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Annette Lin

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Sunshine, sewing and a son: designer Jesse Kam does the work-life balance to perfection

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If life is all about trying to find a balance, Jesse Kamm might just possibly have the perfect life. She’s based in L.A, but spends a good part of the year in Panama (where she has an eco-friendly place in the postcard-perfect Bocas del Toro). Her place is in a part of the city that’s actually quiet and peaceful - rural, even - and yet only 10 minutes from downtown. In fact, her studio is part of her house, meaning she can split her day pretty comfortably between work and family, consisting of her young son and husband, environmental scientist Lucas Brower.

“It is a great balance,” she says, reflecting on her lifestyle in a thoughtful, sing song-y voice. She says she tried focusing on motherhood for a while - “I took the first year of [my son’s] life off and we moved to Austin, Texas and rented this cabin and had this very rootsy period of just learning about this little person,” but ultimately, “When [my son] was 11 months old, we came back to L.A, and we decided that for me to be happy meant me having my job and being a mom.”

It’s perhaps this balance that enables her to design the way she does. “I feel like fashion can be very… what’s the word, grueling or intense, and when things start to get to be too much, it’s nice to check out and go get your priorities set straight,” she says. To wit, her pieces are bold and yet thoughtful, emphasising design and creativity over trends. The soft, organic palette and dreamy prints mean there is an almost rootsy feel to her pieces - a little bit of nostalgia for her upbringing in Illinois perhaps, mixed with the brightness and modernity of the California girl she is today.

“Growing up in the midwest was very much like… I don’t know, like so many millions of miles away from this world I live in, mentally at least,” she says. Always crafty as a child, she fell into designing after being exposed to racks of beautiful clothes as a model. “[As a model] I always felt like I wanted to be helping pick out the clothes… and so it became clear to me that I really enjoyed that process. I don’t think I ever thought, ‘Hmm, I’m gonna be a fashion designer’. When I stopped modelling I started taking sewing classes and I started drawing and creating and it became very organic.”

Fast forward eight years since she started her eponymous label, billed as ‘luxury’ and ‘artisan’ on the website, and it seems the label’s growth has stayed organic, as she focuses on maintaining the aforementioned balance in life. “I feel like if the collection were bigger and I were to have greater distribution, I wouldn’t have time to do the things I would like to do with [my son]. And maybe when he’s older and he’s in real school, maybe there will be a desire to grow in a different way. But we’re happy here having a small collection.”

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Related links

See the bold designs by Jasmin Shokrian

Read my interview with fellow L.A designer Clare Vivier

See Corinne Grassini of SOciety for Rational Dress’ ultimate California girl style

 

An architect of clothing: Corinne Grassini of Society for Rational Dress in L.A creates pieces to feel comfortable in

Corinne Grassini of Society for Rational Dress reworks California style with architectural inspirations and a rich sewing heritage.

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It’s a rare rainy day in L.A and the Society for Rational Dress studio provides a welcome reprieve from the wind and rain outside. A visually interesting one too: an industrial space with concrete floors, the overcast light streaming through the wide, expansive windows dances around the showroom/lobby, creating a chiaroscuro effect amongst the clothes and the sparse burnished leather furnishings. The space is at once sturdy, strong and sheltering; yet open, light and comfortable.

These are themes that could also be used to describe Society for Rational Dress itself. Started in 2007 by Corinne Grassini, the label produces California luxury James Perse-style basics with an intellectual, architecturally-inspired twist. Sculptural, industrial details such as thick leather straps and weighty antique brass chains are worked in with viscose t-shirts, knit sweaters and silk dresses, offering the same plane of comfort as sweatpants - but with much more visual interest and style.

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Like many of her SoCal cohorts, Grassini aims for stylish simplicity. Unlike many, however, she draws inspiration from both the ethos of architecture - “I always say that an architect builds a space to be comfortable in and feel comfortable in, and that’s kind of how I approach clothing too” - to the shapes and patterns found in the built landscape - her spring/summer 2012 collection took inspiration from the brickwork found in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House in L.A.

Despite this leaning towards architecture and an initial foray into humanities at the University of Washington, her current career is no surprise, least of all to her family. A tradition of sewing and craft comes through both sides and on the Society for Rational Dress website are photo-and-questionnaire profiles of women who inspire Grassini and her team; one features her grandmother, Marie Grassini.

