Armando Cabral has modeled all over the world for countless brands’ campaigns and runway shows, and though his smile is extremely recognizable to anyone interested in men’s fashion, he has since evolved his career with his eponymous footwear label. That’s not to say he doesn’t model anymore, but he’s shifted a majority of his focus to his brand, currently settling into its fifteenth year of existence. He has a store in Rockefeller Center, which he calls the Armando Cabral Mercado—more on that in a moment—and with a packed travel calendar, the man doesn’t have time for much else.
I’ve known Armando for almost a decade. We met at my first job, Carson Street Clothiers, where we sold his footwear brand. I’d see him in passing during fashion weeks, photographing him when I could, and I don’t recall ever seeing him without an ear-to-ear grin, complete with warm vibes. Cabral hails from Portugal, by way of his home country in West Africa, Guinea-Bissau. Since the pandemic, he has sought to more deeply inject his brand with the bits of his heritage that make him who he is. Below, we discuss his modeling career, the foundations of his brand and how it’s changed through the years, and more.
Where are you from and how did you start modeling?
I’m from Lisbon, Portugal, and I started modeling early in 2001. I started off a little bit in Portugal, and then when I moved to London to study business and finance, I was basically always harassed by people on the street to try to be a model. That’s how I joined. This is a short version of it, obviously. Shortly after, I moved to New York to pursue my career, and I’ve been here for the past 16 years now.
What have you learned about yourself over the course of your career?
I’ve learned my patience, I’ve learned my consistency, and I’ve learned my determination, because my career didn’t start right away. I’ve always had to push, and knock doors away, in order to basically get to where I am today. Out of that came persistency, consistency and the drive. It was such a great discovery of my own inner personality that I didn’t believe I had at the time.
How has modeling impacted your personal style?
Throughout the years, having the opportunity to work with all these major fashion houses, I’ve learned to define my own aesthetics by experimenting with things that I like. Early in my career, I was very afraid of colors, but every time I would go for a shoot, or I’d go for a fashion show in some nice outfit with color, I end up looking at myself and going, “Wow, actually this is really nice.” Before that, I would never go shopping and pick up on something bright. Even in the early years of my modeling career, I was still very into my grays and navies. Eventually, I started infusing colors because of work I’d done in the past.
What prompted you to start your own brand?
Armando Cabral was born out of a lifelong passion that I’ve had for shoes. At the time, I just wanted to create something that had a point of view, a sense of individualism. When I started it, most of the fashion houses that had footwear were either big brands that just wanted to diversify by creating a new category, or they were factory-owned brands. There were very few founder-led companies and brands. I wanted to communicate my point of view by bringing craftsmanship and a mid-entry price point to luxury, to infuse that and fill that gap. At the time, there was no such thing, except for Common Projects. And then even because of Common Projects, it was a sneaker-focused brand and I wanted to be a men’s essential, where you can have shoes that you go to work with, shoes you can travel with, and shoes for leisure.
How have you grown and evolved the brand since you started it?
The brand has evolved from our initial concept of basically just making it these three categories that I’ve described to you to infusing something that is more personal to me and my heritage. I started telling more of my story. We also evolved to produce accessories, leather goods, and we’re slowly expanding into unisex sizing.
Can you expound upon what you mean by your heritage?
In 2021, I decided to have people understand a little bit about me. My background is West African. I did research on the 13th century Mali Empire, which my country of origin was a part at the time. I felt it was really important to bring all this beautiful craftsmanship they exhibited in the way they weaved fabrics. Some of our loafers have these embroideries on them, which have Adinkra symbols of prosperity. Of course, we pair it with European craftsmanship, which is also part of who I am, being from Portugal. In bringing it all together, it gives us a unique brand positioning so that when you see it, you identify it. You know the story’s authentic, and it really reflects who I am.
What makes your new store unique?
What we wanted to do is a concept store within our brand umbrella, to tell the story and celebrate African heritage, all the Africans in the diaspora, and their creativity. It’s bringing together art, fashion, and design. I wanted it to be similar to a market. We actually call it Armando Cabral Mercado, and we host other brands that really amplify and complement what we are doing. We wanted you to submerge into the culture. You come in, you explore art, you explore design, even the scent, the music, the whole feel of it—it’s something that transports you to that world.
What are some of your favorite brands?
I love Art Comes First. I also love Officine Générale and Ami. These are all good friends that make approachable clothing—simple, approachable, comfortable. Dries Van Noten is a fashion house that I’ve worked with for many years and I love—love—everything they do. But one of my favorite brands is Armando Cabral!
What does your off time look like?
When I’m not busy working, I love to play basketball. It’s one of the things that some people don’t know about me, but my biggest dream was to be an NBA player. I’ll read a book, and if I’m fortunate enough, I’ll book myself a spa day to get a massage or go to a sauna, but it’s very rare.
Christopher Fenimore is a writer and photographer living in New York. Working with clients ranging from clothiers to vineyards, he’s also covered street style for a number of outlets. Follow him on Instagram at @c.fenimore.
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