Redesigning magical realism

"The first condition of magical realism, as its name indicates, is that it’s absolutely true, though it seems fantastic.”

– Gabriel Garcia Márquez

 Agua de León's walls are accented with bronze racks for  Lobo Rosa ,  Liza Echeverry , and other prominent designers.

Agua de León's walls are accented with bronze racks for Lobo Rosa, Liza Echeverry, and other prominent designers.

A bar where you can sip delicious rum cocktails while shopping for local brands? In a world where lions have flowery manes, monkeys are covered in Jaguar fur, and butterflies display zebra-patterned skin, such a concept is not so far-fetched. This is the daydream turned reality of Alberto Sandoval and Rebecca Londoño, owner and director, respectively, of Agua de León, the recently opened bar and multibrand clothing store located in a heavily-frequented corner of Cartagena’s emblematic Plaza Santo Domingo.

A brisk walk through the store leaves us wondering whether we’ve stepped into a gallery tour of trendy Colombian fashions, but by the time we reach the La Hechicera bar at the far end of the spot (Agua de León teamed up with the award-winning Colombian rum producer in what we can only call a brilliant cobranding move), we are sure we’ve reached something a bit more special. With a DJ setting the mood, a barman whipping up delicious drinks, ambient lighting, and sleek décor, the temptation is to stay.

 A view of the jewelry rack, photo by Sebastian Franco.

A view of the jewelry rack, photo by Sebastian Franco.

 In the reflection, resort wear by  Daniella Batlle .

In the reflection, resort wear by Daniella Batlle.

Behind the sleek yet inviting interior is Bogotá-based architecture and design studio Colette Studio, who brought Alberto and Rebecca’s ambitious ideas to life along with a restoration architect formally endorsed by Cartagena’s Committee for Historical and Cultural Heritage. With high ceilings supported by calicanto arches, traditional brick masonry, deep walnut carpentry, Calacatta marble tabletops, and oval-shaped mirrors framed in bronze, the interior upholds colonial architecture while endorsing modern design movements like art deco and minimalism.

 A view of the store from the back, photo by Sebastian Franco.

A view of the store from the back, photo by Sebastian Franco.

Visual branding and logo creation were done by branding and advertising studio Creamos Agencia of Medellín, whose palette of rich greens and pink transmit a landscape worthy of one of Colombian Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novels. Meanwhile, a look at Agua de León’s Instagram transports us to a whimsical art gallery of textures and images that capture the flavors of the coast and Agua de León’s unique perspective, rather than the social media account of a store trying to up its sales. That is because their images are managed by none other than the talented plastic artist Santiago Marzola, a force behind Colombian blogger Fashionlessons’ flawless visuals.

 The store's signature mannequins were imported from Holland.

The store's signature mannequins were imported from Holland.

 The bar was crafted in walnut wood with bronze accents and a marble tabletop, photo by  Santiago Marzola .

The bar was crafted in walnut wood with bronze accents and a marble tabletop, photo by Santiago Marzola.

The store’s assortment of designers, ranging from Renata Lozano to Mercedes Salazar to Ballen Pellettiere to Eugenia Fernandez, offers a unique curation of resort wear, with each designer designated his or her own visual space. In Londoño’s words, “If the designer has their own distinctive space, their story or version of reality will be told by their products.”

 The original calicanto arches are a key element of the interior, photo by Santiago Marzola.

The original calicanto arches are a key element of the interior, photo by Santiago Marzola.

 A view of the bronze racks framed by calicanto brick arches, photo by Santiago Marzola.

A view of the bronze racks framed by calicanto brick arches, photo by Santiago Marzola.

Agua de León’s ultimate proposal is for us to ask ourselves what would happen if we looked at the world through different eyes. Putting this kind of a spin on Garcia Marquez’ magical realism is what ultimately allowed the Agua de León brand to take shape. The unique name comes from a combination of two juxtaposing symbols: fluid, acquiescent water, and the lion, a symbol of strength and earth, a coupling that inspires us to question what is real and suggests an alternative truth more exciting and beautiful than what we are used to. instagram.com/aguadeleon