“When [Marie] moved here with my grandpa from New York, my grandpa said, ‘You can’t bring everything, you can bring a quarter of it all, that’s all you can bring, we’re moving our entire lives across,’” recounts Grassini. “And so she hid everything, in like her shoes and in the couch and in the trunks and everywhere she could find to hide these notions and these fabrics and stuff and then they got here and she was like, ‘Surprise!’ She had her entire collection.” Returning to grad school to study pattern-making at the famed Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, Marie was the first person Grassini turned to. “When I started design school, I went over to her place and sort of looked through all her fabrics and she gave me a bunch of buttons and you know, stuff that she had collected. So yeah, [sewing] definitely runs in the family. [Also] my mom’s a big sewer, an incredible quilter, and she knits.”

Knitwear is another specialty of sorts of Grassini’s; on display in the showroom are a selection of hand-woven pieces from Peru. “Each little bobble is made in Peru,” says Grassini, who was initially reluctant to expand manufacturing overseas but fell in love with what she saw as the country’s connection to its textile heritage. “[In Peru] you can see where the manufacturing economy was built. There’s people sitting on the side of the road making rugs and blankets and little dolls and stuff, and then you go to the factories and they’re using the same stitch techniques. There’s a connection to the history of knitwear there, which I really like. And you can see that in the pieces I think.”

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Grassini’s appreciation of production comes from that pattern-making background, knowledge of which both hinders and helps the label, she says. “There’s certain times where it’s good for me to know patternmaking and then certain times where I wish I could just forget it because I’ll design something, I’ll draw something, and then I’ll think, there’s no way, like nobody’s going to be able to figure out how to make a pattern out of this. And I try to visualise the pattern, and if I can’t figure it out I just cross it out.

“Designers who don’t know the technical side, they can come up with the craziest stuff they can imagine which isn’t always the most cost-effective way to design or, but it’s a really fun way to design. So it works for me and against me; it’s a different thing every day.”

Not that her technical expertise seems to have hindered her creativity; she has collaborated with New York’s Museum of Art and Design twice, creating one-off pieces for their Paper Ball and Metal Ball galas. The David Letellier-inspired finial (re: architectural ornament) flower base she created for the latter has since been reimagined as a small vase currently available on her website, as part of a home furnishings line introduced in 2011. These limited edition pieces allow Grassini to focus in the design process, she says, and indeed the Serra chair’s sturdy base and suspended leather seat with antique brass metal details and a sculptural semi-circle cut out appears to epitomise the elegant sculptural aesthetic and industrial finishes of Grassini’s main collection.

Given how often she returns to architecture and interiors as inspiration and now as a designer, is there a chance that perhaps Grassini really did enter the wrong industry? She considers it carefully. She would have liked to be an architect, she says.

“[But when I consider] all the pre-planning that goes into architecture, and not being able to tear it down and put it back up…  I like the design process of clothing because we can tear it down and build it back up and create a sample.

“[So] I think that if I take that into consideration, the way that I design, I would have liked to be an architect,” she says, “…. if I had the patience for it.”

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Related links

See inside fellow L.A designer Clare Vivier’s Silverlake studio

Shop local Californian design in L.A

Meet Garance Doré and learn how to live colourfully

A cave in Bermondsey

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Chocolates, flowers and wine: a trifecta of the finer things in life. Cave, a small but impeccably edited store in Bermondsey, London, takes them to the next level with a focus on the artisanal and unique. Jennifer, shop girl and the creative force behind Cave’s luscious, whimsical floral arrangements, speaks about the store:

"It’s really quite simple. [The store started when co-owner] Steve, an actor for many years, got hugely into wine - he actually did the wine course at the School of Wine & Spirits - and also worked with flowers for many, many years as a gardener and then chocolate… well it’s all really amazing chocolate that’s all just selected and very edited. It’s all very small scale production from small scale companies.

"One of the other business partners, Mark, is a designer and very big in sort of the fashion and style worlds so a lot of these different products, like the chocolates and bits and bobs, he just knows all about them. That’s where you get passion from. They were just things that we all just loved. I mean we love flowers, we just love eating chocolate, and we love drinking wine. It’s great. It’s a really nice business and it’s nice being surrounded by lovely things all the time.

