Arte Étnico Argentino
Matt Chesterton
October 01, 2014

The best Argentine modern design is rather like the best Argentine modern cuisine: it takes traditional materials and assembles them in non-traditional forms. Take leather. Argentina has long been one of the world's biggest leather exporters, but as a manufacturer of quality finished goods, it has lagged behind. At Humawaca, however, great leather is turned into attention-grabbing, vibrant products, from cowhide attaché cases to shoulder bags with iGadget-sized slots. Plata Nativa, Papelera Palermo, and Sabater Hermanos apply the same freewheeling yet quality-obsessed philosophy to, respectively, silverware, paper and, yes, soap. I could name countless others.

You'll find the greatest concentration of design shops on the south side of Palermo Viejo, a sub-neighborhood that is often called Palermo Soho. If you like to be guided by serendipity, simply start walking in a random direction from Plazoleta Cortázar, the neighborhood's busy hub. Lazier types may prefer to browse various hip brands under one roof, at stores like AutoriaBsAs and Tienda MALBA.

Elementos Argentinos

Owners Fernando Bach and Pablo Mendivil spend a lot of time on the road, visiting their weavers in Argentina’s Andean northwest. The result is a line of exquisite textiles, from blankets dyed in delicate colors to crochet flowering cacti to luxurious hand-loomed rugs. One of my daughter’s most prized possessions is her Elementos llama finger puppet, attached for all special occasions.

Arte Etnico Argentino

From the hobbit-sized chairs suspended from the ceiling to the late-19th-century textiles hanging on the walls, everything in this extraordinary showroom/atelier demands to be looked at and admired. Owners Ricardo Paz and Belén Carballo are specialists in the textile art and furniture of Santiago del Estero, a province in northwest Argentina, and their collection is as much labor of love as business. If they have time, they’ll show you the upstairs storeroom, where some of the quirkier items are stored.

Calma Chicha

This airy showroom is filled with things that beg to be sat, sprawled or stretched out on, including patchwork cowhides (either as nature intended or dyed in vivid colors), giant bean bags, and leather BKF “butterfly” chairs (an Argentine design classic). It’s an obligatory stop on any Palermo Soho design crawl.

Fueguia

Strange, sexy, and sweet-smelling Fueguia is the visionary project of Julián Bedel, a perfumer who also runs a laboratory in Palermo. His unique perfumes are displayed on a long table in a narrow space swaddled in dark velvet, creating what must be the most dramatic retail space in the city. All perfumes use natural essences, such as cedar, vellum, and yerba leaves, and are named for Argentina’s greatest historical figures and most sublime landscapes. 

Pehache

If you can imagine your really cool friends who live in a really cool house and own lots cool stuff having a fire sale, you can imagine somewhere like Pehache. It’s a sprawling old mansion renovated by sisters Mariana and Carolina Medina, filled with wares by their favorite local designers—including lighting maestro Patricio Lix Klett—and opened as a shop. There’s a sweet café on the patio, too.

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