Explore a Surrealist, Mexican Sculpture Garden with Monica Ruzansky
It’s a jungle out there.
Back in 2010 when Monica Ruzansky and her husband spent some time in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico—she was taking a jewelry class before launching her wear-everyday line AILI, and he was doing a Spanish intensive—the duo planned a little weekend excursion. Their destination: Las Pozas, a patch of jungle where an eccentric Englishman built a crazy-awesome structure garden. As she explains, “It’s like someone saw some of M.C. Escher’s drawings of impossible architecture, took them literally, and tried to build them.” See what Monica saw. —alisha prakash
“We went to Xilitla to visit Las Pozas, where a super-wealthy British aristocrat artist, Edward James, built a surreal sculpture garden in the jungle. He was involved with the surrealists and, having searched for a place to create his architectural vision, decided to build it in Mexico. From the 1940s to the 1980s, he continued to work on this, and now many of his concrete structures and sculptures are scattered all around this piece of jungle like an unfinished surrealist ruined palace half lost in tropical plant-life.”
“Many of the designs are inspired by nature like bamboo trees, lotus flowers, and orchids.”
“This makes me think of the trumpet flower, which is a wild flower that grows in many areas of Central and South America and is used by indigenous cultures for its hallucinogenic effect. Walking through these wonderful concrete pieces feels like living in a physical Lewis Carroll story.”
“There are details and accents from many different trips James did around the world—you can see the influences of different countries, like India, for example. He would bring back original pieces to make molds from which he could make his concrete sculptures.”
“Here, you can see bridges that connect different levels of the garden.”
“Las Pozas is really big. It’s not just one building or a couple of ruins standing by the side of the road—you can explore this place all day. James built different structures in multiple sites, and we lost ourselves in it for hours. The dedication he showed to make this place, which serves no functional purpose whatsoever, is pretty damn awesome. The existence of this unfinished, dreamlike place of stairways to nowhere and doorways into the trees is an affirmation of the value of the creative spirit and that a life making strange and wonderful stuff is a life well-lived.”
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Lauren Wolf’s Double Desert (Wedding!) Adventure
Because two cacti-filled getaways are better than one.
When the Oakland-based jewelry designer Lauren Wolf and her boy decided to get married, the desert called out to them—twice. “My husband’s family has celebrated Thanksgiving in Death Valley for over 30 years—it’s a special spot for them,” says Lauren of picking the spot for the ceremony, which went down in April. Six months later, the newlyweds headed to Oaxaca—an easy trip for them from the Bay Area—to honeymoon it up. Get the scoop on (and stunning pics of) both adventures below. —alisha prakash
Wedding – Death Valley
“Patrick and I grew up together in Atlanta—we’ve known each other since we were five years old and reconnected later.”
“We got married at The Inn at Furnace Creek. To come across the inn in the middle of nowhere is pretty dramatic. It’s a hotel that’s been around for almost 100 years that was really popular in the twenties and thirties with the L.A. Hollywood crowd. It has this old-world glam aspect to it, but it’s obviously very dated. There’s a lot of history to it.”
“The ceremony was outdoors. It was just about the last weekend you could be there comfortably. It was 90 degrees—but a dry heat—and it cooled off during the night. We got married outside in the oasis garden, which is so lush—and the contrast between that backdrop and the desert is also pretty amazing. The ceremony was really simple. My sister and Patrick’s brother stood beside us. One of my best friends from New York officiated for us.”
“This is a place called Zabriskie Point, where they filmed Star Wars—it’s about a quarter mile from the hotel. For my dress, I definitely didn’t want to wear white. This was not a traditional wedding by any means. I didn’t want something over-the-top and wanted something that was comfortable, simple, and a reference to the hotel where we were getting married. There’s a little bit of that twenties/thirties throwback with the lace. It is Tadashi Shoji dress that I got at Neiman Marcus. I splurged on the shoes though—they’re Christian Louboutins.”
“The watch is my grandmother’s. It’s a really cool piece from the fifties. She passed away, so it was important to me and to my grandfather—he’s 93—that I wore that piece. The earrings I got from one of my diamond dealers. They’re made in India. And the bracelet I wore for my something borrowed—it’s by my friend Rebecca Overmann, who’s a jeweler in San Francisco.”
