By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
They are a ubiquitous part of Mexican culture that have survived and evolved over the centuries, and are as fashionable and adaptable today as they have ever been.
Shawls (or rebozos, as they are generally known in Mexico) are a universal element of Mexican cultural heritage, worn by rural indigenous and modern-day urban fashionistas alike.
“The rebozo is a fundamental Mexican garment that dates back to early colonial times, and it has evolved and adapted over the centuries to assimilate contemporary styles and tastes while still preserving its traditional roots,” explained Miriam Gutiérrez, director de Color Mexicano, a small, family-run company that has been promoting Mexican shawls both nationally and internationally since 2011.
“Through Color Mexicano we are trying to show how the rebozo has become an iconic symbol of haute Mexican fashion and to foster a deeper appreciation of this very important national treasure.”
Gutiérrez later explained that while the exact origins of the garment are debatable, most experts concur that its roots date back more than five centuries, having first been mentioned in 1572 when Friar Diego Duran called it the “Mestizo garment par excellence.”
Historians believe the rebozo was the result of a cross between typical indigenous garments such as the ayat (a square piece of cloth that was wrapped around the body in Meso-American cultures) and the huipil a (loose-fitting tunic, generally made from two or three rectangular pieces of fabric stitched together with ribbons or strips of fabric), and the Spanish mantilla in (a lace or silk veil or shawl worn over the head and shoulders, often over a high comb, particularly popular during the 18th and 17th centuries).
Consequently, Gutiérrez said, was a fusion between traditional Spanish design and the colorful attire of the New World’s indigenous cultures.
She also said that, over the years, each state has developed its own styles and designs in accordance with local tastes and materials.
In the southern state of Chiapas, for example, styles range from short red cotton pelisses with geometric patterns embroidered on the edges to long, silk and gold lamé mantales with intricate two-tone stripes.
There are also thick natural wool wraps with red brocade and gauzy black shawls embroidered with rainbow-hued animal figures.
“Chiapas has one of the most diverse selection of rebozo styles and designs,” Gutiérrez said.
“This is because it has a lot of different indigenous communities and each of them has developed their own textile traditions.”
She went on to say that the rebozos in that state – along with other traditional garments – are often as a means of expressing the wearer’s geographic identity and social status.
Gutiérrez said that the rebozos of Chiapas often incorporate images of local animals and religious figures.
In the State of Mexico, on the other hand, loosely woven cotton and macramé shawls with a recurring pattern of monotone and two-tone stripes are common.
“The city of Tenancingo in Edoméx is one of the most important rebozo-producing regions in the country,” Gutiérrez said..
“Traditionally, the shawls from this region are made from cotton, but in recent years, the local artisans have begun to incorporate new materials such as silk and metallic thread into their creations.”
The rebozos from the southern coastal state of Guerrero are heavier with lots of floral embroidery in oversized patterns, while the shawls from the central state of Michoacán are full of batik-like prints and tiny pictorial needlepoint.
The rebozos of San Luis Potosí stand out for their intense and vivid colors, which Gutiérrez said were produced using natural dyes.
Shawls from Veracruz are often made from heavy wool and embroidered with bright geometric patterns.
There are also Purépecha shawls encrusted with tiny feathers, which Gutiérrez said is a regional style that has now all but disappeared due to the complexity and exorbitant cost and energy required to produce it.
She added that one of the objectives of her company is to revitalize vanishing textile traditions such as the feathered shawl that are slowly disappearing as cheaper, mass-produced imports replace artisan handiwork.
“These extraordinary rebozos are a vital part of our national heritage and their styles and designs help to communicate the decorative art of the complex cultures in which they were produced,” Gutiérrez said.
“We hope that Color Mexicanos will help to highlight the beauty, skill and importance of that garment and help to revitalize a dying craft.”