The Mexican coloring that captivated the world

A deep red that captivates our senses and has a story to tell. The use of cochineal as dye goes back to ancient times and is one of the greatest contributions of pre-Columbian Mexico to the world of fashion and clothing. 

This one-of-a-kind coloring comes from an insect called Dactylopius Coccus, a cactus plague that was domesticated in Mesoamerica long before the arrival of the conquistadors by the people of the Mixtec are of the State of Oaxaca. These bugs eat the sap of the cactus and produce carminic acid as a defense mechanism. The dried bodies of the cochineals are ground and boiled in water to obtain a coloring that fixes very well in fabrics like silk, wool, and cotton. This dye turned out to be one of the most relevant discoveries for the Spanish colonizers, as valuable as gold or silver since red was the favorite color for the attire of kings, nobles, and high clerics, as it was regarded as a symbol of power, purity, and greatness. For more than four centuries, the Mexican coloring was exported to all Europe and even reached the palette of legendary painters like Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Even the greatest Italian dyers of the 16th century created secret formulas using the Mexican cochineal. The Mexican coloring astonished the world for the gorgeous deep crimson it produced and because of its fixation and saturation in diverse materials.

The arrival of the 20th century brought mass production, low-cost synthetic dyes that didn’t involve the demanding process of breeding the insect. As a result, the use and consumption of the cochineal coloring shrunk to almost extinction. 

The 21st century arrived with a new sense of sustainability and return to its origins. The wonderful Mexican red is going through a revival. Its production is still artisanal, with a few families who have been passing the knowledge from generation to generation in charge. Today, it is possible to purchase garments dyed with cochineal directly from the artisans who practice these techniques of manufacturing and coloring, in stores that promote popular Mexican art, such as Fonart, and in the catalog of designers who are working to defend, preserve, and bring to the world Mexico’s ancestral techniques and materials.

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