This year, in a federal prison in Manhattan, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman quietly signed a contract to help launch his family’s latest business venture.
The new company had nothing to do with drugs, violence or other illicit activities associated with Guzman, the former leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel who in February was found guilty in U.S. federal court of drug trafficking, money laundering and conspiracy to murder.
No, it turns out the world’s most notorious drug kingpin is lending his name to fashion.
Guzman’s wife, a former beauty queen named Emma Coronel, is launching a clothing line she says is inspired by her and her husband’s style.
The brand will be called El Chapo Guzman.
“I am very excited and hope I can create things that everyone likes,” Coronel wrote in a post on Instagram this week, in which she solicited designers to come work for the new company.
The contract Guzman signed from prison in February grants the rights to his name and signature to a limited liability company headed by Coronel, said Michael Lambert, an attorney who represented Guzman during his recent trial.
Lambert said that none of the profits from the business will go to Guzman, and that the the new company will not do business with his client. “Additionally, none of the start-up money or any future funding will be connected to him in any way.”
Earnings will go to Coronel, who is raising the couple’s twin daughters; her husband is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for June, but his attorneys have asked for a new trial, alleging juror misconduct.
Although the family’s entree into fashion may be unexpected, it may make good business sense.
Guzman’s image — square jaw, beady eyes, black mustache — is ubiquitous in Mexico, where it is emblazoned on posters, ball caps and T-shirts.
None of those products are trademarked to use his identity, and his family sees none of the profits.
In parts of the country, Guzman is considered as a celebrity, and he and his wife have long been viewed as style icons.
During the former kingpin’s three-month trial, his wife showed up at court each morning looking ready for a fashion show, often in tight pants and towering heels. Photos of her — highlighting, say, a whimsical shirt with bows or her signature sleek haircut — were frequently run by news organizations in Mexico and the United States that seemed to have a limitless appetite for trial-related content.
In January, she and her husband made headlines when they showed up in matching velvet blazers. Many believed it was meant to signal their unity during a week in which one of Guzman’s former mistresses testified against him.
The drug kingpin is a trendsetter in his own right.
In 2015, while on the lam from Mexican authorities after his second daring prison break, he invited actors Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo to meet him at a mountain hide-out in northern Mexico.
For the occasion, Guzman donned a flashy blue shirt that looked like a cowboy’s take on Versace.
After photos of the encounter were published far and wide, the Los Angeles-based company that made the shirt reported skyrocketing sales and so many visits to its website that it crashed.
The meeting helped fuel Guzman’s standing as a fashionable folk hero — but may have ultimately led to his downfall. Mexican authorities arrested the drug lord several months later and said the secret reunion had been an “essential element” in helping locate him. He was extradited to the U.S. the following year.