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Mexicali Modern

One of the country’s best formalwear designers is based in our own backyard
Alexia Maria, hero

Alexia Maria, hero

Courtesy of Alexia Maria

For San Diego–based designer Alexia María Esquer, style runs through her DNA. Her grandmother’s atelier in Mexicali served as her childhood playground. At five, she started to sew, paint, and design, using whatever materials she could find. Old zippers. Broken jewelry. Scraps of cloth.

“Together, my grandmother and I could make something out of anything,” she says. When she did take a trip to the fabric store, it felt like a trip to Disneyland.

In adulthood, Esquer’s lifelong passion translated into a career. With her grandmother’s mentorship, she launched an eponymous clothing line in 2014, opening the first Alexia María store in La Jolla.

The Alexia María aesthetic is classically feminine with a modern twist: oversized bows and detachable capes, mini dresses, and column gowns.



Her designs pay homage to Golden Age film icons like Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. A voracious vintage shopper, Esquer notes that the craftsmanship of decades-old pieces is unparalleled, though she’s known to tweak her finds to modernize their silhouettes. “If I can’t find it, maybe I can try to make it,” she explains.

One signature Alexia María look: overskirts. En vogue in the ’50s, overskirts offer two options: Add it on for a formal dress, or leave it off for a jumpsuit. The Alexia María overskirt made its red carpet debut in early 2016 when actress Abigail Spencer turned heads in a red ensemble.

That classic look in a sea of trendy gowns soon garnered A-list interest. Ariana Grande, Paris Hilton, and Gwen Stefani have donned Alexia María gowns.

Yet while big names come calling, the designs are attainable enough to also fit black tie events and weddings, most often on bridesmaids, mothers of the bride, and guests.

In 2020, mid-pandemic, Esquer began to cater to an influx of brides who were scrambling to pull together backyard ceremonies and courthouse weddings. “They needed something fast,” she says. “And they needed something white.”

For smaller-scale weddings, brides were favoring alternative styles like midi dresses or jumpsuits. Galas and events were on pause, so the Alexia María atelier’s production time was faster than ever: seven to 10 business days. Orders rolled in, and in the months that followed, grateful brides sent photos, thanking the Alexia María team for being a bright spot in a hard time.

Alexia Maria, dresses

Alexia Maria, dresses

Courtesy of Alexia Maria

As large-scale weddings returned, Alexia María pieces became go-to’s for rehearsal dinners, engagement parties, and bridal showers. The pandemic shifted the Alexia María shopping experience; though the atelier no longer offers in-person appointments, customers can peruse new collections at trunk shows and select Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus stores.

Alexia María’s latest collection—fall/winter 2022/2023—might be the label’s most feminine yet. “I captured the dreamy feeling of Paris in this collection,” Esquer says. “Like a dramatic ruby gown with a long train and long bow. It makes you dream of dressing up, a big event, a romantic moment.”

“As an entrepreneur, business owner, and mother, I see modern femininity as embracing your essence and being confident in who you are,” she continues. “I always tell my customers, the most important thing you can wear is your confidence.”

As one of the foremost designers in the San Diego bridal and formalwear space, Esquer says she appreciates the petite size of the city’s design community. “There are great artists here in San Diego, but they each have their own niche,” she says. “And I get to have my family life and my personal life without feeling the rush of the fashion scene.”

Her family plays a big role. Esquer’s husband, Ricardo Rubio, is the brand’s CEO, while her sister-in-law Gabriela Rubio is the brand director. And, she adds, “Every time my grandmother visits me, she comes to my atelier and wants to cry because she can’t believe it.”

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