Artist Cristina Martinez Cherishes the Freedom of Childlike Dressing

by Nia Groce

Courtesy of Nordstrom by Cristina Martinez

The contemporary artist Cristina Martinez dresses much like the way she paints. Whimsical, colorful, thoughtful, inspired—sometimes anchored by the reliability of “sweatpants,” as her observant young daughter puts it during a Zoom call from their eclectic Seattle home. “Comfort, balance, and art,” is how Martinez, who appears on camera wearing hand-painted jeans, a vibrant shawl, layered gold necklaces, and freshly braided hair, would categorize her style more precisely.

She’s all smiles as she’s preparing to drop the third “Nordstrom by Cristina Martinez” apparel and home collection, which, this time around, is inspired by community. It’s the final installment in a partnership that kicked off last fall and brought the Tacoma, Washington native somewhat back to her roots (she originally studied fashion in school) and presented a major platform for her to continue amplifying the stories of Black and Brown people, “encouraging them to water themselves to bloom and grow,” as her mission states.

But before there were big brands informing her creative purview, there was her family—and there was Bob Ross. The artist chats with W to break down her Style Notes, including why André 3000 can never go wrong and how she’s manifesting all things Rihanna.

Martinez’s daughter wears looks from the Nordstrom by Cristina Martinez collection.

Courtesy of Nordstrom by Cristina Martinez

How did your interest in art first develop?

I used to find anything around the house to be creative with. It’s not like there were canvases and paint laying around, but there were napkins and nail polish and maybe a piece of cardboard or things like that. And I was always finding ways to make something with what we had. So very early on, even though I didn’t fully understand it, art became a friend to me, or a safe space when I was alone.

And because my mom worked so much, I spent a lot of time watching Bob Ross—that’s the first moment I remember feeling like what he’s doing looked incredible. I would love to live that life and be a painter. But it always felt super far away. So my relationship with art developed as I got older, but as a child, it purely came from wanting to fill this void of being an only child with this young single mom and finding something to bring joy and peace. And it did.

"I Want You to Leave Before I Finish This Butterfly" by Cristina Martinez.

What made you choose community as the theme for this last collection with Nordstrom?

Along this journey, and working with any big brand, it’s impossible not to be aware of the fact that there is a lack of Black and Brown people in these environments. And for me, I’m surrounded by so many talented creatives who just need a little bit of a spotlight on them and they can absolutely make magic happen. I realize how important it is to use this moment to do exactly that… Because the reality of it is, without these creatives, I wouldn’t be able to tell my own story as clearly.

How would you describe your style as a teenager? What were the other people in your age group, or even your family, wearing?

My mom had me at 15 and at that time, I was with her and her sisters all the time; her older sister was 17 and her younger sister was 13. So as I was growing up, they were very aware of trends and streetwear—I got that influence. But because they were so young, they still lived at home with my grandma, so I had this traditional Mexican influence as well.

Just having my mom be at that age where she was still actively experimenting with her looks… I wore a lot of my mom’s clothes. There’s a school picture of me from fourth grade where I have on my mom’s bodysuit and some high-waisted Levi’s.

Martinez and her mother wear looks from the Nordstrom by Cristina Martinez collection.

Courtesy of Nordstrom by Cristina Martinez

What was the last thing you purchased?

One thing that I’ve purchased that I wear the life out of is my Bottega Puddle Boots. I paint in them. I live in Seattle [where it rains a lot]. I wear them all the time!

What is the best fashion advice you’ve ever received?

As cliche as it sounds, no matter what you have on, if you’re confident in it, no one can touch you. My partner always tells me that he’s never walked in a room and felt like he was underdressed or overdressed because of the attitude he takes with it.

Martinez and her partner, contemporary artist Al-Baseer Holly.

Courtesy of Nordstrom by Cristina Martinez

Which friend or designer’s style do you most admire?

Honestly, I’ve always related to men’s style a lot. I’ve never seen André 3000 wear something that I didn’t wish I had in my closet. My son, Marcus Jr., every single thing he puts on is just like, “How do you do that?” He looks cool every day. Kids have that confidence and that freedom when they put things together that I feel like a lot of adults lose. So I love to look to my son and my daughter—they’re always inspiring.

Martinez’s son, Marcus Jr., wears looks from the Nordstrom by Cristina Martinez collection.

Courtesy of Nordstrom by Cristina Martinez

Do you have a favorite fashion moment from pop culture?

Any Rihanna moment. It’s embarrassing how many times I’ve illustrated her, how many looks of hers I’ve painted. My old sketchbooks contain full pages, all-Rihanna. I really believe the way that Rihanna pieces things together looks like art.

It’s not embarrassing, it’s just something you’re manifesting! What would you say is always in your bag?

My Fenty lip gloss. Speaking of manifesting—I probably have at least three shades with me at all times.