Coqui sounds like the Spanish word for coconut. “When I came down here, everyone thought I was nuts,” Malleville explains. “They said I was coqui coqui.” Before long, however, Malleville developed another reputation: the foreigner obsessed with Mayan handicrafts and traditional building techniques. In Valladolid, where his third Coqui Coqui hotel and spa will be completed this fall, he recently opened a small café and a shop where he sells scarves, baskets, ropes, hats and housewares. At first, area artisans “kept making what they thought an American would like,” says Malleville. “But I didn’t want that. I wanted what they had in their own houses.” In all of his Yucatán ventures, Malleville strives for some measure of authenticity. He used 500-year-old tiles for the floor of his café, for instance, and his design for the Coba hotel was inspired by the nearby Mayan ruins.
Although availability at his hotels is extremely limited, the Coqui Coqui empire is definitely growing. Last fall Malleville and another model pal invested in a property on the French-Italian border, where they plan to build a spa. And Malleville says he hopes to open a hotel back in Argentina one day.
Meanwhile, he’s still very much in demand in the fashion firmament (that was him sandwiched between Jessica Stam and Erin Wasson in last fall’s Roberto Cavalli for H&M ads), with no immediate plans to retire. “Modeling has served me well,” he says. “It’s taken me all over the world, introduced me to amazing people and made me good money.” However, what he says is most fulfilling to him these days is what he’s doing in the Yucatán. “It’s the most important thing to me,” he says. “Quality of life, nature, authenticity, something real.” And that’s not just posing.