“This was an impromptu thing. We had just cut the cake. The photographer said, ‘Everybody get out there quick—we’re going to do a line in the desert.’ It turned out to be a really cool photo. So many of our guests had never been to Death Valley and probably wouldn’t ever be inclined to visit. It was neat to bring all these different people to that one spot. Everyone had a blast.”
Honeymoon - Oaxaca
“Oaxaca is one of the culturally richest parts of Mexico as far as textiles go. Patrick is a graphic designer, so he’s interested in patterns and design, just as I am. We stayed at Casa Oaxaca. It is an old colonial hotel that has five rooms that are pretty simple—ours had a nice traditional Mexican bed with Oaxacan woven sheets.”
“This is called the Jardin Etnobotánico. This particular botanical garden had these amazing cacti that are probably 12 to 15 feet tall.”
“Throughout Mexico, you see these ancient ruins—this is Monte Albán. It’s amazing that these places still exist just outside of the cities. I minored in anthropology, so I have a strong interest in cultural history—as far as the way people lived and dressed and the jewelry and everything.”
“This is the cultural center in Oaxaca, and this photo doesn’t do it justice. The two towers are the cathedral, and attached to it was a monastery that then became a prison.”
“What’s so cool about Mexico and these colonial towns like Oaxaca is that everything is happening on the interiors of the buildings, architecturally speaking. Because of the climate, it can all be open. This is the interior courtyard of a museum we went to that I can’t remember the name of!”
“This is a library. Every public place, even the coffee shops, has these amazing interior gardens.”
Wedding photos by Ro Agents; Oaxaca photos by Patrick Dunaway.
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Scope Out Caroline Ventura’s Top 5 Travel Destinations
Start saving your vacation days.
Caroline Ventura, behind the ultra-understated line Brvtvs, is a jewelry whiz, but she’s also a traveler extraordinaire—seriously, her Instagram, bursting with shots of stunning docks and island huts, never fails to make us jelly. So where would she go if she could go anywhere? Explore her favorite locales below. —alisha prakash
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
“The architecture is unbelievably beautiful. All the houses face the street and seem unassuming at first, but those giant wooden doors open into some lush courtyards filled with gardens and fountains. It feels like an old colonial Spanish town, with its cobblestone streets and brightly painted facades.”
Protip: “Go have lunch at El Correo. It’s the best tortilla soup I have ever had. Ever.”
“Last summer, my husband and I drove around Northern Morocco for ten days. It is the one trip that stands out in my mind as my favorite. This is just a regular ol’ water fountain in Fes—with that tile, on a drinking fountain.”
Protip: “If you find yourself in Fes and can manage to find your way around the Medina (you’ll get lost—it’s an insane maze that is next to impossible to navigate, but that’s half the fun), go to the Palais Amani and treat yourself to their hammam (spa!).”
“I fell hard for Rome when I took a family vacation there when I was 11, and it has been a torrid love affair ever since. The ancientness of this city gets me every time. I love it so much that I named my jewelry line after one of the Empire’s most notorious characters.”
Protip: “One of my favorite memories is from the first time I visited. My parents and I got stuck in a rainstorm and had to take shelter in a teeny little restaurant on the northeast corner of Piazza Navona. It was the first time I tried spaghetti carbonara, and it’s been one of my favorites ever since.”
“There is something about the air up in Maine that is otherworldly. It makes your lungs feel alive. I’ve visited Portland a few times and really love that it feels like a quaint little fishing village but has a bit of a city vibe to it.”
Protip: “My favorite place to go to in Maine is Eventide Oyster Co. You can’t go wrong with anything on their menu, seeing as it was probably plucked from the ocean that morning. Splitting a dozen oysters and a martini is the best way to start a meal there.”
“Tofino is like the Maine of the West Coast. I can’t think of any other way of describing it than, ‘Shit, this place is bananas.’ You have to take a teeny propeller plane to get to the island, so if you’re afraid of flying, maybe pack some valium because my pilot liked to swoop down along the mountains as we were coming in, which was awesome. Second, bring lots of film (or an extra memory card) because you won’t be able to put your camera down.”
Protip: “Book a room at the Wickaninnish Inn. I was lucky enough to stay here as part of a job I was working on, and this place is incredible. Bathtub in the bedroom—enough said.”
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Ohh, Mexico: Claire’s Guide to Having an Awesome Time in Tulum, Mexico
9 places you really, really shouldn’t miss.
