Rosaries, candlelit altars and pictures of Spanish actress Penélope Cruz appear in blue-tinted photos on Daniela Garza's Instagram. The Mexican model and jewelry designer often portrays herself as a serious and penitent person, sometimes in oneblack veil,encouraging comparisonswith her photos of Madonna and young Frida Kahlo during her first communion, dressed in white organza and long gloves.
She was the muse of the 2022 collection, Collection III, from Mirror Palais, a New York-based brand that has gained a cult following for its romantic, sensual designs. If During the shoot for the campaign, Garza posed in front of the Spanish architecture of San Miguel de Allende, a colonial-era Mexican town, wearing lace white petticoats and sheer black dresses. Brand founder and designer Marcelo Gaia, who was raised in Queens by a Brazilian immigrant mother, said he chose the cobblestone town "built in Spain" at the behest of his assistant art director.
Over the past year, Garza and Mirror Palais have become representatives of a growing fashion trend, romanticizing the so-called "Old World" colonial aesthetic and updating it for the Internet age under the label "Catholic Mexican Girl". Think: white dresses, braids, red accents, gold jewelry and crucifixes. The look is pristine, though not entirely modest: bare shoulders and bare bellies emphasize sexual potential.
On TikTok, where the look first appeared late last year,videos for "Catholic Mexican Costumes"have 6.5 billion views, with more to come in the future.Filmreading "thanks Latinos for this aesthetic" with murals of the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe, giant gold cross necklaces, and Salma Hayek in a low-waisted white skirt. With hooded sleeves and a plunging sweetheart neckline, Mirror Palais'Out of Stock Maria Dress ($625), the name, perhaps a reference to the Virgin Mary, was so popular that it led to numerous fast-fashion imitations.
However, the popularity of the Mexican girl's Catholic style has also raised questions about how American consumers understand and represent Hispanic communities, as well as the violent history of Spanish colonialism. The label - which comes not from designers but rather from those who buy and recreate the aesthetic - reflects an impulse to reduce the dizzying variety of what is considered "Latin America" to ready-made categories that are easily recognizable to Americans: (fair skin ) "Mexican", Catholic, girlishly feminine.
„I don't see my culture as a trend," says Andrea Bejar, 22-summer singer-songwriter from Miami, Mexico. "I just think it's much more than that." While she has stated that it is "really cool" to see beautiful fashion inspired by her home country, "it's important to know where the inspiration comes from and what the cultural background is behind it." For example, being Catholic in Mexico can be very sacred.
When Bejar thinks of his hometown of Cuernavaca, he imagines "vivid colors, family visits, a hacienda forest: very typical things depicted in these kinds of [social media] pictures." It is the combination of Latin American traditions and Spanish colonial influences (haciendas) that lends itself to the style of a Catholic Mexican girl.
"What do we have in common with Hispanic ethnic groups?" asks Brian Eugenio Herrera, associate professor of theater at Princeton University. "These are different encounters with the apparatus of Spanish colonialism, that is Catholicism, that is architecture, that is language."
Just as the "tradwife" aesthetic (old-fashioned female roles, remember) and dark academia (New England preparations with a hint of gothic terror) are taken up and celebrated on social media, Catholic Mexican Girl is part of a broader trend in some online circles fetishizing traditionalist tropes . More precisely: this takes inspiration from videos like "Like Water for Chocolate," which has a TikTok moment, and 2021's "Encanto." While these films are not set during Spanish colonial times, they visually evoke the "clothes, locations, sense of mystery, sense of possibility, as well as the sense of imprisonment or female enlistment" of colonial Latin America. Herra said. Hidden deep in the mountains of Colombia, Casa Madrigal in the Spanish "Encanto" style could very well be the setting for a photo shoot at the Mirror Palais.
Even "West Side Story", which made its famous return to the silver screen in 2021, shows similar patterns. In a white dress and red belt, the devout Maria Rachel Zegler wouldn't look out of place on a moodboard of Catholic Mexican girls.
When Gaia was accused of Mirror Palais by a TikTok user about "enhancing the Catholic Mexican girl's aesthetic" with his Collection III designs, he commented inTIK Tokthat "it was in no way specifically inspired by Mexico", but by its culture and Brazil, which is also a devout and Catholic country. "The collection itself had nothing to do with Mexico."
And yet the term has proven to be enduring, fueled by a range of global brands interpreting the look. This summer, British fast fashion brand Motel launched the La Rossa collection, a clear nod to the stereotypical aesthetic of Latin American Catholics. For Dior Cruise's May 2024 collection, which was on display at the Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico, Italian creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri sent models down the runway in black and white dresses embroidered with red thread, native huipil silhouettes and Spanish-style boleros tailoring. .