I don’t really like to play favourites, I like them all. The candles are beautiful, there are some really interesting scents like Smoke on the Water. It’s like they really capture the atmosphere, so Smoke on the Water smells like a barbecue… on a beach… in a flower meadow.

"[As for wine], poh, where to start? I guess for summer, this, this is amazing. It’s a rosé secco and it is like a glass of summer. Really tart strawberries, lovely minimal finish, really gentle bottle.

"For us wine is not region-specific, it’s about taste and knowing and testing. Stephen’s taken everything and chosen everything… and I slowly make my way through it all.

"It’s all about really small scale production, and stories. The majority of it is organic or biodynamic - hand-picked grapes in a really old school way. I know it’s become overtly on trend at the moment, but it’s really about going back to actually the original methods of making things. Actually, a lot of the wines that we have are from such small scale productions that they can’t afford to be certified organic. It costs a lot of money just to say ‘I’m organic’ but that’s just how they’ve been making wines for hundreds of years. They’ve always been organic, they’ve never not been organic. And we know that because we work closely with them, we know they don’t use pesticides.

"And we just like the natural wines, they’re just more interesting. I mean, massive scale wines aren’t really nice. It’s fine, it’s not really bad, but this is just really interesting stuff.

"[My favourite aspect of the store is that] it’s all really seasonal, which is nice. Like the wines change with the seasons, the flowers obviously change with the seasons, so do the cards and the chocolate. It’s just nice that everything’s always moving and changing.

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Interview: Clare Vivier is trés chic in L.A.

In the raggedly bohemian, character-filled suburb of Silver Lake in Los Angeles, the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Micheltorena stands out for the modern, light-filled studio standing on it. Inside, designer Clare Vivier is discussing plans to introduce travel luggage to her eponymous leather goods line. 

“It can be done,” says the soft-spoken Vivier with conviction, empathetic emphasis on the can. “You can make a really pretty weekender/overnighter on wheels.”

It’s the tone of someone utterly confident in reaching their goal - all that’s left are the practicalities. But Vivier is not being cocky - her unpretentious, down-to-earth nature is the antithesis of this. Rather, her steely self-assuredness comes from experience: after all, her now cult-status luxury leather goods label was only born when the former French television journalist figured out how to turn her vision of a line of simple, practical and yet stylish laptop bags into reality.
 

It’s a reality that has since blossomed: the team have since moved studios and the same location will turn into a store filled with Vivier’s made-in-L.A. buttery leather goods, each characterised by their bright colour accents and simple, chic silhouettes. She’s also planning to expand into men’s accessories soon, while adding new twists to old favourite - the best-selling Tropezienne tote in cherry pink, for example. Quelle élégance, non?

And the travel goods? They’re not reality yet, and with the number of projects in line for the company, it might be a while until they are. But will they be reality? Given Vivier’s track record, it would be almost foolish not to think so.

What do you like about L.A.?
I love the weather and I love that there’s a big creative community around, people doing creative things and anything is possible is here. Like any ideas that you have, you can make them happen here, I don’t know why.

So have there been any ideas you’ve made happen? Obviously this…
Well yeah.

How did it start?  
It started when I was making my own bags and then I looked around for factories - and that’s another thing about Los Angeles, there’s a lot of production here. I didn’t know anyone in the business so I just had to ask around.

So I found production and then I started to design and thinking I could design anything I wanted now that other people were sewing my bags. But then I discovered production in the US, it’s very expensive. So you have to work within the confines of that price structure. Like, you’re not going to… I realized that my first bag I made was very complicated and it turned out to be a very expensive bag and then I didn’t have a name yet so I couldn’t really justify charging a lot. Stores weren’t interested in a bag line that was unknown and charging 600 dollars for a bag and competing with the big brands.

What was the first bag like?
It was a work bag. It was a laptop bag but it just had canvas and leather and a lot of pockets and piping and structure to it. It was complicated to make.

Okay. But do you think it’s worked in your favour? Because part of what’s appealing about your line is that it is simple.
Yeah, it definitely has worked in my favour. I had to just make it work. I remember one day I had some leather, the Trop leather, and I thought, I want to do something with this leather, how can I make it work?