When my fiancé (handsome dude pictured throughout) and I were planning our trip to Tulum, we asked a lot of friends who’d visited what to expect. Without fail, every single one of them described it the same way: magical. It got kind of annoying. Because what does that even mean? That it’s basically Disneyland? And then we went and saw it for ourselves. You guys: This place is totally magical. —claire
This is the foodie hotspot in Tulum. And you know what? It lives up to the hype. You’ll probably have to wait awhile for a table, so grab a pineapple jalapeño margarita with a Tajin rim and settle into some A+ people-watching.
I agonized over choosing a hotel and couldn’t have been happier I landed on this place. The price is totally reasonable, the hammocks are plentiful, and if it were any closer to the beach, you’d be in the water.
The designer Caroline Hurley tipped me off to this charming juice and health food joint and described it as ‘sitting in the jungle on giant mushroom-shaped chairs sipping delicious smoothies.’ She was not lying. We ate breakfast here most days.
Flor de Michoacan
Next-level fresh-fruit popsicles. Like, giant chunks of pineapple melting in your mouth. There are so many flavors, and it’s really hard to pick—so you have to just give in to ordering more than one.
These underwater caves are the only tourist-y thing worth leaving the beach for. For a quick dip, I recommend the tiny but beautiful Gran Cenotes, for a more thorough snorkel tour, check out Dos Ojos. Pro-tip for germaphobes: Buy your own snorkel mouthpiece at the supermarket on your way there.
Like most good restaurants in town, the menu here is written on a giant chalkboard and changes daily based on what’s fresh. Same rules apply for their margaritas—the mango and ginger flavors both blew my mind.
This hotel is sheeeek. We didn’t spring to spend the night there, but we had a delicious breakfast with them—highly recommended. On the way out of town, I bought some of their homemade perfumes and candles to bring home as gifts.
This is the place to go when you’re craving fish tacos and a coconut with a straw in it. Classic Mexican food is not as omnipresent in Tulum as you might think—a lot of Italian transplants have settled there.
Of all the places we ate, this had the most stunning tableside view. Don’t fool around—just get the seafood pasta. It’s for real.
Tips & Tricks
+ Stock up on lots of water and cash at the big supermarket on the highway on your way in. Get more than you think you’ll need on both fronts. There are a few cash machines on the main drag, but they’re unreliable—and a lot of the restaurants don’t take cards.
+ The jungle side of town can be buggy, especially if it’s rained recently, so be prepared with some repellent. Beekman’s bar soap-based repellent and Avon’s Towelettes are both perfect for traveling because you won’t run up against 3-ounce-bottle issues.
+ Almost every hotel lets you rent bikes at cheap daily rates. We biked everywhere, which, besides being fun, lets you feel a little less guilty about your piña colada-consumption levels.
+ Despite that, it’s still worth it to rent a car—if only because it’s so cheap and gives you the freedom to explore the area and make as many pit stops as you please on the 1 ½-hour drive back and forth from the airport.
+ Word on the street is that the ruins are amazing…but mega-hot and a bit of a hike to get to. We skipped ‘em. Doing so made us feel lazy and like we were behaving in a way our parents would disapprove of, which we felt really good about.
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How Caroline Z. Hurley Throws a Dinner Party
Feel free to single white female her hosting style.
Not only does the girl make downright amazing scarves, jewelry, and paintings, but Caroline Z. Hurley also throws a hell of a party—and in a tiny Manhattan studio no less. Here she gives us some advice on how to entertain, her way. —raquel laneri
“I really love simple recipes—not only do they taste the best, but if the food is simple, I can enjoy my guests rather than stress over the cooking. I’ve done Mexican and Moroccan food, but I’m Italian, so I’m really good at pasta. This is by far my favorite recipe for dinner parties—t’s a modified version of a pasta dish my mom made growing up. You can use any type of pasta—orecchiette, rigatoni, fusilli, whatever your heart desires. I buy mine from the Italian store at Chelsea Market in Manhattan.”
