I first met Lando Simonetti, Founder and Creative Director of La Martina, at Pitti Uomo 2009. In the few minutes I spent with him, I knew immediately that he was one of those rare and dedicated characters that have a clear vision and passion for what they are doing and what they want to achieve. This, together with a great sense of humour and a genuine interest in people, makes Lando Simonetti a charming and delightful individual. So the opportunity to interview him and to learn more about him and La Martina was really the highlight for me at Pitti Uomo 2010. Unlike most brands at Pitti Uomo – especially now that many of the big names in menswear have disappeared from Pitti for one reason or another – I could sense that La Martina shares something with its clients and distributors that goes far beyond commercial interests.
Perhaps it was the laid-back setting, or just the feeling of being at home in familiar surroundings, but after visiting so many brands, it was a pleasure to sit down at the La Martina stand with Lando, surrounded by enthusiasts who seemed to know that they were part of something special that had little to do with fashion and trends, as he explained.
La Martina has become a household name, but can you explain how it first started out and its future strategy now that it has become so popular?
La Martina is a family business with family values. We have a passion for the sport of polo and for supplying polo equipment and clothing. Polo is fascinating, fast and dynamic. It sends adrenaline through your veins, but it is also dangerous, especially in Argentina where the speed of the game is much faster. La Martina started out making polo equipments bearing in mind the technical and design aspects, and above all, the safety of the sport. Today, this is still our philosophy.
La Martina is the Official Supplier of the Argentine Polo Teams, Official Supplier of the Federation of International Polo and a lot of international tournaments. Can you tell us more about La Martina’s role as a sponsor?
The quality of our products has been appreciated for many years. We became Official Supplier not only of the Argentine Polo Teams, but also of polo clubs and universities such as Harvard, Yale, Cornell and Stafford in the U.S., Oxford, Cambridge and Eton College in the U.K. We have been supplying a lot of equipment and polo shirts to the players for the past 15, 20 years. We’re a part of the polo community, and we serve that community.
How do you see La Martina as a supplier and La Martina as a fashion brand?
La Martina is not about fashion. It just so happened that non-players like the quality and design of our polo shirts so much that they come into our boutiques looking for an off-the-field version of products. So we removed the numbers on the back of the polo shirts, added some emblems and polo patches and that's it. It’s true that we have a strong following of young fashion-conscious people, but we don’t produce for them. Our mission is to supply high quality, practical equipment and clothing to polo players, and help to develop the sport so it can be enjoyed by people from all walks of life.
Polo is an exclusive sport and is seen by many as a sport for aristocrats and snobs. How would you describe the people who wear La Martina and play polo today?
Although it’s true that polo is an exclusive and expensive sport, it is also a competitive sport. The people who play and follow the sport do it with passion, and have a certain attitude towards life that is not pretentious, but relaxed. Generally, they are people who are sure of themselves and hence don't feel like they have to show off. They like a subtle style where quality and details take priority over fashion and trends.
You can wear La Martina garments for 30 years and still look great. Today, many more people can afford to play polo as supposed to 30, 20 or even 10 years ago, but the type of people and their attitude are still the same. So, it’s not a question of money. It’s about the genuine interest towards polo, and of course the environment that this sport creates.
La Martina has grown rapidly over recent years, which has led to organizational changes, do you intend to continue to expand in Europe?
Thanks to the international development of polo, La Martina has also been expanding its distribution in response to polo’s growing demand for La Martina products. We have now 80 stores worldwide: 20 in Europe, and new stores in Milan and Rome in Italy; and Dusseldorf and Munich in Germany are opening soon. We have reorganized some of our activities so we can develop the brand with our philosophy, and create long-term growth with people who really believe in La Martina and its vision.
What would you say is the spirit behind La Martina and its success?
Rather than spirit, I would like to relate La Martina to polo as a sport. Polo players need skills, training, determination and a competitive spirit. You have to be a team player and know how to enjoy the moment. These values are true for polo players on and off the field. We at La Martina have a similar attitude of the players to whom we supply our equipment and garments.
What would you suggest to people who would like to get involved in polo?
We want people to enjoy the polo environment, not just wearing our clothing, but becoming a part of the polo world. So we created the POLO MANAGEMENT GROUP, which introduces people to polo from learning the rules and taking lessons to organising major tournaments worldwide. For anyone interested in knowing more about polo, this should be their first contact. We also have a website www.POLOMANAGEMENTGROUP.com.
On a more personal level, as you know we produce magazines/guides in many countries and have many hotel partners, do you have a favourite country and hotel that you’d like to let our readers know?
I don't have a favourite country, though perhaps I should say Argentina, my homeland and a place where polo is really part of the local culture amongst all people, not just those who play. Polo in Argentina is very fast and dynamic, since it’s played on horseback with swinging hammers. It is also dangerous, which makes the sport exciting. As a player, it’s difficult to get to the competitive level, but in Argentina you get to see exciting games because the standard is high.
I’ve been traveling for more than 35 years all over the world, spreading the La Martina culture and developing the sport of polo. I am lucky to be able to say that I have visited many countries that I like. But it’s generally the people and the experience that attracts me the most rather than just the country itself.
As far as hotels are concerned, I like small boutique hotels rather than big fancy hotel. Boutique hotels are much more personal and friendly, and people tend to be more interesting.
What about your taste in cuisine?
Again, I like simple things. I am not a big fan of big and expensive restaurants. So I would say Asado (Argentine barbecue) is probably my favourite dining experience not just for the food, but also for the event itself. It’s a very sociable and entertaining way to eat especially in Argentina where the meat is so good! When I am in Italy my favourite dish is "spaghetti alle vongole nel sugo rosso (clam spaghetti in tomato sauce)". This is always a must when I visit.
There are many interpretations of luxury. What is luxury to you?
To play and follow polo is time-consuming so time is a luxury and should be used well. I think spending time with friends and family at the polo club or watching polo, while wearing my casual outfits, is a true and pure luxury. I wear classic suits to express my respect to the businessmen with whom we do business, and they too dress for the occasion to meet me. But I feel my true self when I am in casual wear in relaxing environments such as the local polo club. To me, this is luxury that can’t be bought.
Click here to see a list of La Martina boutiques
Click here to see La Martina's look for Fall-Winter 2010-11
Spain FW 2010