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Style + Design

Fashion Designer Nanette Lepore Has Designs on the Globe

Nanette Lepore has spent her career marrying the foreign and the familiar, bringing the magic of travel into the kind of cuts you can wear every day. Julie Earle-Levine dishes with the designer on her recent stay in Mexico City, how travel informs her designs and what trips top her bucket list

The gypsy life has always come naturally to Nanette Lepore. Each summer her painter father and boho-chic mom would take the family for roadtrips down Route 66. From shopping the souks of Marrakech to partying on New York’s Lower East Side, Lepore has a knack for weaving the exotic into the every day. It’s that unique balance that has attracted fans like Scarlett Johansson, Michele Obama and Taylor Swift.

The latest destination to catch her eye? Mexico City.

“It’s the new Berlin, a place that embodies what is both cool and modern, along with old school craftsmanship and beautiful embroidery,” Lepore says.

Her dad, an abstract painter, suggested the two go to explore murals by Diego Rivera at the National Palace. They booked a stay at Hotel Busue, a former mansion turned boutique stay with hand painted Mexican frescoes.

Lepore found inspiration in the stylish locals at the rooftop bar and in the city’s markets. “Mexico is one of few countries where you can still get authentic handmade pieces.”

The rainbow of textiles in the country appealed to Lepore’s passion for color, from a turquoise and purple peasant top to a scarf that mixed neon green and orange against yellow and red. “The colors are so amazing – not just in the markets but everywhere you go. We spent a day on the canals and each boat was painted in these brilliant beautiful colors.”

Expect those bold colors to find their way into future collections. “There’s a bright happiness to the colors in Mexico City, the crazy unconventional color mix. And I want to dwell in a happy world,” Lepore says.

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Favorite city to shop in

I love shopping in Marrakech. It’s a blast. There is a new excitement with designers there, so you can get a new young designer putting together great patchwork handbags, or vintage, inlaid wood and beautiful studded leather pieces. I buy sparkly tops, sandals, gorgeous embroidered caftans. It’s so bohemian.

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Perfect New York day

I love wandering around the Lower East Side, Chinatown and Little Italy. I take Saturday afternoon to myself and head to that part of town. There are cool little vintage stores, fun flea markets and beautiful handmade pottery shops. I love the authentic Chinese robes and embellished Chinese slippers. I often end up in Little Italy where I have a cappuccino and cannoli. When I first moved to the city I did that. Manhattan has lost some of its uniqueness, but it still exists in that little pocket. I always go to Dimes for a great a healthy lunch and then pop in to Stanley's Pharmacy for some unique elixirs and concoctions. My teenage daughter loves shopping at Reformation. I love wandering into any souvenir shop in Chinatown.

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Favorite market

It has to be the witchcraft market in Mexico City, the Mercado de Sonora. It was fascinating, with all kinds of potions. I bought a lucky charm to ward off evil, and a crazy bunny mask from this wall of papier mache masks that were really wild looking.

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Most memorable meal

I will always long for a meal at Trattoria Da Armandino’s on the Marina De Praia beach near Praiano, on the Amalfi Coast. We go to the same restaurant every night. You are sitting outside and they pull the fish right off the boat there. Armandino is a great personality. You drink wine, and eat delicious homemade pasta and fresh fish. I’m going next summer.

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Favorite souvenir

A beautiful pair of Murano glass dancing women from the 1930s. I love them so much. I’ve been to Venice a few times, but finally I took the plunge. It’s terrifying to buy glass and to carry it around, so I picked it, and had it shipped back. It made it in one piece and is on the mantel in my living room. They are beautiful and elegant, nude but with floaty orange skirts on.

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Favorite thing to collect while traveling

In Venice, I come back with millions of hand-tooled leather mini pouches and eyeglass cases and wallets, that come in beautiful colors and have gold leaf on them. I have a drawer full of them. Once in while I buy a handbag, but they don’t make so many.

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Most inspiring city for style

Mexico City – that is my new favorite city. I just fell in love with the people and personality of the city. It’s disheveled but very chic, and has its own sense of style.

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Dream destination

Two right now. I’m hankering to go to Cuba for spring break and Bhutan, which is a bigger challenge for me. I don’t like flights longer than eight hours.

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Favorite childhood travel memory

We used to drive to California almost every summer. There would be times, we’d get in the car at 5 am, and wake up to the sunrise in the painted desert. It was stunning. I have memories of sunrise out west, as a kid surrounded by color, oranges that look like the sky is on fire.

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Favorite place to unwind after Fashion Week

Usually after the winter show, I head to Miami for a couple of days. A long weekend in South Beach is quick and easy. Tulum is getting a little crowded, and now there are other places in Mexico that I want to explore, like Merida.

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