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Sunday, February 21, 2010

FEATURE - Fashion Baja Style

Fashion – Baja Style
by Greg Niemann

Most people wouldn't think of Baja when they think of fashion—Milan, yes . . . Paris, yes . . . even Buenos Aires . . . but Tijuana, hardly. To many, the most readily conjured image is a black velvet painting of Elvis, or the humongous sombrero and requisite serape bought by neophyte tourists.

Even the Americans who "hang out" there through frequent visits, or second homes, have not traditionally been thought of as being fashion pates. I mean flip flops are flip flops, and shorts only come in so many colors. The T-shirts can get a little creative, but hardly the stuff for runway strutting.

One casual garment that sells for a few dollars everywhere is the "jerga" or the traditional Baja jacket, a heavy coarse cotton, long sleeved pullover with large hood and pocket.

Baja California, however, is responsible for much more than the ubiquitous Baja jacket. For years its factories have created and assembled clothing for apparel companies around the world. Called maquilladoras, manufacturers have sprung up all over Baja fulfilling global clothing needs and providing employment for the Mexican people.

In the Ensenada area alone are Lamex Fashion de Mexico, Jean International, O'Neill (Men's and Boys' clothing), L.A. Ensenada Fashion (Women's, Misses, and Junior), Uxma Garment (Women's and Junior outerwear), and Diaco International (Women's dress clothes).

Baja clothing goes a bit beyond the maquilladoras. The off-beat magic of the name "Baja" has led to any number of enterprises, including sportswear. Picking up on the Baja name are Baja Gear, Baja Fleece and Baja Outback, mostly a lot of adventure gear, good for outdoor activities. Casual wear for a casual place. But what about high fashion? The enigma is that Mexico can continually surprise one. And high fashion is one such awakening, relegating outdoors clothing to its auspicious niche market.

Mexico City, for example, draws over 10,000 of the world's top fashion buyers, celebrities, designers and media to its semi-annual Fashion Week Mexico (Dias de Moda). Hispanic designers are rapidly emerging on the global fashion scene and the prestige event focuses as much on them as it does the products. 

Over 30 designers appeared at a recent Mexico City show to introduce their modern designs with a clear Mexican flavor to the international fashion world. Many, like Carla Fernandez, borrow concepts from the Indian culture, using a preponderance of squares and rectangles.

Some, like Pineda Covalin and Carmen Rion, have created large markets with their focus on global design with a local touch. Alana Savoir is another young Mexican designer who has created an upbeat line of clothing that transcends international fashion.

Pineda Covalin was founded by two young Mexican designers, Cristina Pineda and Ricardo Covalin, and their unique designs are inspired by Prehispanic culture, Mexican traditions and mysticism. Their products have gone beyond the top Mexican boutiques and exclusive department stores and can be found in important U.S. museums such as the MOMA in San Francisco, and museums in Seattle and New York as well.

Mexico City designer Adriana Hans, who created the trendy Wishes line that makes custom-decorated tank-tops, noted that Mexico is in a transition and she is seeing more and more interest in Mexican fashion.

The spotlight on Hispanic fashion has even reached Tijuana where designers have crossed the border to bring fashion shows to San Diego presenting at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Now a regular event, the fashion shows are held at the museum on the first Thursday of each month. Called the Thursday Night Thing (TNT), some of Tijuana's hottest designers are involved including Tania Candiani, Franklin Collado, Jorge Sanchez and Jorge Tellaeche. The dynamic and intriguing collections have helped make the event the dynamite it is named for. Along with fashion, included in TNT are art, ceramics and musical entertainment.

What about shopping in Baja, if not high fashion, for at least more than touristy trinkets? With a growing number of upscale residents and visitors, one can find all sorts of high-end fashion, primarily in both Tijuana to the north and Cabo San Lucas in the south.

Most of the trendy boutiques in Cabo border the marina, anchored by the Puerto Paraiso Plaza on the north end.

People might expect upscale shops in Cabo, but many might be surprised to discover the depth of shopping in Tijuana. Once one gets off of Avenida Revolucion and its cheek-to-jowl tourist shops, there is a surprising array of clothing finds.

The price of fine tailored suits and custom dresses is often about a third of what one might pay in the States. There are several shops that make brides' and bridesmaids' dresses for weddings (bodas). Most are located along Ave. Constitucion, around 3rd Street (Calle 3). With wedding dresses so pricy these days, savings of hundreds of dollars can be realized.

One shopper who pays about $75 for a tailored shirt in the States said he paid about $35 for the same shirt in Tijuana. You can bring your own fabric and allow the Mexican wizards to turn it into custom apparel while you sip a margarita around the corner.

For more conventional shopping in Tijuana, I recommend the Plaza Rio Tijuana, Plaza del Zapato, Pueblo Amigo, and Plaza Fiesta. There are department stores, fashion boutiques, shoe stores and much more. One of the largest department stores is Dorians, founded in 1959 and now with 28 stores throughout Mexico's northwest. Another department store in Tijuana is Sara's (Revolucion and 3rd Street), which has been around since 1929.

If those aren't enough Baja shopping and clothing options, there are now Walmarts in the major cities, including Tijuana, Ensenada and Mexicali. The goal of those Mexican Walmarts, it was announced, is to have a preponderance of its products made or grown in Mexico. Hey, maybe they'll sell those Baja jackets there. 
Greg Niemann has written extensively about Baja California for numerous publications, and is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, Palm Springs Legends, and Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS. www.gregniemann.com