Mexico City Insider: Chava Studio’s Olivia Villanti

Adjacent to Museo Estudio Luis Barragan, Chava Studio’s breezy linen and cotton pieces look entirely at home in Mexico City. The fact that Chava’s founder, Olivia Villanti, is originally from New York state hardly seems to matter. She met her Mexico City-born husband while studying in Barcelona in 2003. The next year, he took her to Mexico. “My first visit felt chaotic and exciting. It's a city that has so much spirit, it didn't surprise me that so many famous authors, writers, artists have made this city home at some point,” she says. After that visit, the two returned at least once every year.

In 2020, Olivia founded Chava Studio, working closely with her husband’s family of artisans in what she calls a “lucky accident.” Her husband’s family “has been importing fine fabrics from Europe into Mexico for decades and set up a studio here offering made to measure shirting for men. When I moved here I started making my own clothes and having the studio create designs that were floating around in my head. Every time we created something it turned out even more amazing than I had imagined it would. I'd worked for more than 15 years in fashion in New York and had been wanting to work on something that felt small, special and the antithesis of commercial fast fashion. This business is just that. It's inspiration that drives it now, but the beginning was really a result of fateful circumstances.”

What does Olivia love most about her new home? “So much. The people. The culture. The food. The fact that it's one of the least pretentious cultural capitals I can think of. It invites you with open arms. People are warm and rightfully proud. There is so much creativity in this country/city. Architecture, food, art, hand-crafts, objects, interiors...there is so much to see and experience.”

Read on for Olivia’s recommendations of the activities, shops, restaurants and museums that she loves most in Mexico City.

Contact Indagare or your Indagare Trip Designer to plan your next visit to Mexico City.

The New Top Table

Photos by @analorenzana and @diegopadillama on Instagram, courtesy Botanico

Photos by @analorenzana and @diegopadillama on Instagram, courtesy Botanico

Botánico (Alfonso Reyes 217, Condesa) recently had its soft opening and the setting is gorgeous, open-air with a beautiful bar, great lighting and private dining rooms that can be booked in advance. Plus, I am really impressed with the food. A gem!”

For Seafood

“My husband's uncle, who produces the pieces I create for Chava Studio, took me to lunch at a place that blew my mind: El Rey de Los Mariscos. It remains one of my favorite hole-in-the-wall spots for incredible seafood and a relaxed, fonda-style atmosphere. Meanwhile, Don Vergas is my standby for fresh Sinaloa-style seafood. They just opened a new location because the old one was impossible to get a table at.”

Snack Time

Snacking is best done on the street: I love the markets in Mexico and often stop for quesadillas or tacos. If you're in Mexico you absolutely need to try tacos al pastor, the city's signature dish (slow roasted pork tacos). There's a place called Orinoco which has a few locations throughout the city and they do it really well.”

The Dinner Favorite

Rosetta has so much to love: Ambiance, incredible food, great location...I've been going to Rosetta and taking friends there for years and it never disappoints. You can easily spend hours there drinking wine or mezcal sobremesa (post-meal).”

For the Sweet Spot

Cherimoya, a fruit I had never had in the States and is to this day the most exquisite and delicious I've ever tasted. Go to the Tuesday farmer's market in Condesa and get one there, you can even sample it before buying. It's loosely translated into "custard apple" because it's something between the tang of an apple, the creaminess of a banana and the richness of something that I have yet to define.”

For Drinks

“Hit up a cantina for a beer and mezcal. Covadonga (Puebla 121, Roma Norte) and El Centenario (Av. Vicente Suárez 42, Colonia Condesa) are my favorites—they have so much character and are a favorite of locals, not just tourists.”

The Art Stops

Labor Gallery (General Francisco Ramírez 5, Ampliación Daniel Garza; is right across the street from our studio and represents some of the most interesting Mexican artists, including the sculptor Pedro Reyes. Also, my friend Adeline de Monseignat and her husband Pablo Laborde (both incredibly talented sculptors) own an artist's studio called Studio Block M74 which is open by appointment and you can actually see artists' working in the spaces they rent. It is off-the-beaten-path and such a gem.”

The Must-See Museum

“The Anthropology Museum

is…a beautiful preservation of Mexico's history. All visitors should spend time there to truly understand and appreciate the cultural impact Mexico has had. Mexico is rich, complex, deep, spiritual, welcoming, intoxicating, inspiring, energetic and unlike any other place in the world.”

The Shopping Highlights


“This Polanco boutique has a very well-curated selection of Mexican designers. It's a bit of an institution in Mexico City and has everything from jackets and tunics to homegoods.”

Mercado de Artesanías la Ciudadela. “This is the best market for handcrafts. It's open seven days a week, so it's never too busy and it has everything from linens to silver to barro negro (black clay pottery from Oaxaca). Where else can you find so many beautiful handcrafts in one place? I spend hours there finding stuff for our home and my studio.”

The Hangout Spot

Tetetlan is a cultural center and restaurant next door to Casa Pedregal, one of the many beautiful Barragan-designed buildings in CDMX. The space includes a mix of Mexican designers like Yakampot, Carla Fernandez and Andra Neen alongside one-of-a-kind homegoods. It has an extensive library of design, architecture and art books that you can sit and peruse while drinking coffee or wine, and I can spend hours there perusing their beautiful collection.”

Designers to Note: My friend Su has a shop in her garage called Casa Ahorita. It's open sporadically (check her IG) but it includes the most beautiful pieces from artisans across the country and a selection of international ceramists' works. If you need a special gift, this place is the ideal place to find it.

The After-Meal Moment:

Sobremesa. Wherever you are, someone's home, a restaurant, a cantina, a doesn't matter. But once the meal is over take time to sit and enjoy the company you are with. This has been a beautiful lesson for me here and it is testament to the values of Mexico which are largely rooted in family and community.”

Contact Indagare or your Indagare Trip Designer to plan your next visit to Mexico City.

Related: Read more from our Mexico City Insider series, with guides from:

Published onMarch 22, 2023

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