Date Night: The Creative Couple Behind Cuero and Mor
We peek into the Pinterest-worthy lives of Santa Monica transplants Maria Diaz and Pepe Romero, whose minimalist leather goods (and real life love affair) are making waves.
For Spain natives Pepe Romero and Maria Diaz, a leather goods business was never part of the original plan. Like most things in their life, it happened organically.
"Once I was [in L.A.] I kind of realized that I never had time in my life to do something creative,” says Diaz, who studied medicine in Spain and spent a year preparing to become a certified doctor in the U.S. before deciding to pursue her artistic inclinations instead. “So I decided to learn how to knit. I made a wallet.”
Romero, who works part time at an architecture firm in Santa Monica, added, “When I saw her wallet, I was like, ‘Oooh man,’ because I like design. I started helping with like little stuff, and then all the sudden we were like partners and we were doing it all the time. We didn’t decide anything, we didn’t talk about it, it just happened.”
After the wallet, the couple moved on to designing totes, satchels, backpacks and oversize shopper bags (priced from $89 to $425) — with designs fueled by a desire to make products they couldn't find on the market. "It was hard to find a nice backpack, and mine was broken, so we designed that one and that’s the one we have right now," said Romero, noting that the minimalist black leather bag was his personal favorite of the collection.
The couple, who met during their second year of university in Spain, had a similar trajectory in their relationship. They've traveled from their hometown of Cadiz, Spain to Santa Monica, Calif. (with a brief detour at the Little White Chapel in Vegas for an intimate wedding ceremony with close friends) and have fallen into a very spontaneous way of life.
"This is the first time I feel like every time that I do something I get something else,” says Romero, of how stepping out of the couple's comfort zone has created more and more opportunities for their business. “Like big a wave that gets bigger and bigger."
Their go-with-the-flow vibe has served them well, and after almost a decade in L.A. they've found themselves in a close-knit community of artists and creative types (including Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor of Pam & Gela) who have in some cases also become collaborators.
“Our photographer for our last shoot, we met in the water,” remarked Romero of their spring campaign, which was shot by local photographer Bummy Koepenick and modeled by his girlfriend, Brea Peck, whom they met while out surfing — a skill they learned just last year.
Though they seemed to happen upon the artist set serendipitously, the modest duo isn’t out of their league by any means. A glance around their quaint Santa Monica studio feels almost like looking at a Pinterest board — a thought that elicits humble laughs from the couple.
There are square cut scraps of marble (picked up for free from their neighbors that make countertops) adorned with succulents. Ramekins filled with blueberries and raspberries sit atop an unfinished wooden countertop next to empty mason jars which the couple use for tea and water. Samples of their satchels, wallets and totes are splayed on a display table, above which hangs a watercolor portrait painted by a “friend of a friend.”
Above the steel topped work table — which the couple built — hang miniature vases filled with small daisies and strung together on a clothesline. “We made most of the furniture,” Diaz remarks nonchalantly with a sweeping gesture around the studio.
Though they have no immediate plans to move into the furniture or interior design business the couple admits that they wouldn’t necessarily rule out the possibility. “We just like to design,” shrugs Romero.
The charming studio falls in line with the minimalist Danish aesthetic that has inspired their collections and for which they named their brand. “Cuero is ‘leather’ in Spanish, so that’s pretty obvious. We wanted to keep like a Spanish relationship with the brand,” says Romero of the origin of their unique name. “Mor is the Danish word for ‘well-done’ and this is more like the Danish architecture and Danish inspiration that we take — the Scandinavian designs that we look at. And then we wanted to merge the Spanish and the Scandinavian and the American.”
All of their products, which are sold primarily through their website but are also housed in a few boutiques worldwide, are handmade by the couple in the studio from leather sourced from Italy. Though the brand is less than two years old (having launched in 2013), their high quality craftsmanship has drawn interest from top bloggers including Olivia Lopez (Lust for Life) and Bri Emery (designlovefest), as well as Teri Hatcher's daughter, Emerson Tenney.
As for how their relationship fares with the creative process, Romero admits it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. “We fight, and then after the fight the product is done pretty much. I’m kidding. Half-way though,” he says of their collaborative process, which is in full swing as they prepare to design their next collection.
Though the work is never really over (says Diaz, “we work all the time, at home, in the studio — in the car"), the pair notes that they do try to carve out time to focus on themselves, whether that be meeting up with friends, surfing or just enjoying a night in.
“I really like to be at home and cook a good dinner with a good wine,” says Romero of an ideal Saturday night. Given Diaz’s gluten allergy, a homemade gluten-free pizza or Spanish omelets — made with ingredients fresh from the local farmer’s market — are usually on the menu.
As for the couple’s future, they’re in no hurry to leave their Santa Monica digs. Says Romero, “I feel like L.A. is home right now. I mean it’s not home, but it feels like home.”