Speaking to Jesus Herrera and Gabriel Brandon-Hanson from their ranch deep in the mountains of Veracruz, it’s difficult to picture them leading their lives anywhere else but idyllic Mexican countryside. It comes as a surprise, then, to learn the circumstances in which they first met: growing up in a small town in the rural Midwest.
The pair were introduced through Brandon-Hanson’s brothers when Herrera was 18, after which they began working together on the costumes for Chicago’s prestigious Joffrey Ballet company. Soon enough, they fell in love, but Herrera was facing a crossroads as he began considering a move back to his native country. “My family went to the U.S. illegally when I was 6, and this was before the DREAM Act,” Herrera explains. “I couldn’t figure out how I was going to pay for college, I couldn’t even get a driver’s license, so I told Gabe I wanted to come back here and go on an adventure.” Brandon-Hanson didn’t take much convincing: Having done a stint in the Marine Corps, he was disillusioned with life in the U.S. and ready for an adventure too.
Their interest in Mexican vintage began with an extended trip across the country’s southern states, where they started accumulating colorful, culturally rich vintage clothing and homewares on their regular trawls of local flea markets, or tianguis. “We were just picking stuff up for four or five pesos, everything from hand-carved masks to woolen ponchos,” Brandon-Hanson remembers. Five years later, a visit paid by their artist friend Kristy Luck from Los Angeles planted the initial seed that would become The Vintage Jesus, their secondhand online store dedicated to the handcrafted treasures they came across on their journeys. “Kristy asked us what we were going to do with all of this stuff,” says Herrera. “It was always a dream of ours to have a clothing brand, but we never really knew how to go about it, so she encouraged us to start with a shop.”
Beginning as an Etsy storefront in 2015, the project began attracting a global audience through Instagram, thanks in no small part to Herrera’s role as a model. Despite what appears to be preternatural ease in front of the camera as he poses daintily in the dresses with his signature long, flowing locks and beard, Herrera initially took some convincing. “We had tried some models, but it felt contrived for some reason,” Brandon-Hanson notes. “We wanted to make it a little more personal.” On this, Herrera agrees: “I think it looks so natural because I was wearing the clothes anyway. I’ve always appreciated and worn women’s clothes for as long as I can remember. I want people to notice how liberating the physical sensation of wearing them is.” Sourced almost entirely from a network of markets and artisans the pair have slowly built relationships with across Mexico, the secondhand offerings found on The Vintage Jesus have grown to include jewelry, bags, caftans, and even childrenswear.