A Creative Small-Business Community Flourishes in Buenos Aires

STEPPING INTO designer Maria Zolezzi’s Buenos Aires apartment, on the eighth floor of an elegant midcentury building overlooking a park, means entering her showroom. The neat living room, with its polished wood floors, bookshelves and dining table, also features a rack of intricately knitted sweaters, scarves and throws made from organic merino, llama and baby alpaca. After 15 years in Paris working for brands such as Sonia Rykiel and Hermès, Zolezzi returned to Argentina in 2012 and started her own line, which she titled after her nickname, Maydi, in 2014. “When I decided to come back, I thought about the best thing to do in my country and that was to use our fabrics. In terms of merino, for example, we have the best; it’s called white gold.”

Local craftspeople, most of them between 55 and 70 years old, hand knit the chunky pullovers, soft as cashmere, and weave the oversize shawls on traditional looms. Dyes made from tara and guayacan trees in the country’s northwestern province of Salta are used to color the products in soft lavenders, greens and browns. Zolezzi’s aim is to create fresh pieces that speak to Argentina’s present as well as its past. “Here we often value foreign designers more than our own,” she says. “This is why I decided to use the organic fabrics we have, to make knitwear with the excellent artisans we have, but in a contemporary way.” Production is small, around 45 styles a season, but Zolezzi has fostered a strong base of customers, including many in Japan, who appreciate her label’s exquisite craftsmanship.

Argentina’s changeable economy and the high inflation rate of the past couple of years have encouraged its creative community to look inward, starting small businesses with local products and taking inspiration from Argentina’s history and culture rather than seeking ideas from abroad. As a result, Buenos Aires, always a creative hub, is now bursting with energetic porteños, like Zolezzi, who are making their mark. Designers often sell from their own homes, avoiding hefty overheads and cultivating an in-the-know clientele; cocktail bars hype local producers and spin old-fashioned Italian-inspired aperitivos into modern creations; and everything from men’s leather shoes to gourmet sausages is being made by hand.

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