Caroline’s Kale and Tomato Pasta
1 pound of pasta (whatever you like!)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, cut into slivers
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
2 bunches kale, roughly chopped
Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, and grated parmesan cheese to taste
Boil water and a teaspoon of salt for the pasta. While you’re waiting to add the pasta, heat a large sauté pan with the olive oil and add the garlic. Turn heat to low so that the garlic does not burn. Stir in a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, black pepper, and cayenne pepper; the mixture should have a reddish tint to it. Throw the tomatoes and kale into the sauté pan and cover with a lid or aluminum foil so that the kale begins to cook. Sprinkle some grated parmesan cheese on top and stir well again. Let cook until kale is soft. Drain cooked pasta and mix into kale mixture. Serve hot with cracked pepper and more parmesan cheese.
Setting the table…
“I sort of like to follow the theme of whatever food I am cooking. So, for example, for the rustic Italian meal I had I did a farm table with no tablecloth. I used jam jars – I save all my old jam jars to use for mixing paint and for around the house – as cups, and I used old scraps of my fabric for napkins. I bought the flowers I used at the local deli, and I mixed and matched them in different jars when I get home. I hardly ever buy things specifically for a dinner party. I try to use what I have. So for example, when I had a Mexican dinner party, I used tissue paper I had gotten during a two-month stay in San Miguel. If you don’t have Mexican tissue paper, you can just buy regular colored tissue paper and cut it like you would a snowflake. I like to pick up little things when traveling, or at flea markets; the stuff you find is so much cheaper and more interesting and each item has a story behind it.”
…And setting the mood.
“I love music. I’ve really been into Tune-Yards, First Aid Kit, and Yellowbirds this summer. But for dinner parties, sometimes I use Pandora and Spotify to help go along with the theme. I will program Buena Vista Social Club for Mexican parties, and for the Moroccan-food party, I found this weird Pandora station that played Moroccan instrumental guitar music!”
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Winifred Grace’s Partners in Mexico
Designed in Chicago, produced in Cuernavaca.
Until very recently, Winifred Grace and her assistant made every single piece in her just-tough jewelry line themselves. The trouble? Scaling. So, when she randomly read about a workshop in Cuernavaca, Mexico, that employed local women to make bronze jewelry, she got in touch ASAP. “When I got my first set of samples from the workshop it was like Christmas: Every piece was more beautiful than I could have even imagined,” she explains. Meet the south-of-the-border members of the Winifred Grace team. —raquel laneri
“This is Laura, the woman who founded the workshop. She is a descendant of Benjamin Franklin and President Roosevelt. She is from Arizona; her dad was in the civil service, and she traveled the world as a child. She works with a small group of local women who have never been able to earn a living for themselves, so she’s teaching them jewelry as a trade. It’s a way to empower these women so they can earn a higher income than they would working in the fields.”
“I design the pieces at home in Chicago and send sketches with specific measurements. We do a lot of emailing back and forth with pictures, and, once we hone in on the details, the workshop will create and send me a physical sample. Here, one of the women is soldering one of my ring designs.”
“Laura tells me that these girls have become her family. The funny thing is that after I went to study metalsmithing in San Miguel, Mexico, seven years ago, I left with this burning desire to start a workshop there with the local women. Now I’ve met Laura, and she’s done that exact thing, just in a different city.”
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Winifred Grace’s Style Muse: Her Grandma
Coolness most certainly runs in the family.
Winifred Grace grew up in an art-loving family—her parents were both avid collectors—but it was her grandmother who really pushed her into the creative life. And, damn, was this is the jewelry designer’s grandma stylin’. Get a load of her look below. —raquel laneri
“My grandmother was an artist, and she had this amazing style. I don’t want to call her a hippie—because she was more sophisticated than that—but she was a bohemian. This picture of her was a studio shot, but she actually carved those little figurines out of soap, if you can believe it.”
“My grandmother always lived close to us, and she would come over and sit with my brother and I and make things. Please note her cool pinky ring and layered chains—it makes me happy. Because of her, I knew early on that I wanted to make a living making things and selling them.”
“My grandmother was sort of a tomboy. She wore men’s wallabies—they’re like suede desert boots with rubber soles and sturdy laces—with brown corduroys. She had a very unique sense of style and marched to the beat of her own drummer.”
“When her husband died when she was in her fifties, she went and lived in San Miguel, Mexico, in an artist community, where she took all sorts of classes at the art institute there. Seven or eight years ago, I went to San Miguel and took metalsmithing classes in the same exact classroom that my grandmother had taken classes. It was a very cool thing.”
