As designer Nicole Miller's close collaborator, Nevena Christi never thought in a million years that she would leave the New York fashion world for the far reaches of West Texas. But when Christi flew to El Paso in 1995 in search of custom-made boots to outfit models for a fashion show — because everybody knows El Paso is the nation's boot-making capital — she fell for bootmaker/photographer Marty Snortum and soon found a new home.
Oh, the things people do for love.
Out in the land of open spaces, big sky and precious little traffic, Christi is having the time of her life as the force behind Rocketbuster Boots. Her clients range from oil rig workers to celebrities like Ethan Hawke, Whoopi Goldberg and Taylor Swift. And because the shop, located in a historic brick fur-trappers warehouse, is listed in the Lonely Planet travel guide, several Japanese tourists stop by each week.
"Nobody's boring who buys our boots; that's just a fact of life."
"Nobody's boring who buys our boots; that's just a fact of life," Christi told CultureMap during a recent phone interview.
From the intial doodle on paper to the finished product, it takes around three months to make a pair of handcrafted cowboy boots at Rockbuster. (Only around 500 are made a year.) "It's really a whole process of creating a piece of art," Christi said. "Boots are special. They're just big jewelry. It's not something that a big machine spits out in China."
Christi is packing up three 50-pound bags of boots, which is always a challenge with airport security, she says, and is headed to Houston for a trunk show Saturday at Pinto Ranch, which is the only retail chain to regularly carry her boots. (Pinto Ranch carries Rocketbuster Boots in its Houston, Dallas and Las Vegas stores.) She will be the guest of honor at a party Friday from 6-8 p.m at the store, co-hosted by CultureMap.
Every pair of handcrafted boots Rocketbuster makes is as distinctive as the person wearing them. A pair of boots giving to director Steven Spielberg by composer John Williams included inlaid color images of Spielberg, his wife, Kate Capshaw, and their seven children. A recent pair of boots for a spinal surgeon featured a carved spine drawing from an anatomy book and a matching belt with one vertabre carved into the back.
"For most people it starts to become their attention-getter," Christi says.
A recent pair of boots for a spinal surgeon featured a carved spine drawing from an anatomy book and a matching belt with one vertabre carved into the back.
And certainly a conversation starter. Loyal customers send postcards from exotic locations where they have worn boots and regale Christi with special stories.
And when the boots get a little worn, they send them back to El Paso for a little TLC. "They're our children, so we're happy when people bring them back, so we can polish them and send them on their way," she says.
She's even been know to have someone at the El Paso factory/store break in a pair of boots for a customer who doesn't have the time or interest to do it.
Most of the boots, which range in price from $850 for a pair in stock to $3,000 for a special pair of crocodile boots, are fancy enough to serve as the flashiest accessory. "If you keep the rest of the outfit simple, it rocks it," she says.
Having lived in El Paso for nearly 15 years, Christi considers herself a Texan, but not the stereotypical kind. "This is more David Lynch Texas — weird cool Texas," she says. "We're casual funky Texas. I don't embrace the done-up Texan. My customers are that way, too, no matter where they are from. It's not a conformist thing. My Texan is unihibited, crazy, cool and free spirited."
The thing she likes most about west Texas: The big sky. "It's amazing," she says. "It's big and free and cool I didn't realize how claustrophic I was (in New York)."