Chiuri said the collection, which was created in collaboration with artists from the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Chiapas and Puebla, was inspired by Kahlo's work. The vast majority of the models wore their hair braided in two braids, a style strongly associated with indigenous Latin American communities. There were also collars resembling nuns, depicted against the arches of the Colegio de San Ildefonso, a 16th-century colonial institution founded by Jesuit evangelists.
Reworking Catholic or other religious symbolism in fashion is nothing new. in 2018"Heavenly Bodies"The theme of the Met Gala concerned papal spectacles. In 2021, brands like Praying popularized the subversion of traditional Catholic tropes (e.g. the "Father, Son, Holy Ghost" bikini). Today's Catholic core is more explicit in the use of religious signs, including palm rosaries and antique altarpieces.
White dresses are derived directly from clothing worn in 18th-century Spanish colonies, according to Marta Valentín Vicente, a professor at the University of Kansas who has focused part of her research on women's sexuality and history in 18th-century Spain. Style, she says, recalling the white cotton muslin dress expected of Hispanic women in America at the time, reflecting the 18th-century images of caste that codified racial appearance in New Spain. These cotton fabrics were "very expensive and associated with the more powerful classes and European fashion," Vicente stated, noting that "they have to do with issues of race, whiteness, and privilege."
Critics argue that looking at Latin American culture solely through the lens of Spanish colonialism effectively erases black and indigenous peoples from view. "In a way, the simplicity of the white dress also validates the whiteness of Latinos," Herrera said.
The first Spanish invaders, the so-called conquistadors like Cortés and Pizarro, and even Columbus, were devotees of the Virgin. In fact, they knelt to pray to the Spaniard Virgen de Guadalupe in Cáceres, Spain, before departing for the "New World". Most religious communities in colonial America were also devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, said Ximena A. Gómez, assistant professor of American art at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where she specializes in art and visual culture of colonial Latin America. "You cannot realize the colonial project without the Virgin Mary," she said.
Gómez collects images of the Virgin Mary and describes herself as "culturally Catholic". Speaking about the trend of Catholic girls in Mexico and its obsession with Marian images, she said she was "really excited to see something like this being taken up outside of my niche communities. On the other hand, the secularization of aesthetics, which is very complex historically, religiously and culturally, struck me as very problematic.
According to her, it's about an "uncritical" approach to it. While Latin American scholars, artists, and activists actively engage with the image of the Virgin Mary, this does not provide "a greater awareness of the things that Latin Americans [and] Latinos ... are used to." when it comes to the legacy of Spanish colonialism. These include lingering issues of opposition to blackness, indigenousness, and machismo in Latin American cultures.
Presenting an alternative femininity, pure and girly, the Catholic Mexican girl group opposes the hypersexual portrayal of Hispanic femininity - the stereotypical "fiery" Latina label given to, for example, Cardi B or Kali Uchis. – without the need for further development. Instead, it reinforces another category that Latinas fit into, and one that has to do with Madonna's whore complex. This trend, centered on emphasized curves, bare shoulders and ankle-length skirts, Herrera stated, "obsessed with the power of female sexuality" despite not "expressing or displaying it." White and black dresses suggest a binary concept of femininity - pure versus mature and subdued - while deep red ribbon braids or cherry lips innate sexuality.
Herrera, who focuses on issues of race, gender, and sexuality in his work, has written extensively about how American pop culture goes through waves of desire to "represent" Hispanic aesthetics every few years. He calls these periods "Latin Numbers" in which Hispanic communities are both redefined and "rediscovered."
We may be living in one of these moments right now. In 2022, Bad Bunny becamemost streamed artistthird year in a row on Spotify with over 18.5 billion plays in 12 months. Renamed the "Chola" aesthetic for Black and Hispanic women"pure girl"and took the internet by storm. Spanish singer Rosaliafeel Latina.Jenna Ortega is the newest girl in the IT industry. Hispanic and Latino communities have also found themselves in the spotlight of the most famous films of recent years: "Encanto", "West Side Story", "In the Heights" and others.
These moments are also accompanied by a renewed desire to emulate or "perform" Latin American aesthetics. It is this mindset that underlies the Catholic Mexican girls trend that is packaging and selling the desire to look Latina in the US market. This is also what makes the trend so complicated. While it's nice for someone to relate to their culture in an imaginative way, "it completely cuts it when it comes down to a popular level," Gómez said.
Part of what these periods of rediscovery have in common is their ahistoric nature. When visible, Hispanic communities in the United States are often touted as new or emerging rhetoric that ultimately "erases and erases past histories," Herrera stated. For example, when Ortega and Pedro Pascal were announced last month for Emmy nominations, they were touted as the "first" Latina actors to be nominated in major categories."since 2008."
"And the most important part," Herrera said, "about when Hispanics, Hispanic populations or Latinos come into this space to be discovered, ... I always hear a clock ticking in my head and heart: 'When are you going?' to do it? be forgotten and erased?”
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