“When I went down to Mexico to take metalsmithing classes, my mom brought this sculpture my grandmother made, which weighed, I don’t know, 75 pounds. We brought it to the art institute, and the son of the man who taught my grandma during the sculpture class made a mold of it and made copies so that I could have one and my brother could have one. I have it in my studio.”
“This is one of my all-time favorite photos of her, sipping coffee with her kerchief on. I wore a kerchief like that for years before I ever saw this picture. Though she’s no longer living, I feel very connected to her. I channel her taste a lot—a lot of the pieces I make, I can see her wearing, which makes me really proud.”
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Monica Ruzansky’s Rockin’ Guide to Mexico City
A half dozen places you just gotta hit.
For the jewelry designer Monica Ruzansky, there’s no place like home. And though she finds New York plenty appealing, the exuberance of her native Mexico City has no rival. “The energy, the food, the nightlife—it’s addictive,” explains the mastermind behind AILI’s pared-down gems. So book a trip, visit six of Monica’s fave spots, and don’t be surprised if you never want to leave. —mattie kahn
“This delicious place is on the fancy side but still casual. Every time I go back to Mexico, I have to visit it. Make sure to get the soft-shell crab taquitos, tuna sashimi, and the zihuatanejo tiritas—fish cured in lime. They also make their own fluffy and tasty tortillas. And all of this is best when you accompany it with a clamato-michelada.” (Durango 200, Roma, Cuauhtémoc)
“This is a more casual restaurant. I love this place for the aguachile de camarón, which is raw shrimp cured in lime and chili powder. I could easily eat an order for myself and not share.” (Nuvo Leon 109, Cuauhtémoc)
La Lagunilla Market
“La Lagunilla is a really great flea market, where you’ll find all kinds of Mexican vintage objects, old movie props, furniture, toys, clothing… I also go there to visit one of the regulars who sells stones and has an amazing selection of minerals.” (Rayón and Allende)
Mercado de Sonora
“This market is fascinating! It’s divided into different sections. On one side, there are traditional Mexican toys and piñatas. And on the other, there are all sorts things for white and black magic. You can find anything from soaps to attract love, amulets or herbs for any kind of medical condition…I highly recommend it.” (Fray Servando Teresa de Mier 419, Merced Balbuena)
Parque de Chapultepec
“The one place not to be missed is the Parque de Chapultepec. It is the biggest national park in Mexico. Have some flour chicharrones with valentine—a spicy sauce—as a snack while you go for a stroll around the lake, and then go up the hill to the castle for a magnificent view of the city. The castle is now a museum that was once the home of Maximiliano, the ill-fated emperor of Mexico.” (Periodista, Miguel Hidalgo)
“One place where I like to hang out with my friends is an old Spanish restaurant and cantina called Covadonga. You can still find men playing dominos. It is a simple but authentic bar—there is no music, but between the conversations of the crowd, you can hear the domino pieces falling, like a soundtrack to the night.” (Puebla 115, Roma Norte, Cuauhtémoc)
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We’re not saying that naming your line after yourself is a bad thing. We’re just noting that if you have an un-ironic DJ name you once used while spinning cheesy music from the eighties, that’s a pretty honeyed alternative. Meet Graciela Fuentes—formerly known as La Tirana, Spanish for “female tyrant”—who, even during her beat-droppin’ days, always knew she would be an artist. After earning a BFA from Word University in Texas, landing an MFA from NYU, and dabbling in photography and video production, she found herself drawn to more industrial vibe—one that recalls the backdrop of her hometown, Monterrey, Mexico. “It’s a bit of nostalgia for seeing these machines—you can look at them and see how they work. Looking at my iPhone, I have no idea how I’m even talking on it,” Graciela explains.
After a few years working primarily on computers with digital media arts, Graciela yearned to create something physical. One carved alabaster ring later, the creative spark caught fire, laying the groundwork for Tirana Jewelry. Her favorite part of her process: Sourcing antique pieces from flea markets the world over. Those scores, kept in a sacred drawer in her Williamsburg studio, are then molded and cast in recycled silver, gold, and bronze to be sculpted and soldered into brand new pieces—for a line that’s romantic, steampunk, and tough all at once. “I like the idea of a female tyrant because I don’t think it has a bad historic connotation like the male tyrant,” Graciela says. “A female tyrant is a little bit more of a woman in power, a woman that knows what she wants, a woman that can get her way.” —jackie varriano