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Wednesday February 12, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Wednesday February 12, 2014 MYT 7:32:40 AM
by sharmila nair
Ready, get set, go: Elegance and prestige are two highly-appreciated elements at any Argentine polo match. Infusing them in a casual look is something that La Martina has perfected. – La Martina photos
La Martina offers true Argentine polo experience and story in its clothing.
IF you are ever invited to a polo match in Argentina, don’t bother packing your Sunday best or spend hours picking a hat that goes well with your designer shoes.
Trust us, you are not going to impress anyone there. Talked about, maybe, but impress? Most probably never. In fact, you would stick out like a sore thumb and for all the wrong reasons.
That is because all the way over in the South American country, the sport of the kings trumps fashion, hands down, all the time and always will. No question about it.
“When you go to the (polo) stadiums here, nobody wears jackets. The billionaires wear T-shirts. Who ever comes with a jacket, hat, etc ... is a newcomer, someone who doesn’t know the dresscode. The people here come to see the game, not other people,” claimed Lando Simonetti, the founder of international polo brand La Martina.
However, just because Simonetti’s advice is to ditch your fancy clothes at home when heading to a polo match, it doesn’t mean that you get to leave style or class behind. Elegance and prestige are two highly-appreciated elements at any Argentine polo match and infusing them in a casual look is definitely something that La Martina has perfected in its 34 years of entrepreneurship.
Although the family-owned company’s core business is to produce high-quality polo gear and equipment to the polo society around the world, the brand is also synonymous with the players (and fans’) lifestyle off the pitch.
Seated in a conference room in an upscale hotel in Buenos Aires, Simonetti was more than eager to talk about both, to the international journalists who were invited to experience the polo lifestyle at the Argentine Polo Open Championship 2013.
“You cannot think of La Martina without thinking about polo. Lots of world brands pay lots of money to be part of the game. We ... are the game,” said the 72-year-old business maven. “It was born with professional (polo players) and years ago, it moved to glamour.”
And Simonetti could not have come up with a better story, even if he tried, about how the business, which started by manufacturing handmade polo equipment such as saddles, boots, bridles and helmets, ventured into the textile industry.
The effortless move happened over 25 years ago when Simonetti decided to have his own (now defunct) polo team to compete professionally, and was required to design the polo T-shirts for his players in a tournament.
“I designed an unbelievable shirt – I was inspired by the Formula One (with the placing of logos on the body),” said Simonetti of his creation of La Martina’s first polo T-shirt, which had his brand name as well as the sponsor’s emblazoned across the players’ chests.
He continued, “La Martina was also the first brand to put up a (flagship) tent at a polo tournament in Palermo (the city’s polo stadium) – before that, there was nothing. The players had to sit on the grass to put on their boots. I had directors’ chairs for the players with La Martina and the sponsor’s name on the back,” he recalled. In a clever move, the decorated T-shirt and the directors chairs were not the only ideas he took from Formula One.
“What else did I take? Well, behind the players were beautiful girls in La Martina shirts serving water. Every time the players took a break, the girls came over to them. So, all the photographers were in my stand taking pictures and it got a lot of publicity,” said the shrewd entrepreneur.
After the tournament, Simonetti increased the production of the said polo shirt and put them in the display window of his shop. “People started to buy the shirt. I realised that there was something there and that was the start of our textile business.”
That eventually led Simonetti to create La Martina collections for men, women and children, which include, besides designer polo shirts, a variation of designer polo accessories including jackets, zippers, hats, pants, bags, helmets and even perfume.
Despite branching out to non-polo players, the brand has never lost sight of its core value – that is to uphold and maintain the exclusive polo lifestyle and culture. Like a good brand ambassador, each La Martina product comes with an impressive history that connects it to Argentina’s beloved sport.
“Our origin is producing polo, so our core business is talking to the polo community worldwide. That’s why our branding aims towards polo players. However, for our lifestyle casual wear, we sell to 95% non-polo players – which are the spectator and people aspiriring to get into the sport,” said La Martina Polo president – and Simonetti’s son – Adrian. He also added that the brand is constantly on the lookout for polo communities worldwide that could instantly connect with the brand. “We want to culturise people to polo and get them into the real polo scenario.”
Adrian admits that maintaining a standardised customer service in La Martina stores around the world is a big challenge. They want their customers, who walk into any of the 61 exclusive stores in more than 20 countries – including the United States, Russia, Singapore and Malaysia – to not just leave with a positive impression of the brand but – if they do decide to purchase an item – its connection to the sport it caters.
He said, “There has to be someone to explain where it is coming from. For example, the Guards Polo Club. It has a history of 120 years, who has played there, why we expanded a line of merchandising exclusive to the club there, why we do club merchandising and so on. There is a history behind it, and suddenly instead of just a nice polo shirt, you’re grabbing a little piece of history and the aspirations behind that garment.”
> La Martina made its debut in Malaysia in 2012 through a licensing agreement between La Martina and the Valiram Group. The flagship boutiques are located in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur and Gurney Paragon Mall, Penang.
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