Vanessa Bell is a freelance writer and trend hunter, running a bespoke personal shopping service called Creme de la Creme, as well as writing as a lifestyle, food, and fashion insider for Wallpaper*, Monocle, and other international publications. She’s lived in Buenos Aires since 2010, having visited all her life as her mother is Argentine.
For any visitor to Buenos Aires, an initial stroll around Palermo, taking in the high street shops on Av. Santa Fe, and a general overview of the sartorial offerings of the major shopping centres would suggest Argentine fashion is a little disappointing, both repetitive and playing safe. Indeed, there are many stubborn trends that never seem to die – wet-look leggings, leopard print, studs, and fringed details are just a few of the perennial offenders. Dubious propositions for those with an iota of fashion sense.
Footwear suffers a similar affliction. The ardent love for vertiginously high platforms is no doubt in part due to the fact that Argentine women tend to be more petite than their European counterparts. This should not be an excuse to justify ‘height at any price’, and yet the offensive platform birkenstocks have been a regular fixture for the last two summer seasons and the recent platformed tractor-style boots and variations on the theme have become the current mainstay of most shoe shop window displays. The snaggle-toothed sole makes even the most elegant porteña look ungainly, as they clomp, bottom-heavy, down the street.
Yet away from the main shopping drags, the picture is much brighter. A crop of young designers unfazed by pandering to the status quo are initiating a fledgling revolution: independent boutiques and designers working from showroom spaces who are quietly carving out their own identities, selling stunning models which buck mainstream trends. One of the exponents of this movement who I mention in one of my previous columns is Jessica Kessel, whose original sassy artisan shoes don’t compromise comfort for style and are made in small quantities with bags of personality.
Here is a round-up of other young designers who are also proposing refreshing alternatives (click titles for more information).
By appointment or buy online.
This small label’s focus is on experimental design, with an emphasis on creating a one-off, personalised product. Its styles are practical for walking along Buenos Aires’ uneven pavements yet equally stylish, and can comfortably double up as evening wear. Bauths works primarily with leather, which is embossed and treated to create unique effects and textures with each pair. Models such as their ROD moccasins or TIUS sandals experiment with the use of patent leather and metallic detailing, offering fresh alternatives to conventional styles.
Jorge Luis Borges 1918.
Having just opened their debut store, this unisex brand specialises in design-conscious sandals and minimal trainers, appealing to a gap in the local market. The label was in the official selection for the recent Feria Puro Diseño and their shoes on display highlighted their alternative propositions in terms of form and design. Using quality materials and excellent leather, the emphasis is is also on small-scale artisan production. Wish list favourites are the all-white leather lace-ups, a welcome understated aesthetic that locals are only recently starting to embrace.
Francisco Acuña de Figueroa 1800.
Located on a quiet crossroad on the periphery of the main Palermo shopping strip is Centrico, a chic glass-fronted store which occupies half a block. Having nurtured a loyal local following, its location has thus far prevented it from becoming overexposed, and it tends to be a more discerning tourist who discovers this picturesque store on their own. Producing both mens and womenswear, the label oozes contemporary sophistication and produces a welcome line of beautiful flats for women, including loafers and brogues.
Nati Delgado’s new label has been running for less than a year, but already her innovative and highly original designs have set tongues wagging. Working from a studio space in her Palermo home, she offers her shoes on a small production scale, and makes them to order with different colour options for both uppers and heels. Her cut-out lace up brogues are a personal favourite, and her prices are friendly, hovering around the $1,000 mark.
Romina Iglesias started her label three years ago with a desire to produce classic designs that defied faddy trends. She also offers a personalised service, with a made-to-order policy. Working from her showroom in San Telmo where the samples from her collection are on display, clients have their feet measured and choose the model and material for the uppers according to personal preference, with turnaround in a matter of days. Many of her styles are unisex and go up to a 42, a rarity in Argentina and welcome news for frustrated girls with bigger feet.