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Mexican area blends native, international wear

Like the ubiquitous Mexican wedding dress, which is now available in more than a dozen colors as well as the traditional white, contemporary Mexican fashions are both classic and variable.

The artist Frida Kahlo, wife of Diego Rivera, first established the bright, bold Mexican ethnic look in the United States and Europe. But recently designers have recognized the need for real clothes rather than costumes.

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Shoppers in San Miguel de Allende, which has a large foreign colony, can find fashions and accessories in the true international style. And yet there is an indigenous influence apparent in the use of Indian motifs such as geometric patterns or stylized natural forms. And the fine workmanship is accomplished by people with an ancient tradition of craftsmanship.

A shop in San Miguel called By Appointment Only features only fashions and decorative accessories that are made in Mexico.

The large collection of leather separates designed by Tillie are made in a workshop in Guanajuato. Although Tillie began her fashion career making tie-dye bikinis in Majorca, she has been in Mexico since 1972. Using skins imported from the United States which are processed in Leon, she designs jackets that coordinate with side-wrapped or back-wrapped leather skirts.

For a jacket that is scalloped on every edge she uses a gamusa leather that is so soft in texture that it can be worn as a blouse. The hip-length jacket has gently rounded shoulders. Colors range from a dusty blue to hot pimento.

A fall suit in a slick wine-colored leather called piel de flor has a blouson top that is zipped up the front and gathered at the wrist. It comes with its own straight skirt.

There are unisex, one-size-fits-all pullovers of split leather with reverse binding, which are cut in traditional colors of beige and brown, plus unusual shades such as salmon or bougainvillea.

A variety of colors are appliqued in abstract ornamental designs such as zigzags and spirals for capes as well as jackets. An elegant evening outfit is a boxy black suede jacket with gold leather trim and a long skirt.

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A collection of formal vests, long jackets, and floor-length opera coats is by Judy Roberts, a designer who lives in San Miguel. She creates patterns reminiscent of stained glass using pieces of satin, taffeta, and printed cotton assembled with black satin piping outlines. The sophistication of the unexpected color combinations and free-form designs has found a ready market in Europe as well as Mexico.

Each dress is a work of art in the collection of Josefa, a Mexican designer from Guadalajara, whose fashions are sold in San Miguel at the Casa Canal. Josefa's caftans are like collages in which embroidery, applique, spangles, and braided ribbons are combined with hand-loomed cotton fabrics in bold colors or ombre stripes. On some dresses there is the added mobility of long swinging tassels or streamers of bright ribbons.

There are also many shops that feature the typical hand- knitted sweaters, heavy wool ponchos and serapes, and the lighter rebozos and huipiles.

Even the outdoor market offers fashions for shoppers willing to be jostled between vegetable and fruit stalls. The woven leather huarache is now available in a variety of styles including plastic-soled high-heeled sandals and slides. Clogs with wooden soles and leather uppers are decorated with hand-painted or tooled designs. And many versions of the famous Western boot are made in Leon.

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