The road from Tulum to Valladolid is a monotonous, single-lane highway. Besides exotic shrubbery and a few Mexican strip malls – really just a cement shack with rusty wired candy displays – there’s not much more than the faint and feel-good memory of the white sand and soothing ocean you left behind. If you’re moving fast the slower vehicles in front of you will veer to the right to grant you passage down the middle. It’s an unspoken but highly effective rule here. No one’s anxious or honking. At every major junction uniformed men with machine guns check your car and ask tactical questions: “Where are you from? Where are you going? Did you rent this car?” It’s routine business but nonetheless a little unsettling after spending days on a beach, away from civilization, barefoot and carefree.
Nicolas Malleville has been living in Mexico for over seven years. For him the one-and-a-half hour trip has become a weekly, if not daily occurrence. He runs a hotel in Tulum and a perfumery in Valladolid. His house and both businesses have been featured in dozens of fashion magazines as backdrops, in travel magazines described as must-see, off-the-beaten-path attractions, and in architectural magazines heralded for their simple and purely ecological design. Nicolas is not a stranger to the press himself. The handsome, Argentinian, Richard Gere look-a-like has been modeling since 1997 and graced the pages and covers of pretty much every major fashion publication. And he’s still in and out of New York when clients request him.
When I arrive at the house, rain clouds have gathered over Valladolid. The rooms are dark and humid but I am glad to feel the cold air of an air conditioner on my sun burnt skin. (My hotel room on the beach does not have AC). His wife Francesca summons me to the kitchen for tea and cake while Nicolas finishes a quick meeting with a local salesman and prepares the spare bedroom / closet for our shoot. The 30-minute rain shower is a welcome relief and leaves the courtyard smelling like tropical flowers. “Can you hear the birds?” Francesca asks me somewhat upset. “We have to keep them in the outdoor toilet because they’re too small and vulnerable to stay out here. Cats would eat them!” Nicolas got two baby peacocks for his birthday. His long time friend and fellow model Robert Konjic and his girlfriend Julia Restoin remembered his childhood infatuation with peacocks and found nothing better but to get him a pair! (You have to buy a boy and girl and get special food; they are sort of a protected animal in Mexico.) They even named the birds after them, so Nicolas would have them “in his life, every day”. And though the thought of that pleases him in theory, the practical notion of raising two of nature’s loudest and fussiest birds leaves him helpless and visibly nervous.
“People often wonder why Argentinians have such a colonial, 70’s way of dressing,” begins Nicolas as he calls me over to his closet. “It’s because people like Christian Dior allowed their brands to be licensed there. Argentina was a bubble in the 70’s. Until 1983 the military government did not allow any import or export. Designers set up shop there and sent us all the leftovers.” Much to the dismay of her people, Eva Peron was rumored to have had a huge collection of real Christian Dior tailleurs. The Christian Dior store in Buenos Aires still exists but has in fact nothing to do with the Parisian house. For one, the label is different. And it’s less expensive but great quality – Nicolas shows me a few of his vintage shirts and tweed jackets and I really find nothing cheap about them.
When he’s not in shorts and t-shirts at work, Nicolas loves to wear his grandfather’s and uncle’s old clothes. It’s a slightly disheveled but nonetheless elegant look, dominated by earthy, rich colors and perfected with the right pair of moccasins. I am stunned at how shoes this worn-out can look this good. (I could never pull that off!) At one point Nicolas was hired as a consultant by Gucci. He shows me a vintage tweed coat, and the black Gucci cashmere wool knock-off he stores in a garment bag. “They made an exact copy of this coat but the wool they used was better and absolutely fantastic!” Nicolas used to go vintage shopping a lot when he lived in Brooklyn. He doesn’t like spending too much money on clothes. “That’s why I can afford to have a few houses,” he laughs. And he remembers the origin and story behind every piece he shows me. The most intriguing and valuable piece of information he shares is about his vintage mustard alpaca scarf. Apparently these scarves go for an average of $3000 right now because the wool is very rare and the alpaca sheep are protected. “You will not see this scarf anywhere else!” he says triumphantly. “Alpaca wool is like fine cashmere. They make it from the shortest hair on the sheep’s back, which is the only place where the animal’s hair can’t get damaged.” Must be a very small spot….
Nicolas Malleville was the first man I shot for Tales of Endearment. I was always a bit iffy about guys wearing vintage clothing but if they’re all as knowledgeable and classy as Nicolas, I reckon you’ll see a lot more in the near future.