Apart from the remarkable experimentation with haircuts and colors — a
product of football culture, I’m told — Buenos Aires is not a city
of dominant trends. Peasant skirts were everywhere but that’s an issue
best left dormant. What is promising in the city is the arrival of cool
street wear and sportswear brands with remarkably focused business models.
Felix and Bolivia (Gurruchaga 1581) are two of the best examples. We wanted to figure out how these labels are finding their formula.
Felix is a chain of six stores (one for kids) that, as described above, is a
cross between Paul Smith and the Gap: loads of striped T-shirts, Bermuda
shorts, and other easy basics presented with a twist. Bolivia is a
six-month-old mens store with a rather feminine edge. Their popular range
of patchwork button-down shirts, reworked military jackets, shorts, and
shoes are all set against an ethnic, Bolivian-inspired décor. We spoke to
Martin Egozcué, owner of Felix, and Gustavo Samuelian, Bolivia’s owner
— who both have designing gigs at Bensimon, the national sportswear
giant that sells to over 400 outlets across the country — about the
strong current driving Argentinean casual wear, the importance of a good
interior, and the near-term forecast for Buenos Aires.
JCR: How do you define the style of the typical Argentinean?
ME: Ten years ago we could have answered this question easily but
Argentineans have developed a greater love for clothes. People are now
eager to find a personal style, and there are more and more brands in
Argentina to satisfy their needs.
GS: The Argentinean guy still has classic roots, but he likes and pays
attention to clothing. Now he is allowing himself to be more modern and to
show his creative side.
ME: We create each of Felix’s products independent of their specific
season. We want them to be wearable at all times, and for a long period of
time. This is why the quality of the fabric is so crucial for us. We try
to make our materials as excellent as possible. Also, we think of our
clothes as basic tools — easy solutions for a guy’s wardrobe.
GS: We opened our first shop in the middle of 2005, and we know that we
are at the beginning of the ladder. People like our designs, and the
public identifies with them and with the message Bolivia transmits. Our
philosophy is about constant change. It’s about mixing races and
generations and the male and female energy that we have inside. Every
product is customized like a unique piece (jackets, shirts, sweaters, and
pants). Each garment goes through a long process; it takes a lot of work.
We’re not about producing a commercial collection, but we do what we like
and what people will ultimately identify with. Also, the amount of
production is very small. These factors have helped our success.
JCR: Who is your customer?
GS: The Bolivia customer is very artistic and creative, 18 to 40 years
old; a guy who likes unique pieces. Also it’s somebody who loves music… we do a lot of things around music, childhood motifs, toys, movies, etc.
ME: Having close contact with our customers is really important for us.
Even those of us who work in design or production tend to visit our stores
after our working hours. We talk to those who work at the stores every day,
and thus we get customer feedback. We learn a lot from this. And we found
out with great joy that Felix manages to build a bridge between
generations with its clothes. Many times we see teenagers coming to the
stores with their dads. It feels great that both of them can find
something to wear in the stores.
JCR: Store interiors get special attention in Buenos Aires. What’s your
philosophy for interiors?
ME: We want our stores to be warm spots for our customers. People who come
and visit normally stay around for a while because it feels comfortable
and cozy. But it is equally important for us to have these relaxed and
hearty workspaces. Our stores are different from each other but all of
them have this same atmosphere. Some of the objects you can find there
come from our own houses. And we want this homemade quality to be
GS: We have just one shop, but believe that every space/house/store has
its own magic and energy. The place itself guides you to know how to
decorate it. We love Bolivia’s house: it’s an old house from the beginning
of the century. The decoration was from here and from there. Some things
— like the chandelier, for example — came from my grandmother,
some from Bolivia (the country). I’m always buying things to put in the
store (furniture, lamps, frames, pictures).
JCR: Do you aim to take your brands beyond the boundaries of Argentina?
ME: Our main goal is to be organized as a company and a solid working
group. We are still working on that. However, Felix is already
commercializing its products beyond Argentina. People from different
places (Germany, the Netherlands, Mexico) have asked to take our brand to
their countries. Now they sell Felix in their own stores.
GS: Yes, definitely. But we want to grow up and consolidate in the local
JCR: What’s the value proposition for outsiders to look at Argentinean
labels to explore and possibly buy?
GS: Argentina, especially Buenos Aires, is very cosmopolitan. People in
general are informed with the latest trends and also have a strong fashion
ME: It is clear that tourists love Argentinean products and that they are
aware of the evolution of our industry. Argentinean fashion is becoming
more competitive in the international market. This is not only due to the
exchange rate, from which tourists profit. Argentinean designers are
learned and educated, they know the latest trends in the world of fashion but
at the same time they choose to cultivate a personal style that is not
obedient to the dictations of international style gurus. We are
cosmopolitan and idiosyncratic.
JCR: I have mixed feelings about the quality of products on offer here.
Italian manufacturing standards are not available in Argentina. Does this
pose a problem for the potential success of local lines?
ME: We work with fine materials like pure cotton and animal wool, among
others, which are local specialties. Currently, a lot of textile companies
are venturing into the production of new materials of excellent quality.
Felix works only with those companies that are universally acclaimed among
designers and customers.
GS: The manufacturing standards are improving so that brands can offer
collections of higher quality.
JCR: How do you see style in Buenos Aires playing out in the next few years?
ME: It feels great to see new brands entering the local market, with
approaches that are at the same time strong and successful. Graduates from
different schools of design are beginning to play a major role in the
fashion industry. Argentinean fashion is undergoing a healthy process of
GS: Style in Buenos Aires is growing and developing strongly. You can see
a new clothing/accessory/design store opening almost every week. Just take
a look in every neighborhood: hundreds of shops everywhere. So, for sure
in a couple of years the world is going to hear more and more about this
country and its people and what they want to show.
This interview was conducted by Jason Campbell
4-6 Felix store