When Manuel Martinez He sews a costume, wanting it to represent the person wearing it.
But the story of his client Jorge Valdes is one of the most complex and unusual tales he has spun to date.
In the 1970s, Valdes was the leader of the Colombian drug cartel in the United States. Suddenly, bringing in millions of dollars a month was a huge change for Valdes, a Cuban immigrant who was then 20 years old, who had grown up in poverty. But he was also living, he says, “through hell and back.” He suffered unimaginable torture and ran in the same circles as the killers and kidnappers.
Valdes was eventually imprisoned for 10 years. By the time he was released in the mid-1990s, he said he was a changed man. He found God and decided to get his master’s and doctorate degrees. The study of theology. He wrote a book detailing how he turned his life around.
And last fall, he told his story on a bigger stage: Netflix. Valdes starred in the documentary Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami.
After the show aired, it wasn’t just Valdes’ story that stunned social media. Valdes was sending direct messages about his navy suits and pink ties, too. One podcast described it as “a sharp, edgy wardrobe.” Viewers wanted to know where he got his clothes from.
So Valdez made an Instagram post introducing his followers to his longtime tailor: “It’s easy to look good when your tailor, Manuel Martinez from Martinez Custom Clothier…is wearing your clothes,” he wrote.
A few weeks after the first episode aired, Valdes returned to Baton Rouge at the Martinez flagship for more outfits with the tailor.
Martinez smiles as he remembers the Instagram post.
He says, “The thing about Jorge is that he is such a co-man. He told the world who made his clothes. That was an incredible thing for us.”
Martinez met Valdes more than a decade ago at the Mardi Gras Bowl in Washington, D.C. The two chatted and discovered a shared love of clothing — and a mutual relationship with Baton Rouge. Valdes made communion with the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, where he later built the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, providing Catholic prisoners with a place of prayer.
Visited Valdes Martinez on his next trip to Louisiana. During lunch at Mansurs on the Boulevard, Valdes told Martinez everything – first about the cartel and the prison, and then about the life he lived for himself after imprisonment as a husband and father.
“He shocked me with his story,” Martinez recalls. “But he seemed like a very real person. We became friends.”
Since then, Martinez has been making clothes for Valdes.
Today, Valdes says he doesn’t appear anywhere in the world without first asking Martinez what he should wear.
In the wake of the Netflix premiere, this included tracksuits and pants in shades of salmon pink, ocean blue, and sage green with plaid patterns and window panels. Each piece has been specially crafted from materials such as wool, silk and linen. Valdes, who now lives in Florida, has worn the costumes for various occasions in Miami.
“Jorge is very outgoing; he’s not shy. He has some flair. He’s not afraid of color or being artistic with his clothes. So I put all of these ingredients when I make clothes for him,” says Martinez. “I always told him: We need to make clothes that represent the man you are today. We need to send a message.”
It’s the same approach Martinez has taken with every client he has for the past 40 years. He wears the uniform of prime ministers, sons of presidents, governors, and senators.
But whether he’s hiring a healthcare CEO for a Zoom meeting or helping Valdés dress up Art Basel, Martinez tailors each look to the client’s personality and lifestyle.
“This is the beauty of what I do: I create something that represents that individual,” he says.
And for Valdes, his wardrobe was a crucial component of his new life.
“We are not defined by our past. We can be different,” Valdes says. “Manuel helped me make my own image. He knows who I am. It doesn’t dress me up to be someone else.” martinezcustom.com
This article was originally published in the January 2022 issue of 225 magazine.
New Year, New You: Local healthy restaurants and cafes to help you make your decisions
CounterSpaceBR is expanding, planning a second location this spring