As a salesperson at a Miami boutique, Irma Martinez used to dress the mannequins in the windows. Customers loved the way she put the outfits together — so much so they'd come in and buy all the pieces.
Irma has always been a creative dresser, skipping the rules and mixing items in a unique way. She'd make things her own, twisting a knot in a shirt or wearing shiny shoes in the middle of the day.
"I used to get sick of everybody dressing the same, like there was a code for everything — this for this place, this for this," Martinez remembers. "I was the rebel."
She moved to Florida from Colombia to study merchandising, the only real career available in fashion in the late '80s. But after she began working at the boutique, she realized her talent was in piecing together outfits. Celebrities began dropping by and asking her for help. Soon she was touring with Latin singer Angela Carrasco, planning her outfits, and then with Shakira.
The Miamian's rise began before celebrity styling was even recognized as a career. Almost 30 years later, she's the most prominent Latina stylist in the business, with a portfolio of clients including Daisy Fuentes, Pitbull, Ricky Martin, and Sofia Vergara. She also styles shows for the Latin market: She and a team of seamstresses created more than 100 outfits for the recent Latin Music Awards show. "It's still fun," Martinez says. "Incredible after more than 20 years that it's still fun. I really enjoy what I do. I think that's part of the success: When you find something you like, it makes it easier to go to work."
Petite and blond, she looks younger than her 51 years. She wears an all-denim ensemble — skinny jeans and a shirt with wide sleeves — with gold shoes and colorful dangling earrings.
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She built her company, Trendy Inc., slowly while she and her husband raised their two children and is proud of the balance she struck. Now the kids are grown and she's releasing a book, El Manual del Estilista. She is also moving her studio to a new location in the MiMo District, where she plans to offer classes.
She always knew she'd do something in fashion but never expected it would be at this level.
"I mean, I would never believe it," Martinez says. "Even sometimes when I'm with an artist at Madison Square Garden or something like that, I'm like, Wow, I cannot believe it. I'm here."