Narco Polo: The changing fashion of drug traffickers

When Mexican Police presented Edgar Valdez Villareal aka “La Barbie” to the media they did not assume that they would also be starting an impromptu advertising campaign for the all-American brand Ralph Lauren.

Big clothing companies such as Ralph Lauren usually pay influential sports stars lots of money to advertise their clothing and accessories. However narcotraffickers are influential characters themselves and idolised by people in the USA and throughout Latin America. La Barbie  - his nickname comes from being a bit of a ladies man – has been wanted by the Mexican and US authorities for the last 8 years and is a very high profile arrest. The US born ex-American football player reportedly was in charge of importing a ton of cocaine a month into the US and had to kill many rivals to arrive at his position, Curiously as the news of the arrest of “La Barbie” spread around the world people were posting comments on news websites not about the horror of his crimes but they were commenting on how nice his shirt was and asking where to get hold of one. 

The shirt “La Barbie” was wearing is a Ralph Lauren Big Pony polo in green with London emblazoned on the front and is available for $125 on the Ralph Lauren website. On MercadoLibre a Mexican version of Ebay, one seller is already offering a shirt “exactly the same as La Barbie” for $400 Pesos. The image he uses to advertise is of "La Barbie" wearing it at the press conference.

Ralph Lauren is not the only company to have possibly benefited from free advertising after high profile arrests of powerful narcotraffickers. According to El Universal a Mexican newspaper “La Barbie” La Barbie was also wearing Nike Air Max trainers.

When Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel another high profile drug trafficker was shot by the Mexican military last month, a video was released showing his lifeless body moments after he had been gunned down. In the video it is clear to the viewers that he is wearing a white Adidas t-shirt.

When Vicente Carrillo Leyva aka ‘The Engineer” was captured last year and paraded in front of the cameras in a matching Abercrombie and Fitch track suit. Vicente was the son of Amado Carrillo Fuentes one of the most infamous Mexican drug dealers and was nicknamed “The Lord of the Skies" due to his purchase of a fleet of 27 Boeing 727 airliners to transport cocaine to the US. Vicente had previously evaded capture by having plastic surgery on his face to appear different; this allowed him to live a relatively normal life in a wealthy suburb of Mexico City. His father died during a plastic surgery operation to disguise his identity.

The fashion sense of the new generation of narcos has changed significantly from the stereotypical outfit of boots, moustache, gold chains and a sombrero. TalkingDrugs contacted the Ralph Lauren Press Office asking for a statement about their free bit of global publicity but received no reply.

Select newsletters to receive