fashion: M-80 sparks the fuse attached to Miami hipster fashion

When two fashionistas, one a freelance stylist with an established vintage collection and the other a former unfulfilled marketing executive, decided to open a local business together, the result was M-80, an independent fashion boutique hoping to redefine Miami chic.

Nestled in Miami’s Design District on 36th Street, M-80, named after a small firework, is the place for shoppers to become reacquainted with 80s street fashion: garments that exemplify a flair for sex and rebellion.

While numerous fashion designers have unveiled lines that dabble in 80s trends, justice is rarely done. Intrepid individuality has been lost in the mundane and mass-produced trends of yesteryear. M-80, though a work in progress, is lighting a colorful fuse attached to the Miami fashion scene, selling one-of-a-kind vintage pieces and a growing selection of local-independent labels.

Located amid Miami’s underground counter culture and art de jour galleries and artisans, the owners of M-80, Anna Maria Diaz-Balart and Maria Barraco have opened the doors of their clothing boutique to the city’s fashion mavens and enthusiasts. According to Diaz-Balart, their focus is simple: develop a collection of early vintage clothing and an outlet where independent designers from the area can showcase and sell their designs.

After a detested stint in marketing, Diaz-Balart had a nice slice of time to contemplate her professional life’s direction. Her passion for fashion sprung the idea of opening a boutique, but knew she couldn’t do it alone. Fortunately, her close friend Maria Barraco was the perfect accomplice.

“Barraco is a freelance stylist. She’s been developing this vintage collection over years and years and just puts fabulous pieces together. We’re a brand new business but we’re starting out with all this great stuff only because Barraco already had a really awesome collection,” Diaz said.

So what makes M-80 stand out in the shade of a tropical metropolis where fashion ranks right behind beautiful sunsets, nightlife, and vice?

“I think there are other collections like what we have, but for the most part they belong to stylists and are private collections. You can rent them, but you can’t buy them.”

Diaz-Balart places a tremendous emphasis on helping local, young, independent designers build their popularity and exposure via the store.

“What inspires me now is really what used to depress me in high school,” Diaz-Balart said. “While I was studying fashion [design at Design and Architecture Senior] High school, I always thought that Coconut Grove and South Beach was all the same shopping. There’s really not a place for fashion designers in Miami. If you make really cool stuff you take it to LA or NYC. This is my city, where I grew up; this is where I want to be. So I hope that this store can be a place where local independent designers can sell their stuff and don’t have to feel like their first designs have to be somewhere besides Miami.”

“We already we have some local designers,” Diaz said, “including Keiko Fernandez, a current UM student, and even somebody from NY. But I’m really going to put my energy into finding the local designers and bringing that stuff into the store. There’s a lot of artistic talent in Miami and people shouldn’t feel like the only cool places to shop are in New York.” As of right now, Diaz is conducting her talent search based on word of mouth.

“We are going to start carrying clothing made by recent graduates of IFAC, like Herman Bass,” Diaz said. Bass’ extremely graphic T-shirt designs will be produced under the label Team Wave.

Though people tend to equate fashion with money, Diaz-Balart feels that fashion is an unpretentious and accessible form of art that people should acknowledge. “The nice thing about vintage is that after 20 years there’s not much of an item laying around. You know that if you find a really great shirt you’re probably going to be the only one who has it. It’s someone else’s design and by mixing a designer shirt with a $40 vintage denim skirt, it truly becomes your own. It’s simply an extension of playing dress-up.”

M-80 is a small store that resembles a mother’s walk-in closet. The bare extent of the interior decoration ends with neon geometric design boards displayed horizontally on one wall. This minimalism creates the atmosphere of more upscale thrift store shopping. M-80’s pieces are pricier, yet less worn than what one would ordinarily find at a thrift store. However, shoppers may find themselves craving the thrill of snagging an amazing find during a thrift store rummage.

On this afternoon, Diaz-Balart was greeting customers clad in a vintage silk ’70s print floral dress accessorized with a rifle necklace ready to fire its explosive gunpowder. Racks of clothing encompass a wall, shelved with screened handbags by Trash Rape, and metallic heels. Browsing through the collection one might find 80s originals, including shoulder-padded silk floral dresses, 70s prints, signature Madonna-esque tiered dresses, puffy sleeved tops, and several designer pieces, which include Yves St. Laurent and Betsy Johnson.

Future plans involve reserving half of the store for independent designers around the Dade area, and to expand the vintage collection for men, something that at first intimidated them due to males’ association with sporadic shopping habits.

An exclusive M-80 signature line is scheduled to drop in January, combining vintage designs, styles, and forms with functional modernity and affordable prices. On Dec. 7th M-80 will host a fashion show to coincide with a music/art block party thrown by NewTimes and their raging neighbors at POPLIFE.

M-80 is located on 21 NW 36 St., Miami, 33127, and can be reached at (305) 573-2122. For more info seek

Jeanette Hallak can be reached at