Text Ilona Marx Photos Bernd Wichmann
Buenos Aires has as many different sides to it as the country it’s in: Argentina covers a surface of almost 2.8 million square kilometres and is the eighth largest country on earth, with about as many regions and climate zones as Buenos Aires has districts and neighbourhoods. Around 13 million people live within its city borders: just under a third of the entire country’s population.
Internationally, Argentina is famous for its wines, steaks, tango dancing – and most recently the country also hit the headlines with the Nisman affair, involving their president Fernández de Kirchner. When it comes to fashion though, there’s not much that makes its way over here to us in Europe. Which is a shame, because the locals are a fashion conscious bunch. If you wander the hipster district of Palermo Soho – named, of course, after its famous New York counterpart – you’ll be surprised to discover countless spacious shops with wonderfully designed interiors. In a large country like Argentina space is dealt with differently, and that’s palpable not only in terms of size but also quality. In Buenos Aires, shop fitting is obviously a discipline the local creatives have a real talent for and enjoy.
Local designers don’t have to try and compete with H&M and Zara
But you’ll be looking in vain if you are expecting European or American- style chain retailers and department stores. Instead, the cityscape is dominated by mono-brand stores by local designers as well as Argentine chains. A true Eldorado for any shopper jaded by shopping mall monotony.
The reason for this special situation: Argentina’s politicians have an eye on the domestic market and protect Argentine companies from international competition and low prices by protective legislation. This means that local designers don’t have to try and compete with H&M and Zara and are able to develop much more freely. Who would have thought that the economic crisis of all things would be the motivating factor for a whole host of success stories? One thing is for certain: for many creative industries, the crisis was often the key to new opportunities. Many of those achieving success today started their businesses at the beginning of the millennium, when the rents and real estate prices had hit rock bottom and people were looking for other ways to make a living.
In Buenos Aires, shop fitting is obviously a discipline the local creatives have a real talent for and enjoy
However, there is another side to the coin: because of the tightening of import regulations Argentine designers often have problems accessing affordable and high-quality materials. They frequently have to settle for what their own country has to offer. Which in turn often impacts on their competitive edge. In addition, the instable and weak peso, along with inflation, leads to rapid price increases within the shortest of timeframes: sometimes even in the time a product is ordered until its delivery. We talked to Cora Groppo, Martín Churba of Tramando and Camila Milessi and Emiliano Blanco of Kostüme about how local designers are coping with these challenges.
But getting back to the special strengths of this very unique metropolis: you can easily spend days drifting though Palermo, the place to come for fashion and restaurants. You can browse through the exclusive boutiques in the Recoleta district or be inspired at the antiques market in San Telmo, which also boasts some great vintage shops. Not forgetting the culinary pleasures of course: steak and wine is a combination not to be missed. Read our best tips on how to rest and relax in this restless city from page 42.