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Getting Kitsched

In Mexico City's youth culture, Virgin icons and wrestlers walk hand in hand.

By definition, kitsch is the pleasurable acceptance of bad taste. And Mexico City is proof that kitsch is a pleasurable and inextricable part of Mexican urban culture. Cabs have dashboards covered in purple plush, pailletted baby shoes and multicolored rosaries dangling from rear-view mirrors, as well as neon-framed license plates that light up every time the driver brakes. The city’s stoplights are alive with plumed Aztec dancers, rattling their shelled legs as they hop among the cars, competing for tips with hawkers selling Chinese parasols, dead rubber chickens and homemade cookies. In almost every cantina, the Guadalupana, the name for the patron Virgin of all Mexicans, patiently oversees alcoholic excess from ledges surrounded by plastic and acrylic flowers. She also lends her image and name to soaps, candles and all kinds of mom-and-pop stores, no licensing fee required. And lately she has become a fashion icon appliquéd in multicolored paillettes to plastic market bags, T-shirts, hairpins and denim jackets. In small boutiques, the Virgin keeps good company with souvenir silver and gold wrestlers’ masks, now more popular than ever since the idolized El Santo has been licensed by his son. The revered silver mask can be found on T-shirts, mugs, scarves and all sorts of caps, while his campy movies are making a comeback. El Santo walks again as fashion branding meets piracy and illegal copycat products flood the streets and are hawked at bus stops.

The joys of such garishness are not lost on a generation of young consumers who have taken street kitsch and made it part of their lifestyles. They mix it with colorful Mexican textiles, traditional embroideries and authentic handcrafted clothes to create a totally new freewheeling fashion look that can be found at small, off-the-wall boutiques, including El Milagrito, Clinica and Trend, all in the very hip Condesa district. This style shows up, too, in itinerant fashion markets that settle in different parts of the city over the weekends, creating venues for new young designers in parks, old houses, underground bars and other public spaces.

Today, modern societies have gone global, and Mexico’s young consumers are as mall-oriented as most young people around the world. However, these consumers who identify with kitsch culture are creating an urban trend as they adapt it to their clothes, creating amusing outfits that blend street lore with handcrafts and the inevitable today-ness of branded sneakers. When Virgins and wrestlers have come and gone, there will still be the endless inspiration of Mexico’s different indigenous cultures morphing into urban bad taste that will keep kitsch à la mexicaine alive, well and pleasurable. —Anna Fusoni and Marisol Conover