Well, it worked. A pop-up shop has been converted into a brick and mortar. In August, Vania Escauriza Gagliardone and David Martinez opened a temporary boutique at Ashker’s on Elmwood Avenue. The pop-up shop was so successful that the two decided that they wanted to open up a permanent retail store. The problem was that they wanted to open the boutique right across the street from Ashker’s. In a frenzied and bold move, they asked the owner of a relatively new store called Sset (see here) if she would be interested in allowing the couple to take over her lease. Surprisingly the owner agreed, as something rather unexpected had come up in her life. Within a month, the papers were signed Vania and David were moving onto Elmwood Avenue.
In order to get a feel of the store and the company called Vania & David, it’s important to understand the history of Vania, who is the chief designer for the merchandise. Vania’s inspiration comes from her home country of Paraguay, but it also comes from the different seasons in Buffalo. “I am inspired by contrast,” she explains. “I come from third world country – Paraguay – a country with super wealth and extremely poor people. When I was little it was a dictatorship under Stroessner – very safe. We would sleep with no windows. Everyone was educated and there was no crime. The dollar remained the same for 30 years. It changed in 1989, when the dictatorship fell. A month after that happened we were robbed. Freedom came with instability. After Stroessner, people were either rich or poor. I could see that in my eyes growing up. 20 years after Stroessner, Paraguay became a different country with a lot of corruption. At the same time my country is still lovely, and I often go back to source my leather goods and say hello to family.”
“Paraguay is that is one of the nicest places to visit, we have one of the best gastronomies in South America, amazing meat and it’s growing like crazy right now – there are more investors than ever (besides the corruption) in Ciudad del Este, the border city with Brasil. We have the biggest waterfall in the world, called Itaipu (another Buffalo similarity), and they will start working on the biggest Hard Rock Café hotel and casino (it would be the size of the one in Las Vegas). They are opening the first Hard Rock Café in Asuncion in November. Tourism is booming in Paraguay – it’s still the safest country to visit in South America.
“I believe that Paraguay is one of the best places to try food on a very reasonable price. People in general are very kind, and most Americans that go there, they love it! It’s also the 4th largest producer of soy beans in the world. Paraguay also has the biggest reserve of sweet water in the world – spring water, all river waters, water from large lakes (sounds a bit like Buffalo). There are only a few sweet water reserves left in the world – it is something that in the future countries will vie for. It’s very valuable.
“I go to Paraguay three times a year if I can. In terms of development, I see both of “my” cities on the rise again – Asuncion and also Buffalo growing almost at the same time, so in a way I find lots of similarities in both cities.”
Today Vania and David live in Buffalo with their son, David. Over the years, as Vania’s signature leather goods and jewelry pieces became more popular, David stepped into the role of marketing and sales, and became a natural at the game (David is a lawyer by trade). “In 2000 Vania began buying leather from Paraguay,” David told me. “Vania picks the leather, and draws the prints, which are then tooled by native craftsmen. The jewelry is all designed and made in Buffalo. Up until now we’ve been selling all of the designer pieces online and at trunk shows such as Henri Bendel on 5th Avenue. It was shows like that made us realize that we were really good at the one-to-one level of sales. That helped us to feel comfortable with opening a retail shop in Buffalo.”
Each one of Vania & David’s pieces are beautiful and unique in their own way. From translucent necklaces to vibrant arrays of colors, the jewelry is displayed in a way that allows each piece to speak for itself… and some of them shout out loud. “I love bold pieces,” says Vania. “I’m also inspired by Buffalo’s four seasons – the flowers in the spring and the leaves in the fall. I love animal prints and strong statements. At this point, we are so excited to be selling these goods on Elmwood Avenue. My dream would be to sell to Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys – that’s our next mission. In the meantime I’m going to be creating my dream world in this store… it’s like my little bubble away from the real world, where everything is beautiful. I love to create a fantasy for myself and for others.”
While Vania and David are just getting going in Buffalo, their lines have been featured in a number of international high profile settings. “We have been featured in Urbanette Magazine (first online fashion magazine), British Vogue, British Harper’s Bazaar and GQ,” said David. “And in five movies – Produce, Sharknado 2 and The American Side (filmed in Buffalo and just screened at Woodstock Film Festival), The Ticket (not yet released), and Outskirts (not yet released). We have a line in the Made in America Store. We also sell to an online buyer in NYC (ShopAlekka.com), a boutique in San Francisco, and a boutique in Lafayette Square (Boutique in The Square), and Blush Boutique next door.”
Vania and David feel that Buffalo is on the brink of greatness. They love the effort to co-market with NYC, and the close proximity to Toronto. They are looking forward to the holidays on Elmwood and introducing their unique leather goods and jewelry to Buffalonians who appreciate the natural, bold and at times wild side of fashion.