Global Designer Spotlight: Tanya Moss from Mexico City, Mexico
By: Hina P. Ansari
*This is part of Ramp 1885′s newest series, “Fashion Travelogue–Mexico City, Edition” where we personally explore the city’s greater style scene including cool boutiques and chats with the city’s style makers. Perfect for the fashion traveller.
*Special thanks to Senora Nadine Karachi-Estrada
It all started at an exchange program at an American university. That is where the idea of being a jewelry designer was firmly planted in the young mind of a graphic design student from Mexico City. Tanya Moss knew that she was going to make a name for herself since she was 14, but in what capacity only time would tell. In 1996, she left her graphic design career behind and took the plunge into jewelry, turning what was initially a boutique private client-only business into a full-fledged jewelry and accessories company with a very strong retail presence (10 boutiques and also in leading hotels and malls) across Mexico City. During my time in the city, I met with this tour-de-force to chat about her journey to becoming one of today’s premier jewelry and accessories designer in Mexico, the importance of messaging and the magic of the Mariposa.
What made you decide to go into this particular product design, specifically, jewelry?
I wanted to be a fashion designer ever since I could remember. I couldn’t pay attention in school if I [didn’t] have a drawing and my drawings were usually dresses. I finished high school and I went to Israel to work in a kibbutz. After being one year away, I said, ‘If I’m going go to fashion, I’m going go to the best schools and the best schools are in France.’ But I’ve been away from home for already a year, and I have two younger sisters and I still want to hang out with them and with my parents. So, I at 19, I went into graphic design and after one semester of graphic design, the [jewelry design] bug came back again.
At some point I fantasized about being a model but I knew that I wasn’t born with that body or that face or anything (laughs) so I knew that it was going be behind the scenes. When I was 14, I decided I’m going to be doing something and I was going be famous. So when I went to school, I applied for an exchange program, they assigned me to Southern Illinois University.
Southern Illinois University??
Yes. In the middle of nowhere (laughs). Two things that were important about that is that no. First, it was a party school and I really want to kill myself (laughs) because I don’t want go to party with all the effort it took to get there, and second, it was one of the ten best schools in jewelry and I wanted to go for jewelry. I mean there was no way to translate into credits, jewelry design for graphic design, nevertheless, I wanted to design and I did jewelry. My first teacher — I still communicate with her — Elizabeth, she is amazing. She’s a sculptor and she really was so good about planting the seed of wanting to do this for a lifetime. The first drawing I made and I was able to made it into a real piece was exhilarating, was the best feeling ever.
Altogether, I spent one year there and in the second semester, I studied with one of the most important jewelry maker in the country. Later in life, I found him in a lot of books featured of contemporary jewelry so I guess it was a meant-to-be thing. I started winning prizes with [my] first pieces. I wanted to come back [home] and I already knew [jewelry design] was what I wanted to do. At the same time, I was teaching computer graphics classes.
You were teaching computer graphics during this early time of your career?
Yes. [In Mexico City] I started making my pieces here and there and I’m finding the artisans that would create my pieces and to create my designs. I knew perfectly what to do and how to move my hands. I am the person who designs it and who conceives the collections. Ever since the beginning, it was like that. I was always designing and creating concepts.
Did you sell privately at first?
I started selling privately in bazaars and in homes. I would go with suitcases home to home. At some point, I needed my husband’s help. By then, I was a graphic designer and I had my graphic design company and I was suffering because I didn’t like it. When I married my husband, he [said] “Go and do what you really love. Stop with the graphic designs. You’re not happy with it.”
So right after you got married you delved right into jewelry design full-time.
Yes. I got married in 1995 and in 1996, I decided to open the first [stand alone} store [in Mexico City] because I decided that if I have an average of 3 to 4 appointments every week, what’s the worst thing that will happen if I open a store? Nothing. Really nothing. So, we go into this venture of opening this store in October 1996. A year after opening a store, I opened another one and another one after a year and another one.
You opened a new store almost every year?
Yes. Now, it’s been 16 years and [during that time] I’ve closed a few and I opened more. As of right now, we have 10 of our owned franchise stores and we are in all the department stores. If you compare it to the U.S., you would say it’s equal to a Nordstrom’s. So my brands belongs more to the Nordstrom’s type of customer.
Who are you specifically designing for?
Someone who is independent and has freedom of choice and is not going to go with the masses. I have a symbol which is a butterfly. The butterfly (Mariposa) came to me after a design I made and it became successful and that’s the reason we adopted it. In every collection you’ll find it. It’s like finding your own butterfly — your own meaning that you give to your butterfly. It has a lot of meaning to it and I like to think that people would like to find meanings in their lives and to find my jewelry meaningful. [Our] jewelry is made for everyday life. Also to enjoy contemporary art. I do talk a lot about Mexican culture. There’s a lot of beautiful things in Mexico. If we try to make people think of good things about Mexico, the push will be more towards working towards a country we want to live in.
There’s a lot of positivity in your messaging, including ideas of independence, freedom within boundaries and respecting nature. Tell me more about your philosophy.
