Buenos Aires' Villa Crespo is a quiet district known for its auto shops and the local soccer stadium. Yet behind the rusted doors of one of the neighborhood's ubiquitous garages, Jessica Trosman, a slim, energetic porteña (as Buenos Aires' denizens are known), oversees her eponymous womenswear line. The Trosman workshop is a massive space, its unfinished concrete floor crowded with large industrial machines and women wielding scissors, its high walls covered with patterns and prototypes. A bright orange A-line skirt ($290) hangs from one machine. "It's like one of those T-shirts you wore when you were little," Trosman says of the skirt's gray pixilated floral pattern. This particular piece, with its subtle sheen and Lichtenstein-like graphics, is bound for London's Harvey Nichols.
Trosman, 37, started producing clothes under the label Trosman Churba (Martin Churba, her one-time collaborator, has since left the company) in 1997. Demand for her sexy, embellished tops and dresses got her into Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York. In 1999 she hung out a shingle in Buenos Aires, designing out of her father's former auto repair shop and selling her work at her boutique in the then-sleepy Palermo Viejo neighborhood. It was Trosman who helped pioneer the transformation of the previously residential Palermo Viejo into a kind of Argentinean Notting Hill or NoLIta, a vibrant cluster of cafés, restaurants, and shops.
Trosman attributes her success to her vigilance as a consumer: "A good shopper," she says, "makes a good designer." Her personal favorites include Ann Demeulemeester and Rei Kawakubo, whom she also credits as influences. While those designers' fashion-forward, concept-heavy constructions might seem a world away from Trosman's bright separates, she has learned from their skill as craftspeople whose clothes prioritize cut and fit. "It takes a lot of time to create pieces that make the body look this good," Trosman explains, "but that kind of attention to detail—crafting pants, for example, with no visible seams—it's worth it." She's developed her own signature method of beadwork: Wooden patterns are filled by hand with beads, covered with fabric, and then heat is used to bond the beads to the material. A red chiffon dress is topped off with a bodice of black beads ($590); a white cotton top, cap sleeves cut with a razor so they hang, suggestively, at the shoulder, is dressed up by a spray of pink and metallic silver beads ($190); a wide Lycra-blend belt, meant to sit on the hips, is studded with hand-painted beads in black and pink ($150); a long, cocoa chiffon scarf is embellished with amber beads and metallic sequins ($350).
She wears head-to-toe Trosman herself (today it's a fitted hunter-green blazer with slim pants in the same shade), and knows firsthand how the clothes fit and last. "Don't dry-clean too much," she says sternly. Despite the complex mechanical processes used to create them, the pieces are, true to Trosman's consumer-friendly stance, "just simple, beautiful clothes that are easy to wear and easy to care for."
Trosman recently opened a second store in Patio Bullrich, a high-end shopping center in the north of the city. The minimalist space, with its opaque glass facade, plain marble floors, and simple steel racks, is a stark contrast to its elegantly appointed neighbors, chandeliered spaces where the city's ladies who lunch browse the afternoon away. The Trosman store is unapologetically modern, letting the clothes take center stage.
Neighboring shopkeepers were skeptical about Trosman's gambit—instead of wooden tables piled high with cable-knit cashmere sweaters, the Trosman store has a plain glass table atop which sits a single beaded belt; instead of ornate, gilt-framed mirrors, there are mirrored walls. A recent afternoon finds the store crowded with sunglass-sporting husbands and wives (who look like they have come straight off the polo fields), and Chanel-clad mother-and-daughter teams. The teenagers want the intricate, corset-style tops; their mothers model the form-fitting cotton trousers.
Inside, there's a printed chiffon dress in black, yellow, pink, and blue stripes ($590). There are more minimal looks, such as a strapless shift in an unlikely lavender, navy, and black silk blend that is muted chic ($320). There's room in every wardrobe for a little red dress; Trosman's interpretation is chiffon, its shorn hem ending above the knee, with a beaded bodice and a cut-out back ($590).
And while most of the looks are dressy, there are separates perfectly suitable for day: a soft, cap-sleeve jersey top in a rich royal blue ($120); superb denim blazers—collarless, fitted, and available in black and ivory—sleekly minimal, save the visible stitching on the front ($390). More daring pieces for the younger customer include a racer-back tank dress in rich chocolate and beige cotton, with white piping ($390). This sort of sophistication and diversity is what's kept Trosman in demand around the world. And though it is certainly tempting to call the clothes distinctively South American, she herself prefers to think of her line simply as "avant-garde but wearable high fashion."
Available at select Nordstrom stores, Dernier Cri in New York, and at Bus Stop in Tokyo. In Buenos Aires: 1998 Armenia (Palermo Viejo); 54-11-4833-3058; 750 Avenida del Libertador (Patio Bullrich); 54-11-4814-7411.
Palermo Viejo is now the place for young designers to set up shop in Buenos Aires. A few favorites:
Mauritana for colorful sportswear for men and women. At 1408 Serrano; 54-11-4834-6543.
Felix for menswear inspired by classic English tailoring. At 1670 Gurruchaga; 54-11-4832-2994.
Sylvie Geronimi for custom-made women's shoes ($150). At 2463 Uriarte; 54-11-4774-5408.
Maria Medici for chunky silver rings and delicate dangling earrings. At 1565 Thames; 54-11-4833-6493.
Cossio for luxurious leather and fur. At 4255 Soler; 54-11-4867-2733.