After at least eight weeks of lockdown due to COVID-19, women are realizing just how important their favorite independent fashion boutiques are to their community. For over two months, there have been no in-store designer visits, no trunk shows, and no big spring fashion events to attend. For all that we keep hearing about the popularity of online shopping, the coronavirus has made it clear that nothing can replace the human interaction of the in-store shopping experience.
If you’re wondering if that’s really the case, just ask Max Martinez. It’s the main reason his self-named boutique, MAX, has been thriving for the last 35 years. Martinez has managed to pull together that perfect combination of high style fashion housed inside a beautiful boutique environment, while also developing deep roots in the community through a strong client following and continuous flow of charitable events. We talked to Martinez to find out why he decided to open a fashion boutique in Denver in the mid-80s, how Denver fashion has changed over the years, and why philanthropy is so important to him.
5280: Were you always interested in fashion?
Max Martinez: I can’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t obsessed with fashion. As early as age five, I was dressing my mother for church and did so throughout my entire adolescence. I continually encouraged her to incorporate the style of Jackie O into her everyday wardrobe, and she always looked amazing.
I know you worked in NYC for a while; why did you decide to come back to Denver and open a luxury designer boutique here?
There was white space in the area for what I wanted MAX to be and become. Never before had Colorado—much less the entire Rocky Mountain region—had exposure to designer clothing known in fashion capitals such as Paris and Milan. I saw an opportunity, and I took it.
What was fashion like in Denver when you first came back from NYC?
Colorado has always been about casual, functional dress, intermixed with whatever’s trending at the time. In 1985, fashion reflected a myriad of bold styles, from neon prints to high-waist pants, to oversized blazers—it was definitely a diverse time.
Was it hard when you first opened MAX to convince designers in NYC or Milan or Paris that there was an audience for their clothing in Denver?
Initially, all the designers I approached thought I was crazy, but I was able to quickly convince them otherwise. I forged close relationships with each of them and earned a lot of support from icons of the time—Diane Von Furstenberg, Dolce & Gabbana, Norma Kamali, and others—who didn’t have exposure in this part of the country. Their faith in my vision was what put me on the map.
Was there a particular style or aesthetic you tried to stick to with the designers you carried in your first store?
It’s always been my goal to offer clothing that is impeccably designed, exceptionally made, (to last!) and completely wearable, be it a Celine dress, a jacket by Dries Van Noten or a tee from Nili Lotan. Quality, beauty, and comfort have always been key considerations whether I’m buying from designers I’ve carried for 25 years or from those new to MAX.
How have you seen the retail and fashion scene change in Denver since you first opened MAX?
When more department stores came to Denver, particularly luxury department stores, the relationship with the consumer changed—it became impersonal. MAX is all about building relationships with our clients and we want everyone who comes through our doors to feel welcome and well cared for.
And you spend a lot of time in your stores.
When I’m not traveling, you’ll likely find me at either our location in Cherry Creek or Aspen. It’s also always wonderful to pop into our Boulder store, which is run by Holly Kabacoff, who has been with me for 26 years. I spend time in our boutiques because I love seeing our clients and connecting with them. Everyone at MAX, both staff and clients, have become a close family, and after 35 years in business, we’re dressing three generations of women: Grandmothers, mothers, and daughters. It’s truly amazing.
How has your fashion sensibility changed over the years and how is that reflected in your store?
Celebrating women has always been important to me, so while MAX carries a diverse range of male and female designers, lately I’m focusing more on lines designed by women. Also, in recent years I’ve become more mindful of how and where products are made—it’s become a top priority. For example, a designer like Maria Cornejo makes 80 percent of her product in New York, and many of her garments are made with up-cycled materials. Doing what we can to support industry in the U.S. and encourage sustainable practices in fashion is of critical importance to me.
Let’s talk about philanthropy for a second; you’ve been involved in giving back to the community for so long. Why is it important to you to host events that benefit Denver charities?
My mother instilled in me the importance of serving others and doing so has become my life’s mission. MAX has afforded me a broad network of incredible women who have helped raise more than $2.5 million over the past decade to fight AIDS, hunger, domestic violence, and to support Children’s Hospital Colorado.
What’s the latest charity you’re supporting?
This year and beyond, I’m working to raise funds for the Teen Art Programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art and for There With Care and Heart & Hand Center.
I know you originally had a big event planned for this spring to celebrate your anniversary, but its been pushed to next year because of COVID-19. Can you tell our readers a bit about that event and when it’s currently scheduled to happen?
Yes! We partnered with the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art for the first-ever MCA MAX MIX, a fashion show and dance party to raise funds for the museum’s Teen Programs. I spoke earlier about the wonderful Maria Cornejo; she was to be our guest designer for the runway show, which was to also feature Spring 2020 looks from some of my other favorite designers. Obviously the pandemic halted our plans. However, we have a lot to look forward to as we’ve rescheduled the event for next spring and can’t wait to share more details as they emerge. In the meantime, we’ve been able to raise more than $100,000 for the museum, even without the event happening. The support has been incredible.
Are you able to do any other fundraising this spring since the MCA event is postponed?
During the week of June 22, we’re hosting a drive to collect items to support the immediate needs of the families served by There With Care, which supports families with children in medical crisis. We’re collecting non-perishable food items, toiletries, cleaning products, and gift cards to purchase everything from groceries to gasoline. Donations will be accepted at our stores in Cherry Creek and Boulder—we invite everyone to participate!
Because of COVID-19, how do you see the fashion and retail landscape changing?
For MAX specifically, the pandemic has been a catalyst for building our social channels and to offer online shopping via our Instagram profile. Marketing hasn’t even had to be a primary objective for us so admittedly, we were a bit late to the party for e-commerce. I now have a team in place that’s creating a meaningful presence in the digital space that I’m confident will cascade awareness of MAX across new audiences.
OK, let’s wrap this up with some fashion advice. What items do you think a woman should invest in?
Investing in basics that are high quality and versatile is key. Caftans are a spring/summer essential. They’re typically very lightweight and can be styled in a myriad of ways: Over jeans and paired with sneakers or dressed up with sandals and statement jewelry. Unconstructed blazers are great to own for the same reason, especially as women no longer wear suits to work. Plus, they’re perfect for overly air-conditioned indoor spaces. Linen, silk or cotton-blend trousers are a nice alternative to denim, and always look great, even when worn with a simple tee.