Mexican design shows a mix of cultural influences. The tooled leather tradition can be traced back to Spanish saddle decorations, but decorated leather made from deer and other hides were found in ancient Mesoamerican tombs.
The Spanish saddle patterns tended to be flowers and flowing shapes similar to European traditions. After Mexican independence, pride in Mexico’s Indigenous heritage, as well as the tourist trade, created a demand for pre-colonial symbols, as we see in this leather briefcase from the 1950s.
The skull was originally a symbol in an Aztec ceremony for ancestors. This later merged with the Catholic religion to become Día de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”), similar to the way that an ancient Celtic tradition became Halloween in Europe. Colored skulls made of sugar ("calaveritas de azúcar") are placed on an altar or grave, so when transferred to leather this pattern is called a “sugar skull” or “calaveritas”.