El Palacio de Hierro has been Mexico’s premier department store for over a century. And after a recent $300 million renovation to its Mexico City flagship in the posh Polanco neighborhood, the long-running fashion empire is poised to be a progressive platform for future generations of Latin American designers and consumers alike.
Sofia Félix Smith, Head of Fashion at El Palacio de Hierro and one of a handful of power players in Mexico’s fashion scene, is dedicated to uplifting local designers. “Something we would love to achieve [is to] give Mexican designers the commercial spotlight,” Smith explains. “[We want to] help them become commercially relevant and established brands.”
When it comes to Mexican fashion, “commercial” doesn’t mean lukewarm or mainstream so much as viable and thriving. Indeed, Mexico City has become a creative and financially promising hub for emerging Latin American designers like Alexia Ulibarri and Lorena Saravia. As i-D’s Cheryl Santos wrote in a 2015 article, “Mexico can’t compete against China’s ultra low production costs, so it [finds] its value in design.” And as Saravia tells Santos, she remains loyal to Mexico “because I’m Mexican, and I use Mexican resources because the quality is superb.”
Kelly Talamas, Creative Director of Vogue Mexico & Latin America, also believes in the force of the Mexican fashion market. “I think [Mexican designers] are fortunate to be based in such a strong country economically speaking–as far as Latin America goes–that consumes a lot, and is also keen on fashion. Once they are established there, they can branch out to the US or other markets in Europe.” As Talamas suggests,
At El Palacio de Hierro, Smith and her team are empowering local designers and honoring Mexican heritage. This past season, they partnered with Savaria for a capsule collection of ball gowns designed for quinceañeras, the Latin American equivalent of a Sweet 16. In order to reach a wider audience, the collection went for half of Savaria’s usual price point, which is upwards of $1,000 USD.
While El Palacio does stock plenty of big names–this summer, Dolce & Gabbana will stage a pop-up there–they don’t value them over emerging ones. “If [other department stores] do have local designers, they’re [usually] portrayed in a separate manner, like, ‘Hey, this is local design,’” Smith says. “It segregates them, or ostracizes them from sitting alongside global, established fashion brands. The fact that we take them, foster them and elevate them, and give them relevance—as with any other reputed brand—that, to me, is one of my main goals.”
And she seems to be succeeding. Walking through the pop-up boutiques and rack-lined-floors of the Polanco flagship, you’ll quickly recognize your favorite American and European brands alongside their Latin counterparts, coexisting in palatial retail bliss.
A version of this article originally appeared in DuJour Magazine’s Summer 2017 issue.