By Edna Alcantara
MEXICO CITY – The colorful and eye-catching embroidery produced by Mexico’s Otomi Indians has seduced France’s haute couture, providing exclusive designs for the upscale scarves and handkerchiefs made by French fashion house Hermés.
The goal is to introduce the world to the traditional “tenango” embroidery made by the residents of San Pablo el Grande, a community of about 1,000 people in the municipality of Tenango de Doria in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo.
Tenango embroidery is inspired by the pre-Hispanic Otomi culture, whose customs centered on co-existing with the natural environment.
The project started three years ago after the French fashion house expressed a desire to work with “the best artisans in Mexico,” and who better than those in Tenango, Hermés Mexico communications director Iveth Lagos told Efe.
The fashion house contacted Vicente Ezequiel, the only Indian craftsman who still knows the design technique for tenango embroidery, and embroider Elia Tolentino via the Museum of Popular Art, the executive said.
Ezequiel and Tolentino agreed to take on the project in an effort to do something for their community, Lagos said.
The Indian artisans’ dream is to “bring about improvement to the school in San Pablo el Grande and create better conditions in the community,” Lagos said.
The artisans, who now include Tolentino, one of her aunts and a daughter, work on the embroidery in the evenings and at night.
The artisans are “thinking about the income they will receive for life from the rights to sell these scarves, with which they want to build a place in the medium term that will promote the drawing and design of crafts from the town and convert it into a business center in the long term,” the Hermés executive said.
Mexican artisans live in poverty and Tenango de Doria is not an exception.
The Otomi team, or “ñahñu” in the local language, traveled last Thursday to Mexico City to attend the presentation of the designs and promote the scarves internationally.
During the ceremony, the artisans showed off their great drawing and embroidery skills, and they expressed their joy over being involved in the project and pride in sharing their culture and customs with the world.
The “Din tini yä zuë” designs, which mean “man’s encounter with nature” in Otomi, feature two types of embroidery in nine colors, Lagos said.
The designs are inspired by the plants and animals of the Otomi lands, as well as the rituals performed to be in harmony with the land, such as the harvest, planting and rain ceremonies.
Some of the designs show celebrations, such as weddings and Carnival, a Museum of Popular Art representative said.
“Mexican artisans stand for creativity and diversity in their work, and they are now being seen in a different way not just in Mexico but around the world,” the museum official said.
Hermés considers the project a tribute to the residents of San Pablo el Grande and plans to use its foundation to examine additional projects that could employ artisans from other parts of Mexico and different countries.
“We share an interest in preserving and passing on the savoir-faire of the hands that work them. We share an interest in preserving and passing on from generation to generation the ancestral techniques that yield products of excellence,” Lagos said.