Mestiza mixes Filipina cocktail party chic with modern NYC fashion

Louisa Rechter and Alessandra Perez-Rubio are more than just best friends who happen to create a clothing line loved by today’s it girls.

While their infamous party dresses are spotted on Ashley Graham, Chrissy Teigen and “Riverdale” actress Madelaine Petsch, the designers’ affinity for all things embroidered, ruffled and lace are inspired by their Filipina heritage, hence the name Mestiza New York.

We chatted about what’s it like to grow up with two cultures, how their mothers supported their career choices and why you need to be connected to your culture.

How did Mestiza become the name of your clothing line?

Alessandra: Before we did anything else, Louisa and I picked out the name Mestiza. Not only did it roll off your tongue and sound a little bit sexy, we loved the meaning of the word: a woman of mixed ancestry. We were aligned on our brand message, then and there, that we wanted to create something that celebrated our shared Filipina-American heritage and fundamentally embodied the mesmerizing photographs of our mothers and grandmothers in the Philippines during the 60’s.

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What was it like for you to grow up with American and Filipina culture? 

Alessandra: Growing up I always had one foot firmly planted in the Philippines and the other in California. Having this bi-cultural upbringing in middle school and high school was such a special and unusual experience as a kid. I got to spend summers and winters on a completely different continent. I had a whole separate set of friends in each place and after a couple of days in one country my accent would completely change.

You count your mother and grandmothers as your muses. Why do they inspire you and what lessons have they taught you? 

Louisa: Ale and I conceptualized the brand based on vintage photographs of our mothers and grandmothers in the Philippines in the 1960s. How can you not be inspired?! Bouffants, Twiggy shift dresses, gold caftans at cocktail hour, martinis by the pool. When we were deciding whether or not to start Mestiza New York, our mothers were our number one champions, telling us to go for it.

I think the lessons we’ve learned from our mothers are to take risks, be gracious and humble along the way and if you’re going to do something, make it high quality, take the honest route and do your very best. Oh, and it’s better to be over-dressed than underdressed.

Was fashion design something you originally wanted to pursue? If so, what led you to follow your dreams? 

Alessandra: Fast forward to the summer of 2014, Lou and I were out at a bar commiserating about how we had all these black tie weddings and nothing to wear! It’s a fashion girl’s dilemma since the only dresses we were falling in love with were Marchesa and Oscar de la Renta dresses and those were way out of reach.

It sparked a fire in us and Mestiza was born that night over cocktails. We set out to create dresses that were equally artful but at a fraction of the price and finding time was tough. Mestiza was our side hustle but we were in love with building it into our main hustle: we crafted our collections after hours and on weekends, devising a plan of attack and gathering up enough courage to quit our day jobs and dive in headfirst. We took the plunge and never looked back.

Apart from the name, you’ve partnered with the Habi Philippine Textile Council to produce a traditional textile for your clothing line. When did you decide to collaborate?

Alessandra: We have partnered with The Habi Philippine Textile Council from the very beginning. Louisa and I knew that we wanted to create a brand with socially impactful values. They are an amazing organization based in Manila whose mission it is to sustain the Philippine cotton industry and support female textile weavers. Along with donating to the council annually, each season we integrate their hand woven fabrics into our collection and sell them exclusively on our website.

How do you feel about showing your cultural heritage in your designs?

Alessandra: Every season, I love going back to our namesake and finding new and different ways to infuse a little bit of Spanish-Filipina flair into the dresses. The Philippines boasts such a rich tradition of colonial wear that has always inspired me. The beautiful nature of these garments is not something you typically see in today’s fashion market. I really wanted to shed light on these sartorial traditions even in a very subtle way.

In Filipino culture, parties are a very big deal. How did this aspect become a part of your brand identity? 
Alessandra: I think that every culture embraces a sense of gathering in their own way and in the Philippines like many other Latin cultures, the women do love to dress up for important occasions!  Because of this we have so many gorgeous photographs of our mothers and grandmothers decked out in gorgeous cocktail dresses in the 1960’s. This sense of vintage wanderlust that I’ve seen time and again in these old photographs always act as the center of inspiration behind every Mestiza New York collection.
But I think that the reason cocktail dresses really resonate with the both of us is not because of our Philippines roots, but because of the fact that we both love to dress up in special timeless dresses!

For girls who want to learn more about their own culture and embrace this in design and business, what are your top tips?

Alessandra: I believe that one of the things that truly gives us purpose is our partnership with the Habi Philippine Textile Council. It is important to find a way to give back and be connected to your culture in a socially conscious way even though I don’t live full time in the Philippines.

Lastly, what’s the ideal dress for the party that you never want to end? 

Alessandra: It’s hard to just pick one! My first instinct for every fall formal event is to look for something glittering and gold.  Lou and I love our dramatic pieces, especially the show-stopping glitterati trumpet gown and the cha cha tassel dresses, both available at Neiman Marcus. We are always the girls who turn up overdressed to a party. That is the fun in dressing up to dance the night away.

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