Architect Frida Escobedo talks taste
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
My personal style signifier is my hair – which I wear up, either in a mid-parted ponytail or a bun. I’ve been doing it like this since university. It’s become a thing! It’s just easy for me to style it that way, and it looks polished, from day to night. And I almost always wear black tailored trousers, in more of a menswear style. I have a pair from Balenciaga’s unisex Garde collection that I wear all the time because they’re very loose and comfortable. Bottega Veneta also makes excellent pants.
The last thing I bought and loved was a sofa – a Knoll Brigadier. It’s a classic leather sofa, very low, designed in the 1960s by Cini Boeri, an Italian female designer. I wanted this sofa for many, many years and I’m really excited that it’s now in my apartment.
The places that mean a lot to me are New York and Mexico City, both such stimulating cities. I split my time between both and I couldn’t feel luckier. Mexico City is where my family is, and the place that grounds me. New York has always given me incredible opportunities. I also have very dear friends there who encourage me to do new things.
And the best souvenirs I’ve brought home are jasmine tea from China, which smells beautiful. And seeds from a dandelion field at Villa La Rotonda – a 16th-century building designed by Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio just outside Vicenza in northern Italy – which I am hoping to use for a project soon.
The last music I downloaded was Afrique Victime, the album by Mdou Moctar; it’s modern rock inspired by Tuareg guitar music. Portishead is always on repeat on my Spotify. And some Black Sabbath – especially the songs that are on the moody side, such as “Orchid”.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is Blue Nights by Joan Didion. It is a book about loss but also about being a woman, being a mother – or not being able to be a mother – about ageing, and all things that fascinate and terrify me at the moment. It is a book about utter acceptance. And recently, my sister María published her first book, Linfa – a collection of poems. I couldn’t find words for specific moments of change or loss that happened in my life until I read these poems. But that’s what poets do: they allow us to see our experiences and emotions in a new light.
The best gift I’ve given is an olive tree. It is a victory sign, given to a loved one who was ill.
And the best gift I’ve received is flowers from my mother. She has a magnolia tree in her garden and every year when it blooms she sends me a flower. They last for only a few hours, but it’s beautiful and reminds me so much of her.
The podcasts I listen to are Red Scare, a cultural commentary; and A History of the World in 100 Objects by the BBC. I think it’s fascinating to understand the history of human culture through material artefacts. They hold so many stories. The episodes on the Mexican Codex Map and the Shadow Puppet of Bima are two of my favourites.
My favourite buildings include the Mosque of Cordoba and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. They’re both so striking.
I have a collection of weird objects and found trinkets, from seashells to stones to pieces of brick – small fragments of things, mementoes of places I’ve travelled to, and of specific moments. Some are displayed at home, others are in the studio because they work almost like inspiration tools for the texture or the story behind them. I’ve made a book about my collection, The Book of Hours, published by Lars Müller Publishers. I love it especially because I worked on it with my two sisters: Ana is a photographer, so took pictures of the objects, and María wrote poems and texts for each.
In my fridge you’ll either find lots of veggies or just wine. It’s either-or. I like to have jars pre-filled with cucumber, celery and ginger to make a quick green juice in the morning. I have Parmigiano Reggiano and manchego cheese, kefir, arugula, my mother-in-law’s kumquat jam and currently a bottle of Kongsgaard, a lovely Chardonnay. But even if the fridge is full, if there is no bread or butter I feel I have nothing to eat.
My style icon is my mom. In the ’70s she would wear flared jeans, a black turtleneck, clogs and a huipil – a handwoven embroidered cotton caftan. Later, in the ’80s, she changed her style to pencil skirts and wide-shouldered jackets with a thick silver chain around her neck all the time, and Gucci almond-toe pumps.
An indulgence I would never forgo is dessert. I’m always in search of the perfect panna cotta. The one at Estela – chef Ignacio Mattos’s restaurant in New York – is amazing. I also love tarte tatin; my mother’s is the best. Or a good chocolate mousse… I mean, any kind of dessert.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a vintage Phoebe Philo Céline black silk shirt with a still-life print – a mix of fruits and flowers, like an old Dutch painting.
The beauty staples I’m never without are skincare from Botica Cebeth in Mexico City, which uses phytotherapy and mixes custom formulas to your skin type. I use the cleanser, toner, night and day creams – I have really dry skin – and clay mask. For evening make-up, I like a red lip. My current favourites are Hermès Orange Brûlé and Dries Van Noten Antwerp Vermeil. I also have Chanel’s Stylo Ombre et Contour in Electric Brown, and Byredo Space Black mascara, which has the prettiest packaging. I get dizzy with strong perfumes, so I like to use really subtle ones such as I Don’t Know What by DS & Durga.
In another life, I would have been a film set or costume designer. But I also would have loved to have been able to sing or to dance. I really like seeing people express emotions with their body, and I often go to the opera in New York. I recently saw Aida at the Met; the stage design was just so spectacular.
My favourite room in my house is the living room of my apartment in Mexico City. I live in the Paseo de la Reforma, a big avenue running through the centre of the city – you can see the Monumento a la Independencia and Chapultepec Park – yet the space feels very calm and quiet. I love waking up before sunrise and sitting in here with my dog, Sony, a German pointer. I try to meditate every morning and he lies right next to me. I have a big comfortable sofa, but also a Paulistano chair – designed by Paulo Mendes da Rocha in 1957. It’s a little bit bouncy, so you feel like you’re in a hammock. And the centre coffee table is a mock-up of one of my designs – a scaled-down model of a dining table.
The first work of art that spoke to me was The Acrobat by Picasso. My mother told me that when I was very little she took me to see an exhibition that included this painting, and I insisted that she got me the poster. It hung in my childhood bedroom for years.
My beauty and wellbeing gurus are Alejandra at Cebeth for facials and all my skincare; David Mallett in New York for my hair; Dr Wang for acupuncture, for stress mostly; and physiotherapist Sergio Vega – he is the absolute best and has helped enormously with my back problems. I also love a good massage. In New York I like going to Shibui Spa at the Greenwich Hotel and the Odyssey treatment at Ricari Studios, at the Mercer.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Hieronymus Bosch. But, more realistically, I currently have my eye on a piece by Mexico City-based artist duo ASMA, formed by Matias Armendaris and Hanya Beliá. They make really interesting work cast in metal and silicone – soft and diaphanous yet intricate landscapes, full of meaning and symbolism. And I’d love something by Vivian Suter, who makes colourful abstract paintings in her outdoor studio in Costa Rica.
I’ve recently rediscovered that exercise makes me feel good. I go for long periods of time without doing any, but I need it. Yoga, specifically. Even doing 15 minutes in the morning makes me feel great. MAAT Metodo is a great Pilates studio in Mexico City, but because I travel all the time I often do the on-demand classes from The Class or The Floss on my phone.
The best bit of advice I ever received was “stay slippery”, from architect Kersten Geers. I take it to mean don’t get stuck, don’t repeat yourself, keep exploring, be fluid and hard to grasp. Don’t allow people to know what they can get from you.
Frida Escobedo is the winner of the 2024 Charlotte Perriand Award