It was almost inevitable that Sandra Chollet would end up living in Mexico. “I’ve always been connected to Mexico through the women in my family,” says Chollet, director of Casa Dragones Mexico, the three-year-old tequila brand launched by Bob Pittman, founder of MTV and AOL. “My grandmother moved here with her diplomat first husband, my godmother spent time in Mexico and my mother and aunt were born and partially raised here,” says Chollet. “I had this ‘heritage’ about Mexico passed down to me even though I never managed to visit until I was 30 years old.”
Ten years on, Chollet, who was born in Paris and graduated with an international business degree from the Ecole des Cadres, has finally made Mexico City her home. She arrived to begin her new job during the “swine flu” epidemic, in the summer of 2009, after a project with Bloomingdale’s in Dubai was derailed by the recession.
Chollet’s home is a contemporary two-bedroom with office apartment in the capital’s upscale Colonia Polanco quarter, north of verdant Chapultepec Park. She lives just off Campos Eliseos, Mexico City’s literal Champs-Elysées. Coursed by leafy calles named after politicians (Calle Masaryk) and playwrights (Calle Molière), Polanco is Mexico City’s Beverly Hills – although traditional tortilla bakeries and taco stands still command pride of place alongside global retailers such as Zara and Louis Vuitton.
For Chollet, the district’s central location, quality restaurants and weekend market – along with its authenticity – are Polanco’s appeal. “I have these massive windows through which you can see the surrounding jacaranda trees,” she says. “Each year in spring they all bloom in unison, which turns the neighbourhood into the most wondrous shade of purple.”
More than 50 years after Chollet’s grandmother – today the Baroness Gina de Koenigswarter – first arrived here as the wife of France’s cultural attaché, Mexico remains as colourful as it was back then, during the days of the artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Cultured and curious, de Koenigswarter immersed herself in Mexico City’s bohemian demi-monde, befriending artists such as sculptor Mathias Goeritz and even Rivera himself, who painted several portraits of her. “I was lucky enough to receive one of those paintings on my 20th birthday,” says Chollet, herself a diplomat’s daughter raised between France, Trinidad and Singapore.
Despite growing up steeped in the spirit of Mexico, living in the country has proven a revelation. “Mexico may have been my destiny but the reality has been far more than I expected,” she says. “Mexico City is increasingly international and cosmopolitan, with incredibly sophisticated art and culinary scenes.” Chollet’s work takes her all over the country – from Mexico City, where she handles most of Casa Dragones’ domestic marketing, to the tequila-growing/producing region in north-central Mexico near Guadalajara, to the company’s physical home-base in the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende. Her weekends and holidays are spent exploring “the colours and flavours of Mexico’s endless colonial towns, beach towns and mining towns”. She feels welcome throughout the country and is concerned yet sanguine about Mexico’s notorious crime problem.
“Security issues are quite regional and specific in Mexico, and safety in Mexico City itself has improved in recent years,” says Chollet. “I’m careful but just like I would be in any big city such as Rio or New York,” where she worked for five years for Barneys New York. Far more irksome, she notes, is the capital’s “hellish traffic”, which Chollet avoids by any means necessary. With her apartment doubling as her office, she is able to conduct most meetings close to – if not within – her home. As for engagements beyond Colonia Polanco’s confines, “They’re scheduled well after peak congestion times. And I do have a driver,” she concedes. “After all, I work in the alcohol business.”
Owing to Casa Dragones’ food-world connections, Chollet has become immersed in Mexico’s culinary arena, which she proudly explains was the first national cuisine to be recognised by Unesco’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Through strategic partnerships and corporate sponsorships, Chollet has worked with some of the country’s best chefs, such as Dulce Patria’s Martha Ortiz, Enrique Olvera of Pujol and Laura Esquivel, who wrote the novel Like Water for Chocolate.
Chollet’s favourite time of year is in April during Zona Maco, the city’s annual contemporary art fair, when global as well as local galleries – such as Kurimanzutto and OMR – present their works amid a swirl of exhibitions, dinners and parties. “During Maco the city shines brightest and truly comes to life,” says Chollet.
Three years after arriving in Mexico, Chollet says the country might well become her final destination. Although she misses Europe’s cultural mix, Mexico fulfils her needs as an intellectual, businesswoman and culture aficionado – while providing a lifestyle that offers comfort without forsaking challenge. “The standard of living is quite high,” she says. “Yet whether it’s the economy or crime or swine flu, Mexico suffers incredibly tough moments. I love the resilience of this culture; the Mexicans are survivors.”
● Sophisticated local and international communities; culinary, cultural and art scenes
● Easy access to beaches, colonial towns and nature
● Mexico is well connected with every major city in the US, Central and South America
● Crime and violence – though waning in Mexico City – is endemic nationwide
● Mexico City’s traffic is among the world’s worst
● Real estate in upmarket neighborhoods is expensive
What you can buy for …
$100,000 A three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in suburban Pachuca de Soto far from the city centre
$1m A three-bedroom, three-bathroom 220 sq m apartment in Polanco with full security in a luxury-serviced building