Lando Simonetti, Polo’s Visionary Standard-Bearer

Roman by birth, he emigrated to Argentina at the tender age of six. His career began in Boston, working for a famous brand of jeans as vice-president. Going by what he says, it was indeed the United States of America that offered him the ideal environment, positive and peaceful, in which to grow and pursue his career. It was there he learned everything he knows about international commerce in the denim sector, and there he felt the need to move forward and build his own personal project based on the idea of launching a brand associated with the origins of polo, Argentina’s most popular sport and deeply rooted in local tradition.

First and foremost, Lando Simonetti understood the centrality of a line based on hand-made technical kit: saddles, boots, bridles and helmets were among the first products, while the now famous “polo bag”, an exclusive leather bag players use to carry their kit on and off the field, began making a name for itself.

This was how Simonetti presented his brand on the Argentinean market over the initial decades of activity, creating specific products for playing polo, which almost naturally led to the birth of the “La Martina” polo team: an elegant excuse for publicising the brand by taking direct part in some of the world’s most prestigious tournaments, including the Argentine Polo Open.

Shortly after, the founding father of La Martina found a way to implement this strategy in the United Kingdom, the United States of America and all other countries where polo has deep roots in local tradition. As well as participating in some of the most important polo events, Simonetti’s effective strategy was to begin opening stores in particularly strategic areas like Palm Beach, Florida and London. Polo players began adopting La Martina’s entire kit, not only for its exceptional quality, but for the efficient service that comes with it. The next step was the creation of an innovative design for the shirts supplied to the teams practising the sport.

Famous Universities, polo associations and private clubs taking part in prestigious events now officially wear the “polo-kit” created by La Martina, not just professional and amateur players, but kings and princes from all over the world as well.

The exclusiveness and prestige of this sport naturally attracted the attention, and the investments, of important luxury sector companies, which began sponsoring the teams’ technical kit. At present La Martina is sold in 56 countries through an exclusive distribution network that counts 85 boutiques and multi-brand channels, and through its partner, the Polo Management Group, is present at more than 100 polo events every year throughout the world.

We met Lando Simonetti who opened up his studio to us, revealing the reasons for this choice of his and the secrets of a passion that became fashion.

F.1.M. : What values sum up La Martina’s mood?

L.S. : It all gravitates around a single word: integrity.

Manufacturing technical equipment for the game of polo – and we are the absolute leaders in terms of the quality and performance of our products – means putting the safety of both rider and horse above all else, whatever the cost. You don’t mess around when life is at stake. This fundamental need is so deeply felt that even when we make a simple item like a polo shirt we apply the same procedures, the same care and attention we give to our technical equipment.

This sensitivity has developed to the point of being part of our way of relating to people. We consider a person’s word to be worth far more than a contract signed in front of an army of lawyers.

F.1.M. : Have you ever thought of creating lines dedicated to other elite sports, like show jumping?

L.S. : No: we were born into the world of polo, and it’s there we belong. Every sport demands its own dedication and skill. Show jumpers have different needs to polo players. In the end it’s a question of respect, of integrity like I said before.

We want to be able to guarantee the performance of our products, we owe that to the people who choose them; we simply wouldn’t be able to achieve the same results we have in polo for show jumping or other sports (at least not straight away of course …).

F.1.M. : What’s the Polo set like?

L.S. : It’s a scene made up of people belonging to the international elite, but very easy going at the same time. It’s a compact but open community founded on a shared passion for the sport.

Just a couple of weeks ago one of our people took part for the first time in an event with the British royal family (the Beaufort Charity Trophy, in collaboration with Maserati – ed) and though she’d been to other tournaments she was still amazed by the friendly atmosphere that develops at these events. Prince William and Prince Harry are really nice people, always willing to chat and share a joke, basically because they’re not bound by the rigid protocol of formal occasions. The common passion for the sport eliminates all distance and barriers. Of course, it’s essential to respect the codes of this world, but they’re ethical codes linked with the concepts of fair play and sense of honour. They never mention class or social standing.

F.1.M. : Does this atmosphere come through even in La Martina’s other collections?

L.S. : As well as having a wide range of products offering both sportswear and more formal items, one of our characteristics is the hidden detail; that little thing apparently “out of place” – a stitch in contrast, a button different to all the others, a formal bag with a crazy pattern lining – that makes everything lighter and less composed.

The same light atmosphere you breathe on the side lines at polo.

F.1.M. : How is the business of La Martina developing?

L.S. : In very general terms the company is expanding, but we’re doing it at a slow, regular pace. The privilege of having created a business that has never renounced its family vocation (my wife Gachi and I founded it, and our sons Adrian and Ignacio have been helping out for years now) is being able to control every decision, even the uneconomic ones, while sticking to our values. No shortcuts, no easy money just for the sake of it. The quality of our kit is the heart and soul of our work; the polo events are our energy. Being present in the world with around a hundred single-brand stores is an honour, but we’ve only achieved this after bringing polo of a certain level to those places (if it wasn’t already there) and supporting prestigious clubs and tournaments.

F.1.M. : How is the business structured between Italy and the rest of the world? On the French market in particular

L.S. : Italy, Germany and Spain are the three markets that generate most of our turnover in Europe, but we see France as the real ‘excellence’ in our European sales: controlled distribution, with the highest penetration in the Central and Southern regions, thanks also to the single-brand very highly positioned stores in Lyon and St. Tropez. St. Tropez has always been the favourite haunt of the jet set and the local polo club, with which we have a partnership, is one of the world’s most prestigious.

F.1.M. : Where are the significant growth areas?

L.S. : After the turbulence of recent years, Europe is beginning to settle down and starting to growth again, even if only in single figures for now.

The entire Middle and Far East is particularly lively, and Africa is beginning to show signs of becoming a promising future market.

To give you an idea: over the coming months we’ll be opening outlets in Marrakesh, Cairo, Cape Town and later in Tianjin. There’s a lot going on.

F.1.M. : What attracts customers to the La Martina brand?

L.S. : There can be several reasons: the most obvious is to do with the product and its exemplary quality. Then there’s the originality of a spontaneous style that encapsulates the polo experience; we’re not talking about an item inspired by a player’s shirt, but that entire series of details that can only be assimilated, and reinterpreted, by frequenting the world’s polo clubs. The colours of India, where polo is a veritable institution, blend with the evocation of Africa, the dress code of the British and the easy-chic of New York, all with a touch of Argentine sass. To achieve that level of sensitivity it isn’t enough just to draw on a particular world: you have to be part of it.

Then there are the values: the values of polo –that sense of honour and integrity that stems directly from the codes of the British cavalry – are La Martina’s same values, ones that our customers recognise instinctively in all of our products.

F.1.M. : The perfect testimonial for La Martina would be…?

L.S. : We don’t have a testimonial figure, we have values. So it’d be whoever believes in integrity, passion and family.

F.1.M. : Your favourite pastime other than La Martina?

L.S. : Looking to the horizon and thinking about the future.

F.1.M. : Looking to the future what do you see?

L.S. : The next thirty years of La Martina: the champions!