Pulling from the past and present, MARTINIANO has created a line that gives a treasure that lasts a lifetime to each customer. As the designer brings elements from his rich background to each shoe, he continues to explore himself and the world.
How did you get your start in the fashion industry?
I started right after college when I was living in Buenos Aires in the late ‘80s. I designed a line of unisex sleepwear called MARTINIANO. Then in 1989 I moved to the U.S. to attend the San Francisco Art Institute where I started a performance art/musical group called Los Super Elegantes with Milena Muzquiz. After 16 years of performing at museums, biennials, etc. I decided to devote myself to my first interest: fashion. I returned to Buenos Aires and made my first shoes. I brought the samples to New York and showed them to Jade Lai from Creatures of Comfort and she placed an order. I then showed them to Maryam Nassir Zadeh’s showroom and she started representing me. The response from shoppers was great and soon more designs followed and over the last few years I have built a loyal clientele.
What inspired your shoe line?
At first, my idea was to create a line of menswear that would move around Latin America. I wanted to create a whole line, from shoes to hats but my plans were too ambitious. Since I’m from Argentina I began there and, because it was my first step back into fashion, I thought I should start from the bottom, with shoes. I based the project on the traditional handmade Argentinian loafer. I started by changing the shape of the sole and heel. For the upper, I applied ideas from a one-year research on historical shoes—mainly Medieval and 18th century designs.
How has social media affected yourself and your brand?
I’m not fascinated by social media at all, I prefer face to face interactions and more classic, stage ad campaigns. However, my Tumblr and Instagram give me a visual platform to share images of my shoes and have put me in touch with the women who buy them. I am very happy about that.
What do you consider the essential factors into making the perfect shoe?
Quality of materials, the shape of a last; comfort, wearability; and the potential of becoming a classic. My design process begins by choosing the last: shape and proportions are the first thing I look for. Apart from its shape, the last has to provide comfort. Sometimes a new style is based just on discovering a new type of leather. I am mainly attracted to kid and calf leather because of their softness, texture and colors. Classics are classics because they have stood the test of time both in style and functionality and they have something essential in them that will set them apart from the rest.
What are the hardest decisions to make as a designer?
The compromise between design and comfort is one. Also when to stop working for the day. I tend to over do it.
Does your sleepwear and shoe brand interconnect when it comes to inspiration within yourself?
Both lines are humble, unadorned, utilitarian. I like the idea of a shoe being just a shoe. Both lines have proven they age well. The sleepwear I made looks contemporary now after 26 years and I hope the glove shoe and other shapes will do the same.
What is a typical work week for you and how does it change when fashion week occurs?
A big part of a regular day is answering emails; overseeing production; working on new ideas: and having meetings with my manufacturer or material suppliers. I think a lot about how I can make the development process of a new style more efficient. Just recently I have brought in some help for the day-to-day stuff which will leave me freer to concentrate on design. My sole experience with Fashion Week was the premier of an exclusive line for Creatures of Comfort which I attended.
What do you consider the best part of working in the fashion industry?
The freedom to create for an audience. My approach to fashion is not that much different than what my approach to art was. The difference is that MARTINIANO is a business and there are bottom lines. Our motto with Los Super Elegantes was “Commercial Suicide”. I can't work like that any longer.
How did you learn the techniques you use to make your shoes?
My first step into shoemaking was taking a class from the Museum of the History of Costume in Buenos Aires. There I learned how to make a shoe by hand. Designing right on the last is one technique I use. It allows the designer to lift the pattern straight from the last and then the allowances for seams are added. With this basic knowledge and vocabulary I was able to communicate with the people I needed to in the shoe manufacturing industry. Navigating the shoe industry has been an education onto itself. Because I have been a one man company I deal firsthand with each specialty: last maker, sole maker, tanneries, laborer, factory owner. In Buenos Aires shoe makers love to go on about how it used to be compared to how it is now and each clings fiercely to their own styles, rules, and traditions. I’ve learned so much from these interactions.
Does each shoe style have a specific woman in mind when it comes to it’s design?
When I design a shoe I think of lines and leather texture and color. The goal is to make an object that has to please or amuse me. When the sample is done I put it on a table and look at it or photograph it against a solid background. Then I try it on a model. The woman in mind for my shoes is a woman that wants to wear something that will break in a subtle way with what she finds in the market.
Do you find yourself more personally involved in each shoe because they are handmade?
In a way my shoes are relics. I just came back from Italy where I was doing research on manufacturing and leather. When I explained to the Italian manufacturers the techniques used in Argentina to make my shoes they told me that if I used those techniques in Italy today they would cost $1500 euros a pair. Argentina works in ways that the Italians did in the ‘40s. You can see it in the quality and feel. If I ever stop manufacturing in Argentina I would work hard to keep the rustic elements and handmade marks.
What is the average amount of time it takes a shoe to make it’s journey from the design board to the hands of the buyer?
Typically it takes 6 to 8 months.
Do you have any future collaborations planned?
I am currently in collaboration with CristaSeya in Paris.
What are your goals and plans for the future?
To move my company to Italy.