Shopping Mexico City's Design Revolution: A Stylish Expat Opens her Sourcebook

Shopping Mexico City's Design Revolution: A Stylish Expat Opens her Sourcebook

Nicole's aesthetic values reflect both her Midwestern roots and her extensive world travels. There's a craftsman behind every object in her Mexico City apartment and a story to every item in her enviably edited closet. Now happily settled in her design dream-town, she spends her workweek helping newcomers understand the DF through its extraordinary abundance of markets and makers. We met the chic Condesa transplant at her favorite Chiquitito Café to talk about her rich visual life and trade notes on the Mexican capital's flourishing artisan scene. She shared her CDMX uniform, her local design heroes, and her neighborhood hideouts—not to mention a few words of sage packing advice.

What was the first memorable purchase you made after relocating to Mexico City?

An amazing hand-woven storage basket from Makaua around the corner from my apartment.

What did the process of moving and nesting teach you about the local retail scene?

That you can have almost anything made. I had 90% of my furniture custom-built! It's a luxury that tends to be cost-prohibitive in the US, but here, it's just a matter of finding the right craftsperson. In my case, it was a fun way to make connections in the neighborhood.

 Colonia Condesa's leafy skyline as seen from atop Condesa DF, the barrio's most iconic rooftop 

Colonia Condesa's leafy skyline as seen from atop Condesa DF, the barrio's most iconic rooftop 

 Makaua storage baskets and hampers, artisan-woven from Mexican palm fibers

Makaua storage baskets and hampers, artisan-woven from Mexican palm fibers

Tell us about your apartment and your favorite things in it. How did you go about making the space your own?

I knew from the beginning I wanted to live off Avenida Amsterdam in Condesa, and I took the first apartment I saw. My building was designed by JSa, the architectural firm that did Condesa DF, and the space already had great bones. I sourced rugs and masks from the Saturday crafts market in San Ángel. And hats—a hat wall is an easy, inexpensive, and functional way to decorate, especially when you have lots of visitors.

Condesa is hard to beat for exploring on foot. Any special neighborhood shops or restaurants we should know about?

Lardo is heavenly for breakfast, but it's no secret. If there's a queue, you'll be just as happy across the street at Cedrón. Or Merkavá, an Israeli hummusiya that serves the best Mediterranean food in the city. And that's coming from someone who has lived in Tel Aviv! Merkavá is perfect for lunch or a glass of wine before strolling Avenida Amsterdam, the elliptical avenue that circumscribes Parque México. Walk south along the landscaped pedestrian median to check out Tinta Naranja Urban Gallery and Caarmela, a go-to for city-friendly footwear. My favorite vintage clothing store, Goodbye Folk, is actually one neighborhood over in Roma. They have some pretty incredible glitter booties by an anonymous Mexican designer.

 Charred cauliflower with za'atar yogurt at Merkavá, Avenida Amsterdam's all-day Israeli café

Charred cauliflower with za'atar yogurt at Merkavá, Avenida Amsterdam's all-day Israeli café

 Caarmela's luxe lace-ups, designed and produced entirely in Mexico

Caarmela's luxe lace-ups, designed and produced entirely in Mexico

Has your style changed at all as a result of moving to Mexico City?

I'd probably say that my style has been solidified as a result of moving to Mexico City. I've always worn lots of black, and the aesthetic here is very urban. But I wear a lot less; I left half of my wardrobe in Chicago. First-time visitors are often surprised to learn that shorts and sandals are almost completely irrelevant here. If you're trying to find a little extra room in your suitcase, leave those bright floral sundresses at home.

What are your CDMX wardrobe essentials?

My leather jacket from Argentina, which is super useful here, a pair of crocodile booties from my favorite store in Minnesota, and a scarf from Oaxaca. The climate is arid, so layering pieces are critical.

How about some of your favorite Mexican labels?

I love Maison Manila for boxy dresses and jackets, Robin Archives for vintage-inspired leather handbags and portfolios, and Zii Ropa for breezy linen jumpsuits. The Robin Archives and Zii Ropa showrooms are open only by appointment and worth booking in advance.

 Robin Archives is a go-to for premium leather travel accessories in nostalgic silhouettes.

Robin Archives is a go-to for premium leather travel accessories in nostalgic silhouettes.

 Insiders seek out the Zii Ropa showroom for minimalist shift dresses and kimonos in desert hues.

Insiders seek out the Zii Ropa showroom for minimalist shift dresses and kimonos in desert hues.

What would you suggest for design-obsessed travelers interested in building an entire itinerary around scouting and sourcing?

When the timing works out, I love taking people to local design fairs. Mexico City is home to several great ones. If you're looking for a next-level shopping immersion or a comprehensive overview of the country's artisan scene, it might be worth planning your trip around an upcoming edition of La Lonja or Caravana. You'll have incredible access to some of Latin America's most inspiring collections and entrée to the city's close-knit creative community.

 Design fair La Lonja hosts Mexico's most promising makers at curated quarterly shopping events.

Design fair La Lonja hosts Mexico's most promising makers at curated quarterly shopping events.

 Browsing handmade ceramic tableware from Jalisco at La Lonja

Browsing handmade ceramic tableware from Jalisco at La Lonja

 Festive pop-ups allow visitors to experience the city's design community from the inside out.

Festive pop-ups allow visitors to experience the city's design community from the inside out.

Looking back over the past year, have you had any pinch-me moments of your own while exploring the city's markets, showrooms, and ateliers?

Flower shopping at Mercado Jamaica for Day of the Dead!

If you could only hold on to one of the pieces you've collected while in Mexico, what would you keep?

An accent chair I commissioned for the apartment. It's blue crushed velvet.

Do you have any packing hacks for schlepping your loot back across the border?

Sometimes, in lieu of a carry-on, I'll fill a beautiful wicker basket with gifts for my twin sister.

Any parting advice for CDMX-bound trawlers?

Be open-minded. The city is full of unbelievable crafts, and the places where you'll find them tend to be a bit more rustic. You can get the coolest utilitarian plates among the live chickens and whole cow carcasses at Mercado La Merced. And there's plenty of cheesy stuff at the artisan market La Ciudadela, but you can also score gorgeous hammocks there—you just have to know where to look!

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