Buenos Aires, Argentina
Essay by Tag Christof
Photography by Catalina Bartolomé
July 19 2016
Modernity is a grand tradeoff. Take Italy: long derided by northern Europe as backwards and slow‚ framed in a different way‚ it is the world’s eighth-largest economy and is made up of mostly family-owned businesses. And unlike most other nations‚ who mostly derive their wealth from finance‚ energy‚ pharmaceuticals‚ or technology‚ Italy makes its way in the world by selling beautiful‚ tangible things through equally beautiful brands: textiles and ready-to-wear from old stalwarts like Brioni and Loro Piana; audacious cars‚ yachts‚ and motorbikes; superlative foodstuffs; and fine objects and furniture from names like La Marzocco and Alessi. It is an old-fashioned model‚ to be sure‚ but it not only works‚ it has given generations of Italians something to be justifiably proud of.
But things are changing fast. Hot on the heels of its world’s fair this year‚ Milan is a newly shiny metropolis with new starchitecture from David Chipperfield‚ OMA‚ Hadid‚ and others now lining its formerly sleepy streets. These big names are burnishing its already solid credentials as the world’s real capitale del disegno‚ a reputation which translates to handsome corporate investments. Venice’s biennales generate untold riches in the art world‚ too‚ and posh tourism from Lake Como to Palermo is as fashionable as ever.
For at least the last century‚ Italy has been the place to have fine objects made. It has always been more open to foreign designers than France‚ more affordable than Britain‚ and more artful than Germany. Its ateliers in the bucolic hinterlands of Florence and Genoa and Turin crank out beautiful leather goods for big and small brands alike. Tech juggernaut Audi even bought iconic brands Lamborghini and Ducati to grow its own sporty cachet. But all that money and new pressure to please shareholders has over the past decade driven demand to a breaking point. Some Tuscan apparel factories have notoriously and surreptitiously imported Chinese labor in order to keep Made in Italy artificially cheap. The healthier family owned tanneries and ateliers are increasingly being bought up by fashion conglomerates like LVMH‚ Kering and Richemont‚ who together hold hegemony over much of the world’s luxury market. Italy’s reluctant rise to German modernity is slowly costing it much of what had always made it special in the first place. Italian brands in this context are innovating far less than they once did.
One Italianate shoe brand‚ though‚ has proven a small revelation in fashion circles since it came quietly onto the scene through Maryam Nassir Zadeh’s showroom earlier this decade. Martiniano‚ makes radically simple‚ unadorned feminine styles in delicate leathers. Despite their minimalist design ethos‚ they meet the lofty bar for Italian craftsmanship and yet are just imperfect enough to feel made by human hands. Only thing is‚ Martiniano is not Italian.
The young brand is Argentinian‚ and was founded in Buenos Aires by Martiniano Lopez Crozet. Martiniano was born in Bahía Blanca and studied art in California before inadvertently setting off on a two-decade pop career as half of the musical duo Los Super Elegantes—even if you don’t live in a Spanish-speaking country‚ you’ve surely heard their 2002 cover of the classic 1970s hit‚ “Por Que Te Vas?” He returned to his home country after more than two decades away to set up his eponymous label.
Beyond the fact that Argentina is probably the most Italian-flavored nation outside of Italy itself‚ several factors combine to make it a rather fortuitous place for making. For one‚ Argentina’s talleres resemble Italian ateliers from decades past‚ both in the richness of materials available to them from fertile surrounding landscapes‚ as well as in the savoir-faire of generations of artisans working without corporate pressures. Craft‚ not numbers‚ comes first in the making of these shoes. Even the brand’s logotype is stamped in stacked Peignot‚ a storied typeface from the 1930s that has always suggested continental elegance. Martiniano has himself dreamt of uprooting the brand to Italy someday. But for now‚ it has a home in a place that‚ thankfully‚ has not entirely given way to modernity
Martiniano Lopez Crozet
Hometown: Bahia Blanca‚ Argentina
Current residence: Back and forth between Buenos Aires and other places but mainly in BA.
Drink of choice: red wine
Favorite meal: fried artichoke
How do you take your coffee? Half asleep‚ strong
Tell us about this space. You live and work here‚ right?
Yes. My living room is my office. It’s a small art deco apartment with an open view to tree tops and the sky. I live here and work here. I haven’t had time to decorate so my rooms are utilitarian. Just white walls‚ table‚ chairs.
Where in Buenos Aires are we? Do you have a favorite spot here in the neighborhood?
I live across from the famous Hipódromo Argentino de Palermo‚ the horse racetracks from the turn of the century. My favorite spots in the neighborhood apart from the racetracks are the polo fields‚ the botanical gardens and the zoo. Except for the polo fields which opened in 1918‚ the rest are from the late 1800s.
You went to art school in San Francisco and then had a bit of a whirlwind life. How many years were you away from Argentina? Was coming home a tough adjustment at all?
I left Buenos Aires in 1989 and lived in California for more than two decades. I have to admit‚ I still suffer from culture shock but I am adapting.