So I put it on the ground to see the way it formed and I folded it into a bag and I thought, I could do something really simple. And I made these leather strips, and even mocked up a handle and just stared at it for a while and then I placed some hardware, like where the hardware was going to be, and just stared at it, seeing if I could get a visual of what it was going to look like and I thought, that’s good.

What piece would you say represents you the most?
Oh gosh, I don’t even know. I would say the Trop but I don’t even carry the Trop much anymore.

…I can’t really name one. There’s the canvas tote I’ve been carrying lately… I think they all do in a way because they’re all simple and classic and what I like to think of as very chic.

Are there are any designers that you like, like your favourite labels or artists?
Hmmm. A lot of the Frenchies, Isabel Marant and, um, Céline I like. A.P.C. I love; I don’t wear many of their clothes but I love the aesthetic.

I love A.P.C. They don’t quite do sizes that fit me though…
No. I mean you’re quite small… And I like Steven Alan.

I know you did a collaboration with them, what’s been your favourite collaboration?
Hmm. Probably with Steven Alan, it was the easiest.

And right now we’re doing a collection with Wren, with Melissa Coker and her line, that’s always very easy and fun to do. 

Are you excited about where the store is going? When you first started, did you ever think it would be like this?
No. I hope it would. We wanted it to be. And I want it to keep growing, I don’t take anything for granted, I take it day by day because I know the fashion business is so fickle and you just have to keep going and keep making yourself relevant and keep making designs that people want to carry and keep it interesting… it’s a lot of work.

But you love it?
Yeah.

Silver Lake swagger

Interview: Melissa Coker of Wren talks colour and Minnetonka memories

Shop L.A.: local Californian design at Vivier & Bentley

Shop L.A.: local Californian design at Vivier & Bentley

"The emphasis of [Vivier & Bentley, formerly owned by jewellery designer Kathryn Bentley and bag designer Clare Vivier*] is mostly local L.A. designers and artists, like these ceramic hanging pieces are by a woman named Heather Levine and like the stained glass and handmade shoes, they’re all people who live in Echo Park or Silverlake [suburbs of L.A.]. And then we have other lines mixed in as well that are not so local. But I mean like the chocolates are from people in Topanga and they’re really neat, Zenbunni**, they make jewellery and all kinds of different things, they’re kind of just like, I don’t know, a hippy power couple…so we’re trying to promote people in the neighbourhood.”

How do you find these designers? Do people come to you?

"Not… I mean that’s starting to happen a little bit and we are starting to seek people out but originally it was just people who were like, friends of Kathryn and Clare. And fellow like-minded artists and people who were making things in the neighbourhood who were just friends. So yeah, we’ve started bringing in a line of baskets… from Brooklyn which is something we got tipped off to. It’s not local and it’s not a friend, but something like that, we’re interested in bringing in." - Elizabeth / Vivier and Bentley

* Clare has since opened her own store, literally two shopfronts down. Interview to come. 

** Spicy chai flavour recommended. 

Theysken’s Theory

Hanging out on Melrose

The wedding

Weddings: a sweet celebration of love, happiness and two wills bending to become one, or a night to be endured of cheesy dance hall classics, tasteless food* and boring speeches?

My little sister Karen’s was definitely the former. 

Karen and I first met at church two years ago, back when I could barely string a sentence together in Spanish. I met her family at church and long story short, I ended up moving in with them and sharing a room with her. 

I can safely say that without Karen, there is no way I would be back in Mexico.  As my translator and somewhat of a guide, she took me out, introduced me to all her friends, showed me how to catch the bus everywhere (604 baby!) and really made my time in Mexico more than just an exchange. And then, of course, as a sister she listened to me worry about the boy I had a crush on (he’s now my husband), comforted me when all I wanted was to hear some English, dammit, and threw a surprise birthday party for my 21st - complete with piñata. 

And so of course there was no way I was going to miss her wedding. 

I nearly did though. 

On the day of the wedding, we’d all gone to get our hair and make-up done. After, I’d gone out for lunch and to run some errands. But Mexican punctuality combined with my punctuality**  meant I arrived home at pretty much the time my family was planning to leave. I had my outfit planned out - one of the benefits of traveling is the pre-planning, and anyone who’s been to Mexico would know there was no guarantee I’d be able to find anything that wasn’t tight, made of Lycra and covered in diamantés  - so I threw it on, grabbed my essentials and ran out the door. 

