to my childhood, right through to today, where I find myself now, as it explains so much behind the ‘whys’ of Rose Moreno.
My parents moved to the UK to pursue work and further education, therefore I was born and raised in England and since I can remember, my mum made a consistent effort to bring Mexico to our little English home. It was clearly very important to her to maintain and celebrate her Mexican identity, and to help my brother and I understand that it was very much a part of us too. Whether it was the bright fuchsia and yellow painted walls of the kitchen, the intensely bright woven table-cloths, the patterned wool-rugs from Teotitlan del Valle, the vibrantly painted jugs, plates and ornaments, the hanging Mexican landscapes, the smell of freshly handmade corn tortillas cooking on the copper 'comal' (flat-pan), the latest hits from Gloria Estefan and other Latino crooners, or mum wearing her embroidered huipil (traditional gown) on occasions. Being surrounded by all of this inspired a true sense of pride in my brother and I throughout the years, and enabled us to develop our connection with Mexico from afar.
Apart from within our home, mum and dad soon discovered a small Latino community in our hometown of Reading, with several British-Mexican couples to their surprise. We were soon celebrating Mexican holidays, such as Independence Day and the Christmas 'Posada' together, and sharing the culture with the family's non-Latino friends. Mum also became well-known for her in-demand Mexican pickles; she would spend days-on-end chopping carrots, onions and cauliflowers, pickling and jarring them for sale at village and school fairs- generating queues of eager buyers.
We equally experienced the culture by visiting Mexico regularly, since I was a baby. Mum and dad worked hard and spent wisely to enable a family of 4 to go at least every two years. As soon as school was out we would be boarding the plane and spending our entire summer or Christmas holidays with our huge family. These were very special times, the glory days. Running around the huge gardens with 11 cousins, and about as many dogs. Garden parties, 'taquizas' (taco catering), BBQs, piñatas, mariachis, uncles overdoing the tequila...there was always something to celebrate or simply bring the family together.
These trips were not only to spend time with the family, but also delve deep into the culture, travel and get to know it well. Mum and dad wanted to pass on their sense of adventure, and we set-off on long road-trips through the country, driving through the mossy pine-covered mountains adorned with picturesque wooden ‘chalets’, to cactus-lined terracotta desert-lands, through to lush green tropical forests, coconut groves and coastal roads. Oh, and the food…nothing can replicate the authenticity of pulling-over to a little shack, and being served by the friendliest of families, the best homemade food; from the freshly-caught ‘trucha’ (trout) wrapped in foil ‘al mojo de ajo’ (bathed in garlic) or ‘al chile de arbol’ (with the explosive ’bird’s beak’ chile) in the mountains; to the ‘pollo a la leña’ (charred bbq chicken) with the most comforting fresh-pressed corn tortillas, chunky guacamole and exquisite salsas; accompanied with a young coconut water and maybe finished off with a local fruit `nieve´ (sorbet), not without it’s chilli-powder topping of course!
We witnessed massively contrasting landscapes within hours of each other, and with the scenic changes came the ethnic diversity - 68 ethnic groups to be precise (of which I have probably only come into contact with about 15-20), and many more variations within- Zapotecs, Mixtecas, Otomis, Nahuas, Tzotziles . Stopping-off in small towns and villages, from those with colonial infrastructures, to those very much bare-bones, we would hear different pre-hispanic dialects, at times unable to communicate with the older generations, whom had never adopted Spanish. We would taste new flavours and ingredients, see different religious interpretations, combining pre-hispanic beliefs and Catholicism, which in turn produced different handicrafts. But, what impacted me the most was the traditional garments that continued (and still continue) to be worn by many indigenous men and women- the stark contrast of this against any surrounding modernity- just thinking back to those first impressions, trying to grasp the meaning of it, moves me. Mum would always engage with ‘la Doñita’ or ‘la Marchantita’ (affectionate names for the elderly sellers) when buying whatever harvest she was in town to sell, flowers, beans, vegetables- this way with every little exchange, I would learn a little about their life, and they about mine, the `güerita´(pale-skinned little girl) from far away.
CAPTIVATED BY CRAFT
I became fixated with the ethnic textiles, well the arts in general, but especially the textiles. The incredible sense of colour, from sun-bleached pastels, to eye-popping brights in unexpected combinations. The intricate patterns and symbols- geometric, florals or depictions of village scenes. The clashing of stripes, checks and florals layered with hand-embroidery, appliqués, beads or sequins. I felt energised and uplifted every time I came across someone in their traditional dress, and deep down a little light was lit, I did not know how at the time, but one day I would engage more with this world.
When I was 12, we moved to Mexico to be near our family (my British grandparents had passed), with the aim of living there for good. We attended a Mexican school and it was during this year that I dominated the Spanish language and really understood the culture– I even had the Deputy Head breathing down my neck on a daily basis to learn the national anthem until I could recite it perfectly along with my classmates. I felt at home being able to spend quality time with my family and new friends, eat Mexican food all the time and travel to new interesting places. However, unfortunately at the end of a year, we realised that it was untenable long-term, as dad was unable to find a respectfully paid job in journalism, plus the job in Mexico had, and still has its major risks. So, we left Mexico to return to Reading, I was devastated!
If I couldn’t stay in Mexico, I would take it with me. Brimming with inspiration from Mexico, I would eagerly go back to school in England, and continually express my newly strengthened `Mexicaness´ through my art classes, right from secondary school, through to my Fashion degree at Kingston University (to my tutor’s occasional frustration `you cannot be subjective´?). I did school projects researching further into the ethnic costume and textiles of Mexico, via the books of anthropologist Chloe Sayer– back then we didn’t yet have the information explosion via the internet; I did my AS Level project on the Great Mexican muralists Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros, producing a final oil painting and I studied and painted Frida Kahlo of course. At university, I produced a project for Levi’s based on Mexican Wrestling (hilarious, but questionable) and another for Gap based on indigenous clothing silhouettes, inspired by a recent trip I had done- with this project I was the winner of the Menswear prize in the inter-university competition, earning a cash sponsorship and a 3 month paid work-placement. All-in-all my work was rather garish and not yet refined, as to be expected from a student back then, but the passion and essence was there.
TO BE CONTINUED IN 'THE ROSE MORENO BACKSTORY PART 2'...