At this point‚ we’d be remiss not to bring up your pre Martiniano-as-brand life as art pop star. You were 1/2 of the group Los Super Elegantes. What an adventure that must’ve been!
The other day I re-read the scripts of our musical performances and I have to say‚ they are such gems. It was a project in collaboration with Milena Muzquiz. We used our personal lives as source material for our pieces. We worked on the fringes of the art world and made music that wasn’t at all made for selling. We knew from day one that Los Super Elegantes was commercial suicide‚ but we nevertheless dedicated 16 years to it.
Do you miss much about the lifestyle? Do you think you’d ever go back to it someday?
I miss singing our Nirvana cover‚ “Rape Me.”
I miss singing to live instruments‚ writing and recording music. I miss my Martin acoustic guitar‚ my Fender electric guitar and my Fender tube amp—all were left behind at a friend’s house in L.A.. Doing the research for our projects was always fun since we based our work on so many different sources. We believed in pushing the boundaries of what we did for each new project. Pushing boundaries meant that sometimes the audiences cringed in their seats trying very hard to digest the work. It was a very important aesthetic decision for us to incorporate elements that would either go against the meaning of the piece or incorporate absurdity.
What are you listening to nowadays?
I listen to a lot of music from the Renaissance and Middle Ages lately. Having white walls with no decoration is important to me and when you add keyboard sounds from the Middle Ages‚ you get the perfect environment for doing shoe quality control. When I need concentration and I’m tired I listen to Manuel Göttsching’s E2 E4. It really gets me going. The song “Monorail” by Fanuelle is always a good transition from the long day of work into cocktails and dinner. Then in general Soft Machine‚ The Wake‚ dirty disco‚ and so many other things…
So‚ how does one make the jump from performance into shoes? Did you know anything about shoemaking before?
Making shoes is just a continuation of the previous work. At the time‚ when I left the art world for fashion it seemed a bit of a move but it felt right so I did not question it. When I collaborated with Milena in performance we worked with music‚ theater‚ art ideas and history so we worked somewhere in between the borders of those disciplines. One thing I find refreshing about making shoes is that shoes are very concrete objects. You make a shoe‚ someone buys it and then wears it. You make another shoe‚ no one buys it‚ you toss it. There is not much to explain.
I didn’t know anything about shoemaking or business so‚ before starting the brand‚ I took one year to do research on historical shoes and had many meetings with a friend who was doing her MBA to brainstorm about the business aspect of the project. Once back in in Buenos Aires I took a class that taught me how to make a shoe by hand and made my first pair of very feminine men’s shoes. I flew to New York and had a couple meetings. One of them was with Maryam Nassir Zadeh. She reacted very positively and asked me to make a few more styles. I showed her the glove and the bootie at our second meeting and her showroom began to represent me.
Your shoes really are gems. They’re outwardly simple‚ but then you look closer and see that they’re so intricately folded and layered. We were all so impressed by that brilliant gold bootie from last fall…
The shoes are very delicate because of the nature of the leather I use: kid skin‚ which is goat leather. The gold kid is the most delicate so making these shoes requires almost handling them with white gloves.
So‚ in addition to your good material sensibility‚ a huge part of what makes your shoes special is the Argentinian craftsmanship. Is it true that “Made in Argentina” is something even Italy can’t match?
Italy cannot be matched. But what I have in Buenos Aires is the result of a perfect storm: We are 50 years behind in the shoe industry and this means that I am able to produce my shoes with techniques used in Italy in the 50s. The uppers are mounted by hand‚ the soles are finished by hand. The finishing of the heels for the flats means that one person stands in front of a sanding machine holding one foot and pushing the rough edges of a leather stacked heel against a revolving sanding machine to achieve a shiny and smooth surface. The same is done to the edges of the soles: it’s a guy moving the shoe against the sanding machine.
The leather is cut by hand‚ sewed by hand. The upper is mounted by hand and this gives my shoes a very rustic look. Each pair has subtle irregularities that are the evidence of this work.
We’ve heard that you’d actually like to move the company to Italy someday. Would you continue to produce in Argentina? Why Italy instead of L.A. or London or anywhere else‚ for that matter?
I tried to do the move‚ but Italy now has gone through a massive industrialization process due to the fact that big brands have bought all the small manufacturers. I haven’t been able to find the right manufacturer yet.
Isn’t Buenos Aires the most Italian city in Latin America?
We use many Italian words every day: “Guarda!” means “watch out!‚” “buco” means “hole‚” “yiro” means “walk around‚” “capo” or “groso” means “genius‚” “cool” and a good one is “facha” which means “good looking” but in Italian means “face.” You say: “Que fachero!”…looking good! If you take a bus‚ you see people talking with their hands.
When I was in Italy I was called a Neapolitan by the owner of a factory in Florence because I had samples made with them and he had doubts I would want to work with them. He said: “you Argentinians come from Naples!”
Martiniano’s logotype is stamped in Peignot‚ a storied typeface designed in 1937 by A. M. Cassandre.