Unfortunately, my essentials in Mexico covered only a small coin purse with enough money to get me through the day, but not my wallet. I was in the car on the way to a temple wedding, and I didn’t have my temple recommend. 

Since we were already running late***, I asked my family to drop me off by the side of the road so they could keep going and hopefully make it on time. I would take a taxi back to the house, grab my recommend and meet them there. 

I hailed the first taxi and told the driver I would pay the meter fare**** if he drove as fast as possible - a pretty good preposition, considering the fact that it was peak hour. We drove back to my place, I threw all dignity out the window to hike up my dress and jump over the fence and ran in to get my recommend. In my mind I thought, ‘Temple ho!’

Then came the ‘Oh, expletive' moment. My mind had been so concentrated on getting my recommend that I'd forgotten to grab enough money to pay for the taxi. I wanted to die, but instead I started crying. 

¡No llores!" said the taxi driver (he was a really kind hearted bloke). I didn’t know what to do. If I went back, I wouldn’t make it to the wedding on time - not a good idea when I’d flown all the way from Sydney for this moment. If I kept going, I wouldn’t have enough money - I only had a 50 peso note and maybe some loose change, in my estimate probably 60 pesos at most. Not enough for a ride I was expecting to cost at least 200 pesos. And I didn’t want to have to borrow money on arrival because I had already caused enough trouble, but it seemed like that was the only option. 

I decided to keep going. Thanks to the driver’s knowledge of the city roads, we made it in pretty good time. When we got to the temple, we were on the other side of the road but he said he would do a U-turn and drop me off inside, so I wouldn’t have to run as far in my heels to ask for money. I took out the 50 peso note and tipped out my coins to see how much I would need to beg or borrow (not steal).

Ten peso coin. Another ten peso coin. Two five peso coins. 

The meter read 101 pesos. Perhaps I wouldn’t need to borrow as much I’d thought. 

Two plus two plus one. I grouped the two and one peso coins into groups of five. Five, ten… Fifteen, twenty. I had a hundred pesos. No manches. The meter read 102.50. Including my 50 and 10 centavo coins, I had enough. 

I said to the taxi driver “Tengo 102.50; ¡aquí esta bien!”  I didn’t want him to keep driving lest the metre go up. He looked at me, with my hands holding all my coins, and shook his head in a way that said, ‘You are either crazy lucky, or crazy.’ He dropped me off on the temple grounds anyway. By the time we got there, the meter read 105. But 102.50 was fine. 

The wedding itself - all three parts - was  the epitome of Mormonism with a Mexican twist. The civil ceremony, held in a tiny Sunday school room (the hall had been double booked and was filled with balloons and disco music when we arrived), was beautiful as Karen and Gus completed their paperwork with that cheerful and almost oblivious bliss that only comes on your wedding day, and the religious ceremony in the temple was even more so.

The reception was more Mormon than Mexican, i.e. it finished at 11 and there were definitely no borrachos; but there was still dancing, 50 more people than were invited, and a gorgeous candy  buffet put on by our tía Karla that involved copious amounts of candy hearts (besos!), Hershey’s kisses, marshmallow twists and a tower of cupcakes topped with two paper figures that were meant to carry pictures of Karen and Gus, but due to fact that they’d forgotten to give Karla pictures of themselves, carried images of two totally random telenovela actor-looking people. 

But did that matter? Not really. At the end of the day, I asked Karen if the wedding was what she had wanted. Her teal-colored shoes were on the floor. One of her sisters couldn’t make it from Canada for the wedding, but her oldest sister and beloved brother-in-law was there, her family was there, her best friends from school were there and all the people from church who had seen her grow up were there. She had a massive grin on her face, and her eyes lit up as she responded, “”. And that was what mattered most. 

* and the ubiquitous and, quite frankly,  offensive steamed vegetables.

