When Montserrat A. Alonso moved to London in 2016, she already knew that she had a future in fashion. The intricate way in which fashion represents our own identity doesn't escape her, probably a result of growing up in a country where culture, identity and clothing are endlessly entwined.
We spoke to Montserrat about Maalo, her jewellery brand, falling in love with London, her favourite ways to bring a little bit of Mexico to her home, and the desire to be on a Mexico beach with a Mezcal in hand (which we can definitely relate to).
How would you describe what you do with Maalo?
I’ve always loved jewellery, not just because it’s connected to fashion and represents someone's identity, but because it’s a way for me to explore my creativity. When I decided to turn my hobby into a brand, I had in mind the idea of making pieces that were ethically made, could be worn with anything and lasted forever. There's a lot of time and detail put into the making of each piece so I think the process makes it even more special for me.
What made you decide to move to the UK?
When I was still finishing my BA, I came to Europe to visit a friend and we planned a month's trip around different cities. As soon as I arrived in London I fell in love with the city. The fashion, the culture, the variety of cuisines... everything. That's when I decided one day I was going to live here. So I came back to Mexico, finished my fashion degree, worked and saved money for 2 years, and bought a one way ticket to London 🤘
How do you stay in touch with your Mexican roots?
Cooking Mexican food often (luckily my boyfriend loves Mexican food... he's addicted to quesadillas), listening to Mexican music (especially Natalia Lafourcade, Zoe, Selena and Los Angeles Azules when I feel really homesick), keeping an eye on the news, and staying in contact with my friends. I'm also lucky to have made Mexican friends here in London, which is great.
Would you say in your time here Mexican culture has grown in the UK?
Definitely! Mexican food especially, it seems like a trend in London right now... You can find tacos and mezcal in many places. I've also seen a couple of exhibitions that feature Mexican artists and architects, like the Serpentine Pavilion in 2018, which makes me feel very proud of my heritage and the potential of the country.
What's your favourite thing about the UK?
The long days in summer! It's so cool to be able to be out till 10pm and still have daylight. The whole vibe changes and everyone looks happier. Also, the transport system, everything is really well connected and you can get anywhere by train or bus.
Would you say the culture is similar? How?
No way (laughs). I'd say we're totally different. I think Latins have this spicy and loud character, while British are more serious and contained (except when they are pissed at 7pm in a pub on a Friday night).
How do you feel like you represent both cultures with your jewellery?
I try to follow the technique and precision from traditional British jewelers, whilst the Maalo aesthetic and style is inspired by the shapes, patterns and colours of Mexico.
What do you miss the most about Mexico? Besides the food - we all say that!
Food is one for sure, but also I'd say the sunlight during winter...There's nothing to do about it, but I guess being from Mexico you're always used to seeing the sun, even if it's cold outside.
What is the best place to find Mexican food in London?
There are so many options! My favourite one is DEL74, a taco place in Dalston that has the 3B's we love to hear in Mexico: good food, fun place and affordable prices. I've recently been to another place in Mayfair that does Mexican in a cool way called Ziggy Nights. They have a set menu (with tres leches cake at the end!) and watermelon margaritas, good fun.
If you could transport yourself anywhere in Mexico right now, where would it be?
A beach in Oaxaca with a mezcal in my hand.
What's your favourite memory of Mexico?
So many things. When I close my eyes I can see all the colours everywhere and all the sounds from Mexico City. From the audio of the van picking up used house appliances, to the whistle of the guy that sells tamales or sweet potatoes, to the beeping in the traffic.
What do you think of when you think of Mexican fashion and design?
I think it's a country with a lot of fresh ideas and amazing upcoming brands and designers. There's not a lot of support for creatives in the country so Mexicans have definitely found a way to create their own platforms and use the power of social media in order to stand out and be seen in other places of the world.
Where do you hope to be, be it with your business or personally, 5 years from now?
I actually have a full time job (in a sportstech) and I do my jewellery in my spare time. I hope in 5 years I can dedicate all my time to Maalo, have a nice studio at home and a more established brand that many people love and identify with.