Alejandra Martínez Tell me about Clásicos Mexicanos — what is its mission and model, and how did it get started?
Juan A. Gaitán Clásicos Mexicanos opened its doors in 2018. It emerged out of a passion for the rich and engaging scene of industrial design that existed throughout the 20th century in Mexico. More than just a design company, today Clásicos Mexicanos is a collective endeavour with an ongoing commitment to this specific history, itself grounded in a collection that tells an exciting and multifaceted story which, patiently and painstakingly, we continue to develop, always with an eye on the present. We produce pieces that represent the history of industrial design in Mexico — but we also make sure that this history isn’t monolithic, that there is much more to explore and uncover.
AM What is the process of bringing history back to life? How do you start identifying a design to revive and what happens next?
JG There are several criteria. The first, of course, is that each design must be able to tell a part of the story, and it has to have been a significant part of its ecosystem. Then, we must approach either the design’s ‘author’ or their estate whenever possible, to secure the exclusive rights and licenses and establish royalty agreements. One thing that makes Clásicos Mexicanos special is that we never work outside the framework of licenses and royalties, even when copyright law would allow it. After that, the rest is pure fun! We analyze where each piece we issue fits within the whole of our own collection and where it fits in a larger sense: how bringing it out may reshuffle the cards on preconceived notions of Mexican design.
AM Could you tell us about some key designs that you feel especially proud to work with, or which sum up the spirit of Clásicos Mexicanos?
JG That’s a tough one. I am invested in all of them, because each one has such a unique nature. The spirit of Clásicos Mexicanos is collaborative first: we maintain close relationships with everyone we work with, be they clients or the owners of the designs. We believe that while history is fragmented, it is also transmitted through objects, including works of design. In other words, these items convey their histories, and these histories combine the original context with the now, in which all these objects have a new life.
AM The new thematic for Maestro Dobel Artpothecary is the ‘Mexican Golden Age’. For me, this is the birth of the modern Mexican aesthetic, when local architects and designers really stretched their imaginations to create something original and distinctive. Who, for you, are the key figures and ideas of this moment?
JG What we think of as ‘Mexican design’ would not exist without Mexico’s architecture. Indeed, most of the country’s designers were originally architects, some of whom continued their practice, while others transitioned exclusively to interiors and furniture. This ‘Mexican Golden Age’ lasted a long time, from the 1930s into the 1960s, when the recently founded Acapulco was the most glamorous place in Mexico, and the 1970s, when Ricardo Legorreta shaped the iconic Camino Real Hotels. Our Vallarta Line comes from the hotel he made in Puerto Vallarta; in Mexico City, he made one in Polanco, which has one of the most famous fountains in the world.
This long, multifaceted history includes the architect Luis Barragán, who was originally from Guadalajara and was Legorreta’s mentor. If I were to venture one overall commentary, I’d say that unlike the art scene, the architecture and design scenes were a continuous project, where younger generations always developed on the previous ones. It was constructive and monumental.
AM Coming from Guadalajara, which is so rich in crafts, I am always drawn to traditions of historic craftsmanship in Mexico. Do you see the influence of these Mexican traditions expressed in the Golden Age and in the designs you work with at Clásicos Mexicanos?
JG I must distinguish tradition and craft. For instance, a tradition can be invented, as when a former head of state in Greece decided that all houses on the Cycladic islands had to be painted blue and white. Craft, on the other hand, is knowledge, which develops through generations and changes with each craftsperson. We have both tradition and craft. At first, Mexican modern architecture consciously contended with traditional forms and colours — and later on with itself; yet much of Mexican design is indeed rooted in craftsmanship, in working with materials that were very present in the past and which are now more rare. That is also part of the history we wish to convey at Clásicos Mexicanos.
AM Can you share how Clásicos Mexicanos’ collaboration with Maestro Dobel Artpothecary at Frieze New York will come to fruition?
JG This is a very exciting project for us, because from the moment we began to relaunch and re-imagine what Clásicos Mexicanos is about, we thought of collaborations and suddenly Maestro Dobel appeared, and chose the Vallarta Line. This is a very complex line that looks remarkably simple; I always enjoy things like this, like a Leonard Cohen song, or a work by Tacita Dean, or Maestro Dobel’s tequila itself. We chose to build the Artpothecary with the Vallarta line at its centre and then, over two more iterations — during Design Miami 2022 and at Frieze Los Angeles in 2023 — we will add or replace a few elements around it. It’s a three-part, year-long journey that is just beginning and full of exciting possibilities.
AM Do you think we are in a moment where there is a renewed appreciation for Mexican creativity and its heritage? Who are some of the other creatives, groups and advocates you see as part of this effort?
JG It is indeed a moment in which Mexico is hot stuff, for sure, and Mexican design is hotter still. There are many names around, like Carla Fernández in fashion, Jorge Vallejo or Elena Reygadas in cuisine and a wonderful florist called Miriam Torres. And many, many artists, too. Happily, the list is very long.
AM Can you tell us more about how tequila entered the story of the Mexican Golden Age? And how do you enjoy your tequila?
JG Tequila has always been at the heart of the Mexican soul. It is the drink of choice for everyone at every occasion — in the mornings, for lunch, at cocktail parties, with dinner, and so on. Personally, I like Maestro Dobel Diamante: a tequila that I can drink neat and cool, and really enjoy the flavour.
Clásicos Mexicanos’s collaboration with Maestro Dobel Artpothecary is on view in the Dobel Lounge at Frieze New York 2022 throughout the week. Discover more about the collaboration and Maestro Dobel Tequila at maestrodobel.com.
This article first appeared in Frieze Week, May 2022 under the headline ‘Modern Classics’.
Main image courtesy: Clásicos Mexicanos