One of the pleasures of working in the fashion business is encountering the kind of creative genius and unexpected hospitality that defies fashion stereotypes. Yesterday, Martin Churba, one of Argentina's most talented and well-known designers, graciously welcomed us like old friends into his 5-floor space in leafy Recoleta, where the creations of his design collective, Tramando, come to life.
Over the 2 hours that we spent with Martin and his business partner, Trixie d'Epanoux, we meandered delightfully from topic to topic to learn about the brand. From Tramando's spectacular window displays to its social impact and the brand's plans for global expansion, it was a lesson in the compelling power of a true creative force.
Martin is, first and foremost, a textile designer, but his creativity spans many realms outside fabric and fashion. To wit, the Tramando website is one of the most creative (and functional! and fast!) that we have come across anywhere. Tramando's two-floor store, with its regularly changing window displays, conceived through collaborations with other artists, is a cross between Colette and Dover Street Market -- though that doesn't really do it justice as it misses out on the Argentinian flair that we have come to appreciate during our time here. This month, the windows are a festive explosion of candy coloured pinks, made of real cake frosting and sweets that you can pick off the wall and pop into your mouth.
But of course, it is the clothes that speak the loudest. A capsule nouvelle couture collection consisted of intricately cut dresses, featured folding, pin-tucking and fabric treatments that boggle the mind. Two ready-to-wear collections were also on display, one each for Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer, reflecting growing consumer demand from Northern hemisphere tourists, as well the sophisticated Porteños of Buenos Aires. Occasionally, Martin would dash off to one of these clients to adjust a dress just so, before darting back to show us some more.
Later, we retreated upstairs to continue our discussion over some Mate tea, sharing in an Argentinian cultural tradition that goes back hundreds of years. As we passed the Mate around in a circle, we learned about the brand's ups and downs, and plans for its future.
In the past 5 years, Martin and Trixie have assembled a talented 10-strong design collective within an overall team of 35, established a company-owned factory in Argentina capable of delivering Tramando’s complex textile designs, and built a retail presence in Buenos Aires and in Japan, through a distribution partnership with HP France which has opened 5 shop-in-shops under the Tramando brand name. Martin and Trixie believe there is a strong potential for the brand in the Middle East and plans are already in the works for a retail debut in France sometime next year.
In a poignant denouement to our visit, Tramando’s textile philosophy was finally revealed to us in a striking set of videos, demonstrating the various processes that the company uses to achieve its signature aesthetic techniques of cutting, heating, stamping, folding and sewing.
Also revealed was the brand's unmistakable social conscience. In 2001, at the height of the Argentinian economic crisis, Tramando collaborated with the everyday workers who were most impacted when Argentina defaulted on its debt repayments. Rather than take government handouts, these piqueteros wanted to work. In a first for an Argentinian fashion designer, Martin worked with them to “make working fashionable”, decorating traditional working coats with his signature textile techniques. This expression became one of the rallying cries of the political movement that has played a pivotal role in Argentina's economic recovery.
Based on what we have seen here -- in the restaurants, the stores, the museums and the individual flair of the locals -- we would not be surprised if Buenos Aires once again takes its place as one of the world's creative capitals, with Martin as its reigning king.
Tramando is available at Tramando in Buenos Aires and Tokyo, Harvey Nichols in Turkey and at Tango in Melbourne. All photos are copyright of The Business of Fashion, 2007.