How a Baton Rouge tailor began styling Netflix’s latest star

Netflix star Jorge Valdés stopped in Baton Rouge this past fall for fittings with Manuel Martinez (in blue) of Martinez Custom Clothier. (Sean Gasser)

When Manuel Martinez tailors an outfit, he wants it to represent the person wearing it.

But the story of his client Jorge Valdés is one of the most complicated, extraordinary tales he’s woven yet, 225 magazine reports. 

In the ’70s, Valdés was the U.S.-based leader of a Colombian drug cartel. Suddenly bringing in millions of dollars a month was quite a change for the then-twentysomething Valdés, a Cuban immigrant who’d been raised in poverty. But he was also living, as he says, “through hell and back.” He experienced unthinkable torture and ran in the same circles as killers and kidnappers.

Valdés was eventually imprisoned for 10 years. By the time he was released in the mid-’90s, he says he was a changed man. He’d found God and decided to earn a master’s and a Ph.D. studying theology. He wrote a book detailing how he’d turned his life around.

And this past fall, he told his story on an even larger stage: Netflix. Valdés starred in the documentary Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami.

After the show aired, it wasn’t just Valdés’ story that stunned social media. Valdés was fielding DMs about his navy suits and pink ties, too. One podcast called him “a sharp, sharp dresser.” Viewers wanted to know where he got his clothes.

So Valdés made an Instagram post introducing his followers to his longtime tailor: “It is easy to look good when your tailor, Manuel Martinez of Martinez Custom Clothier … dresses you,” he wrote.

A few weeks after the first episode aired, Valdés was back in Baton Rouge at Martinez’s flagship shop for more fittings with the tailor.

Martinez smiles as he recalls the Instagram post.

“The thing about Jorge,” he says, “is that he’s such a sharing man. He told the world who made his clothes. That was an incredible thing for us.”

Martinez met Valdés more than a decade ago at the Mardi Gras Ball in Washington, D.C. The two got to talking and discovered a shared love of clothing—and a mutual connection to Baton Rouge. Valdés did outreach for the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, where he’d later build the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel, giving Catholic prisoners a place for prayer.

Valdés visited Martinez on his next trip to Louisiana. Over lunch at Mansurs on the Boulevard, Valdés told Martinez everything—first about the cartel and prison, and then about the life he made for himself after prison as a husband and a father.

“He shocked me with his story,” Martinez recalls. “But he seemed like a very genuine person. We became friends.”

Martinez has been making clothes for Valdés ever since.

Today, Valdés says he doesn’t make an appearance anywhere in the world without first asking Martinez what he should wear.

 This article was first published in the January 2022 issue of 225 magazine. Read the full story.