Fashion: D-Tres Couture

Robert Martinez with a 18th century mens fashion crafted by D-Tres Couture.

Robert Martinez with a 18th century mens fashion crafted by D-Tres Couture.

Text + Photos: Mike Blanchard

Arts-y  |  You like fashion. You know it. Humans are programmed to pay attention to what people are wearing. It’s in our DNA. You may deride publications like Vogue when your doing the check out at the marketbut you like your jeans just so, you like your shoes to be a certain kind and you shure as hell notice when a woman in a beautiful dress walks into the bar. You like fashion. It’s cool I like it too. I like sewing. Sewing is cool. The person that can sew is ahead of the game. Just ask Sancho how many of his friends call him up to stitch up the seats in their cars. 

I met Robert Martinez through friends and when I found out that he does couture fashion I was intrigued by the craftsmanship angle of the story. He was gracious enough to invite me to see the shop with his fiancé Sarah acting as interpreter.

Roberto started the atelier with his then girlfriend, Raquel Hormigos. They met in college and decided to start business together. Raquel’s, father and brothers had a large shop that specialized in upholstery. She grew up in the shop and learned to sew at an early age. By the time she and Roberto met she was a master seamstress. Roberto was ready to hustle and away they went. 

After about eight years Carmen Parra joined the firm and they have been going for 20 years now. Eventually Roberto and Raquel split up but they found a way to work together. Roberto nods and smiles with a slightly pained look when talking about it. “It was hard but we made it work.”

Even that was nothing compared to getting through the financial crash in 2008. The three partners were forced to lay off their three seamstress and do everything themselves. They worked 12 hour days to keep the business afloat. Since then the Atelier has been steadily regaining its  

The work room is well lit with a row of sewing machines along one wall and a big work table in the middle. Racks of cloths and bolts of cloth line the walls. Two women are looking at patterns and two are sewing. They joke about having their picture taken and laugh at the concept of someone writing an article about them. 

I met Robert Martinez through friends and when I found out that he does couture fashion I was intrigued by the craftsmanship angle of the story.

The atelier specializes in avant garde clothing, theatrical clothing, historical designs, advertising work and wedding dresses. They are open to any creative and interesting commission. On one of their favorite commissions the group was asked to create a blouse out of heavy duty paper to painted on by an artist. One of the more unusual jobs was a corset out of razor blades, still sharp by the way, which, oddly, the purchaser never came to collect.  

Hormigos is the creative driving force behind the shop but the three principles, Hormigos, Martinez and Parra, work together as a team.  During a break for coffee she is smiling and funny and said, “When you have to design, when there is a story behind it, when you really have to put yourself into it, that is what I like.”

Every design starts with research. Either from drawings or pictures. The atelier keeps a collection of books and magazines to do research. Then Hormigos does the drawings and design work. From there they measure the customer, make patterns and cut out linen to make the initial design. All the pieces for the garment are made in linen, fitted on the model and then taken apart. The linen is used as a pattern for the final materials. Each piece takes roughly 48 hours to make. The team is generally working on several commissions at the same time.

D-Tres Couture is in a nondescript store from in La Latina, an old somewhat gritty working class neighborhood on the west side of central Madrid. About a 20 minute walk from Madrid’s center, Plaza Sol. A bit off the beaten path for high fashion.

Roberto is excited because the shop is moving to Cerrado (A more posh neighborhood in Madrid) in a month or so. “Many brides don’t like to go to La Latina will come to the new atelier,” says Roberto. It is a gamble for any business of long standing to move locations so the group is excited but nervous about the move. Gambling on a big payoff in the new location. Given their willingness to work hard and sacrifice it is a good bet.

These clothes are made by hand. And like anything hand made they cost good money. And they should. Artists should get paid a good wage to create things of quality. A garment from D-Tres Couture will run you at least $2000. If you have never had clothing that is handmade you are missing out. You can feel the quality of the product. It is like the difference between a killer ’32 roadster and a Plymouth Prowler.