For me, it’s about freedom within boundaries because when you break these boundaries, you break the most important ingredient that humans are made of. Whenever you talk about any abuse in life, that means people are breaking boundaries and if you don’t break boundaries you are more free. People tend to believe that if you do drugs it is because of being free and breaking boundaries but then you are hooked and you are less free than anybody else. That’s it. You have to respect nature. If you respect nature, you’re going to be as free as you can be.
Our influences change from one year to the next, a decade to the next. In your case as a designer, has your vision and design palette changed?
A lot. It has evolved amazingly because I used to be open to a lot of ideas. We call it in Spanish — I would mix the sweet, the hot, the salty — the you know, I would mix it all up and I would have no collection, I would be all over the place. I’ve learned not to quiet down my creative side but to be more commercial in the sense of listening more to the brand and it’s not about me designing anymore. This is a company. This is a brand that has more than 70 employees. Now, we have a really, really strong commitment on what we do. I [also] learned to hold my horses and to think the collections more thoroughly and to be able to summarize into one collection all the needs that my brand has. I learned everything on the sales floor. I love being on the sales floor. On any given day you can find me in my stores.
Mexico is an important influence in your overall design philosophy isn’t it?
It’s not that I use to do collections based on Mexico all the time, but a lot of collections are based on Mexican traditions and the beauty of Mexico I see every day. I still see people that own the pieces that I have designed 15-years-ago and the pieces look as modern as if it was made today. My pieces are timeless and now they all have certain taste to them. Even though the collections are different, they speak the same feeling and is recognizable. I mix the collections but you can see that it’s still made by the same person. For me, that’s one quality I really admire in any designer. That’s one of the things that I’m trying to achieve all the time.
What metals do you most often use?
We do silver, gold over silver and gold and diamonds. At some point it used to be 50-50 but now it’s about 80% silver because of the cost of the metal. There are many things you have to adapt given this huge globality in this world now. Silver went up, gold went up so you just have to give options. So, one of the most important things about my brand is to make collections that will be inheritable to your children. I always stick to valuable metals such as gold and silver. Every now and then, I might use another metal too as an accent but my pieces are [mostly] gold and/or silver.
Not only are you designing jewelry you also have expanded beyond that.
I have a line of scarfs. I have a line of belts. I have a line of sunglasses. I am creating a line of handbags right now.
Do you believe in Plan B or do you solely focus on Plan A and just do it?
We have to have a lot of Plan Bs in the process of this company. [Our] Plan A is ‘Failure is not an option.’ In that case, we’re always sticking to that. The second thing is that, things change. We have to change with the world and its reality because if you don’t, the world will eat you alive. Also be humble and to respect the people that are around you. I told you, it’s not just about me anymore. This is a team. We are all part of the project.
So what’s the inspiration for your latest collection?
There are two seasons, which are very important in the jewelry business; it’s Mother’s Day and Christmas. It’s not about Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. Especially when you do accessories you really have to come up with enough product to make people fall in love with the product. I’m still learning as I go along (laughs). For example, the last four collections the vintage design was really kicking. My work is really clean but sometimes I have this desire to be complex.
“Blossom” was based on a flower. I went to an antique market for inspiration and I found an antique flower pendant made out of filigree and it totally reminded me of my grandmother. Actually, my grandmother from my mother’s side is still alive and she is an amazing inspiration because she loves dressing up. I destroyed the pendant and [changed] it to what I wanted to see — a mixture of being something kind of vintage. And it’s also a nice to receive flowers that don’t die (laughs).
The other collection is called “Trésor”. It’s a treasure you find in your grandmother’s closet. It has a baroque feeling to it.
The “Victoria” [collection] started with an idea of being a Victorian design but ended up to being too simple so it wasn’t Victorian anymore. Victoria also has an idea of the victory that the woman overcomes everyday in her life by juggling with so many things. It doesn’t matter the culture. We are mothers, we are working, and we are doing far more things that men do. I believe in these amazing things about being a woman.
For this coming season, we’re going to have two basic collections: “Granada” which is based on Spanish buildings. It has a lot of texture and drawings with a mixture of gold and silver and “Mother of Pearl” called “Luna.” The names of my collections can be anything, English, Spanish etc. You just have to get the right name for your collection. Sometimes, it just starts with a drawing.
As a very successful woman entrepreneur, what advice would you give to other women who are interested in starting up their own enterprise?
The first thing is to be coherent. To do as you say because there are lots of people who talk one thing but act another. I have a friend from university who helps me touch base with that. He tells me “You’re the only person I know, within all my friends, that has always been true to yourself and say what you do and follow what you’ve said”. If you do that, you are more likely to turn your dream into reality. And of course, dream big. If you don’t dream big, you’ll stop yourself in the middle. Dream as big as you can be.
*To see Tanya Moss collection and to do a little shopping, feel free to visit her site and her online store at: www.tanyamoss.com .
Product photography and portrait photography of Tanya Moss courtesy of Tanya Moss; in studio photography by Hina P. Ansari