** well, lack thereof on both of our parts.

*** and feeling like absolute dirt because this was also my fault.

**** you normally bargain a set fare with taxis In Mexico, which is really convenient if there is a lot of traffic

Taken with instagram

(Source: threequartersized)

Agave fields in Tequila (Taken with instagram)

(Source: threequartersized)

Huichol artesanias

Huichol beading in San Luis Potosí, SLP, MX

Xilitla

Style on the streets of Xilitla

London calling

One of my closest friends is flying to London today for two months to work at the pharmacy department at University College London. She’s possibly the friend who I’ve known the longest (and still remained close to). Gonna miss her hilarious ways and slightly-annoying-but-uniquely-hers lateness. (Seriously. Four hours?? I love her but I’m never relying on her to bring drinks again.)

But I hope she has a safe trip and I can’t wait to hear her adventures (*cough* cue #livingvicariouslyinEurope). She’ll love it, I know it! / London instagram by Incloco

from where you’d rather be

La Peñita & Guayabitos on the Mexican Pacific / taken by yours truly

travel: a town called tequila

Row after row of spiky silvery-blue agave plants line the one-lane highway, against a background of dusty red soil and dark hulking volcanoes; the name of the closest town is written in white, Hollywood-style, on a distant mountain but it’s difficult to read. Thankfully, there’s highway signage, saying: Bienvenidos a Tequila.

Welcome to Tequila, it says. Welcome to a little town in the west of Mexico, in the state of Jalisco, whose name is more famous than the town itself, thanks to its namesake drink.

I’ve come here today with some friends from Guadalajara, the second-largest city in Mexico, on an old bus that looks like it’s from the 80’s and whose bus driver insisted on playing old salsa classics the whole trip.

As I get off the bus, I expect the town to be some sort of giant homage to the fiery alcohol, or at the very least, a giant tequila bottle (the airport in Guadalajara welcomes visitors to Mexico with a pair of giant Corona bottles). Instead, I discover a few people milling about the dusty streets and a tranquil plaza with the 18th-century sandstone Iglesia de La Purísima Concepción (Church of the Pure Conception) right behind it.

It strikes me as slightly ironic that a town whose entire industry revolves around hard liquor has a church as its heart, but what can I say. I’ve come to Tequila, and I’m not drinking.

I had expected the town to be more touristy, but there are hardly any tourists in sight, nor, thank goodness, any ‘One tequila, two tequila, three tequila floor’ t-shirts. In fact, we have to search for the two sites we’ve been told to visit, the Museo Nacional del Tequila (National Tequila Museum) and the José Cuervo tequila distillery, and we find them a few blocks away from the church.

We enter the museum first, a small ex-hacienda. Today it has an art exhibition, celebrating and almost worshipping the blue agave plant and the alcohol it produces, with images of anthropomorphic agave plants watching over the tranquil, desert-like landscape surrounding the city of Tequila, super-imposed with a glowing Mary, the mother of Jesus. Only in Mexico.

Across the dry and dusty road is the José Cuervo tequila distillery, aptly called Mundo Cuervo (World of Cuervo) considering everything inside, including the bathrooms, are labelled in some way with the logo. The distillery is famous for its tours and free samples, and although I’m not drinking, my friends are keen
as apparently included is a sample of golden, aged Reserva tequila. In other words, the good stuff.

At the distillery we find my previously expected homage to tequila in the form of a couple of mock giant agave plants; we also find a 1.5 metre statue of a crow, the symbol of José Cuervo (cuervo means ‘crow’ in Spanish), glaring over everyone in the courtyard.

Along the tour, we find an older man stumbling bleary-eyed, whom we suspect has been trawling the corridors the whole day in order to get sample after sample, as well as 110-proof tequila that my friends say burns the throat viciously. I’m glad I passed on the drinking today, as apparently their throats don’t stop burning for the rest of the tour, and by the time we get to the end and the Reserva tequila and the free cocktails (margaritas, of course) are brought out, half the group has lost interest.

As we head back outside and start heading towards the bus depot, we see a mariachi band stroll by, a couple of sun-withered guys bending their hats against the sun with one hand and the other holding their instruments, large guitars and double basses strung across their backs. A few kids are chasing each other in the plaza, their parents sitting in the shade, winding down from the day with the other parents. Tequila, it seems, is nothing like what its name suggests; instead, it’s a tranquil little place where there’s one way in, one way out and the locals still prefer a beer. - Annette Lin

Holga images by Annette Lin