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Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Rocketbuster takes fashion boot-ique approach
By Darren Meritz / El Paso Times

EL PASO -- Old World boot-making has collided with haute couture at Rocketbuster Boots, a boutique company in El Paso that's changed the focus of boot craftsmanship under the leadership of Nevena Christi, a former New York fashionista.

Part Western footwear, part kitsch and part high fashion, Rocketbuster Boots has carved its niche in El Paso as a retail manufacturer of tailor-made, one-of-a-kind boots that rely on cowboy fashion traditions.

But under Christi's influence, those boots have nuanced twists and borrow heavily from the latest styles, unusual fabrics and materials, and the whimsy of customers.

It's all a part of the vision of Christi, the unlikely owner of Rocketbuster who came to El Paso from New York more than a decade ago and is applying sophisticated design principles to classic Western craftsmanship.

"I'm different because I'm an artist," Christi said from her Downtown El Paso studio. "Every single step is done the old-fashioned way -- by hand."

In 1989, El Paso photographer Marty Snortum made a barroom deal to trade his 1953 Cadillac hearse for the upstart boot company, which was then owned by an Italian businessman longing to return to the old country. "So, (Snortum) woke up one morning, and he's got a boot company," Christi said.

Six years later, she stumbled across Rocketbuster when she was looking for six pairs of custom-made boots for a runway show. She went to Snortum, they fell in love, and she agreed to move to El Paso -- on the condition
that he give her the boots studio.

For the past 12 years, Christi has worked to make Rocket buster the premier custom boots manufacturer in the United States. And she has the accolades to prove it.

Essential to making Rocketbuster a success, she said, has been transforming what was once a tired formula into a custom-built factory where each boot is made to fit a person's foot precisely and with whatever unique design the customer wants. Rocketbuster makes about 10 pairs of boots a week.

When Christi took over Rocketbuster, the company had been using conventional methods designed for mass production, such as the use of cardboard cutouts for boot designs.

When Christi came in, she applied her background in art -- she studied at the Parsons School of Design in New York and Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London -- to the process.

She forced the studio to abandon cardboard cutouts and instead created a system to make each boot by hand for an exact fit for the customer.

"Everything we do is just very specific," she said. "Most of my customers reorder, and that's the thing -- they get hooked on the fit. They get hooked on the quality, and I'm proud to say they're addicted."

Be careful, though, because the addiction could prove costly.

Christi said only a small market exists in El Paso for her custom boots, so she's cast a wider net, marketing across the country to celebrities and others willing to pay a hefty price for her fit. Her customers includes celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Thalia and Peter Fonda.

The cost for a custom pair of boots from Rocketbuster: from $650 to as much as $5,000.

Darren Meritz may be reached at; 546-6127. This story originally appeared in Style magazine.

About Rocketbuster
# Who: Rocketbuster Handmade Custom Boots
# Where: 115 S. Anthony.
# Information: 541-1300.

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