Obviously, the first thing I do after arriving in a gorgeous foreign city is look for lingerie. As a lingerie designer, I’m naturally fascinated by the stuff and part of this interest is in the way it can reveal so much about a culture. Some people do food tourism, others music or art, but I am a lingerie tourist.
I left New York for a weeklong bop around Mexico City, where I expected to visit some shops, look at folk art, and generally try to understand what drives Mexican ladies’ negligee choices. Lingerie choices can say a lot about a culture’s attitudes about what femininity means, the dynamics of flirtation, practical concerns are about proper clothing foundations, female empowerment, individualism, body image–what DOESN’T lingerie have the ability to communicate about?
As tourists, of course we are limited to just a sliver of what’s observable about a place, and it can be presumptuous to try to derive too much insight from passing impressions. So I didn’t make too much of the nocturnally louche Zona Rosa neighborhood near my hotel, where I seemed to see nothing but adult stores full of the same inflatable mannequins and crotchless underwear you’d find in adult stores everywhere. Luckily, I ran into a woman who has recently opened a chic boutique in the Roma neighborhood and she gave me the lowdown on shopping, bra choices, and what fashion means to girls like her.
Claudia Gutierrez is a cool girl. She lived abroad for nine years and her fluency in English as well as her international perspective on fashion made her the perfect interview subject and insight provider. After working at Nylon Mexico and elsewhere in fashion PR, she opened a fashion forward boutique, Sioux, about 8 months ago. She didn’t know of any independent lingerie boutiques in Mexico City but was able to shed some (verbal) light on her compatriots’ skivvies.
Laura Mehlinger: Why did you open Sioux and what does the name mean?
Claudia Gutierrez: In Sioux culture, women make the teepees and choose the ceremonial clothing for everyone. They play an important role in their communities. I opened this shop because I want Sioux to bring innovative fashion to the Roma district of Mexico City. I carry independent brands like APC, BLK denim, and Clu, and some of them are impossible to find here. I want to give Mexican women more choice in what they wear.
LM: Was it challenging to start your own store?
CG: It was a huge risk but I feel like women have to be the first to change a fashion culture. This was my dream and I wanted to choose my own career and life.
LM: How is lingerie perceived in Mexico?
CG: Lingerie is not such a big thing here. This is a macho culture and people still see lingerie as related to sex and prostitution so everyday women wouldn’t want to wear very sexy lingerie. It’s mostly just seen as something practical for most women.
LM: Are there big lingerie or nightwear gift-giving holidays like Valentine’s Day or Christmas?
CG: No, lingerie is not considered appropriate for gift giving
LM: Where do most women in Mexico City buy their lingerie?
CG: We would shop at international stores in big malls, like Women’s Secret or Oysho. There’s also Victoria’s Secret, which is considered quite sexy. But I think the culture is changing now a bit. People are becoming more open minded. I don’t see lingerie as something to wear to look sexy, but to feel good about myself. Also there are some new trends that draw attention to lingerie, like sheer tops. A bright bra under a sheer blouse can be modern and not overly sexy.
LM: What do you like to sleep in?
CG: Usually a t shirt and shorts, but it depends on my mood and the weather — it doesn’t depend on a man!
Based on Claudia’s advice, I visited Women’s Secret and Oysho to check out their lingerie. Both are Spanish companies with stores worldwide.
Oysho was modern if somewhat antiseptic inside, with white walls and middle of the road designs. Pastel colors dominated, and I thought were at their most compelling in a ruffled matte pastel swim collection in the window. There was a focus on soft cup bras and tanga patnies rather than the whole range of underwire and various structured options that American’s might expect. The boxed basics displayed on a wall appeared to be a strength of the brand, as fashion forward pieces did not have a presence.
Women’s Secret was upbeat in mood and fairly similar to Oysho. Molded cup bras with prints were nice everyday choices. Like Oysho, there was a good wall of basics, well packaged single bras or panties, and a nearby section of solutions products. A few quirks of the store: the only “sexy” pieces I could find were a dusty mauve demure bra and panty…but the panty was open crotch and there were garters. Also there was a huge presence of licensed juvenile graphics, like Disney and Miffi, which to my American eyes jarred against the rest of the store’s lace lingerie.
I would love to hear from you about your thoughts on Mexican lingerie. Are you a fan of Oysho and Women’s Secret? Do you know of any independent lingerie brands?