When you walk into the perfumerie of the Coqui Coqui Spa Hotel in Valladolid you feel like you have walked onto the set of a Frida Kahlo movie. Like at any minute you might see Ashley Judd and Salma Hayek glide by entwined dancing the tango. Its straight up glamorous but in a very down to earth way. There is a peacefulness to the space, an elegance that is derived from the culture of the Mayan community and the colonial building it lies within. This description is a direct correlation to the women who created it. Enter owner and business women behind the Coqui Coqui brand Francesca Bonato. Wearing no shoes or makeup dressed in classic traditionally inspired pieces from her own fashion line Hacienda Montaecristo (hand made from local artisans), she welcomed me, child on hip into this magical world she has created with her husband and business partner Argentine fashion model Nicolas Malleville and their two sons Santino and Leon. You cannot help but to be taken by her natural beauty and grace but it is her warmth and connection that holds you and her passion for life and people that inspires you. In an instant I wanted to throw my Isabel Marant slides to the wind, move to Mexico and live my life barefoot with my babies in the scented gardens of Coqui Coqui Valladolid.
How has family life shaped your career?
It helped me define my priorities. What is really important and what are things that are meant to let go. My family is my priority but it doesn’t mean I have to sacrifice my career. For me it was never sacrificing one for the other, it’s all about balance and doing what I love- being a mom, a partner and businesswoman.
There is such a level of soul to all that you do which is why I believe people are so drawn to what you create. What would your advice be to someone wanting to start his or her own creative endeavor?
Know what you want to do and how you want to show it to the rest of the world. Don’t sacrifice the person that you are or your passion just to gain status or recognition. Rid yourself of others’ opinions and do everything with love. If you cannot recognize yourself in what you are doing then you have to stop and reassess. Be kind to yourself and never ever stop in your pursuit for magic.
How did you go from hotels to perfumes than onto fashion?
Perfumes came first, the hotels came after as the homes for the perfumes and I never actually thought I would get into fashion. I am Italian, so I have always been surrounded by it. For me fashion is a natural expression and reflection of the culture and the times that you are in, so it can be anything from the folkloric artisanal typical pieces like they wear in Latin America or a well-made pair of Italian leather boots. Fashion for me isn’t about fads or trends, which is how and why Hacienda Montaecristo was born. It was taking something so traditional, so historic and classical as the rebozo and bringing it into the contemporary world without losing its soul. We wanted to create something beautiful that would allow us to share our fascination of Mexico with the world.
Your style is an embodiment of all you create, how is this a reflection of you?
My personal style is a direct reflection of the person that I am and my lifestyle. I believe I’m an open-minded person with an unquenchable thirst and curiosity to discover the world and people around me. But I appreciate elegance and sophistication. I have a highly developed spiritual side and an innate connection to nature and all the wonders the earth has to offer. I don’t follow trends and always opt for classic, timeless pieces mixed with contemporary and unique designs. I have a real respect for the artisanal and traditional, but I am practical as well. I put all these elements together to create ease and balance.
Describe family life in the Yucatan Peninsula?
Valladolid is quiet, colonial town at the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula. It was built by Franciscan monks, who diagrammed the town in 1545 with an austere elegance that isn’t found anywhere else, in terms of proportions and colors that fused so effortlessly two very distinct worlds. We were drawn to this and just immediately had the sense that it was right, that this is where we belong. Life here is simple and beautiful. Valladolid is a place that immediately connects you to its history and magic. It feels as if it has been suspended in time, where the values and principles align with our own. That is why we chose to set down roots here and raise our children, so that they could grow-up free and connected to this earth that has been the base and inspiration to everything we’ve created.
I have always been inspired by you and now that I know you even more so. Who inspires you?
Strong, resilient indigenous women inspire me everyday. I have an admiration for these women who carry themselves with such grace and yet live hard, tough lives. Who have less and yet have to do and give more. These women humble me, keep me grounded and remind me that I can always do more, I can always give more and remind me of the things that truly matter: that the small details of our lives is what makes living so special. On the other hand, iconic women such as Frida Kahlo, are also a major source of inspiration. Frida carved her own self and built her image for herself. She did not just want to be known as Diego Rivera’s wife. Here was this woman with a huge imposing shadow casted over her and was able to come into the light all on her own because she defined who she was. She knew and loved herself more than anybody else would. Frida reminds me that it is vital to love and respect yourself and that in order to be able to do that you really have to know who you are. This forces me to look into the mirror and ask myself: Who am I? I am a mother, I am a businesswoman, I am a wife, a friend, a daughter. I am so many things but I am above all Francesca. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of really knowing who you are and who you want to be, otherwise you are vulnerable to be what others ask of you or what others think you should be. So these two spectrums of women give me the strength to critically and sincerely look within myself and know who I am. It’s scary, it really is because sometimes you don’t know if you’ll like what see, but it also gives you perspective to say: Ok, I don’t want to be this person. And then you go on to pursue who you want to be.
Tell me one thing we might not know about you?
I love mountaineering and skiing. I miss the snow and the mountains.
How do you find your balance, between family, work and you?
I try to always be very concentrated into what I’m doing and how I’m doing it because I hate wasting time. Anything that goes wrong because of lack of concentration means more time at work and less time with my children. And I love to be a present mother and be by their side. So concentration and focus are key. I am a practical person so whatever is not adding value to my life then I know I must let go of. Having my priorities in check helps me find balance.
Photographed by Ali Mitton on location in Valladolid, Mexico