In the beginning there was Marta and Paulo, Porto and Viseu, CITEX and Central Saint Martins. Today, there is a crowd divided between the cities of London and Porto: The M’A family is made up of muses, clients, collaborators, fans, siblings and a baby capable of changing directions. Talking about change is a theme that comes up naturally at a time when the brand is seeking expansion and new challenges. Portugal is one of the key places in this plan and the extended family is and will continue to be the social capital of Marques’Almeida.
NOW AND THEN
What is happening right now?
MARTA We’re nearing the end of development on a small capsule that revisits some signature pieces from Marques’Almeida. We don’t usually do collaborations, but it was something we decided to go for this year, alongside some of our oldest wholesale partners. The development for the next collection has started as well, so we’re living in a moment of transition.Resort 2019 was the latest collection you presented in Paris and Porto.
How did this collection unfold?
MARTA It all begins with research: we collect a lot of imagery and references that inspire us. These could come from anywhere. After this first compilation comes a process without rules, where everything happens at once; research occurs in parallel to the first stages of design and textile experimentation; we then start making choices about shapes, silhouettes and what we want to focus on and then go back to more research. It’s a non-linear process, always going back and forward.
PAULO The M’A Girls are another key-element of the entire process. This group of girls embodies the brand and they are very present in our day-to-day as members of the Marques’Almeida family: they visit the studio on a regular basis, we catch up about what’s going on in their lives, do fittings and take some photos. We’ve always had an obsession with real apparel and the relationships we create with the M’A Girls are the biggest source of inspiration for the work we continue to develop.
MARTA Seeing through their eyes and understanding how our pieces would be a part of their everyday lives is an exercise of such unique inspiration which we could never obtain through more traditional research.
PAULO For Resort 2019, we looked to Portugal for the first time: we revisited colours, patterns and more traditional silhouettes, but always with the M’A attitude in mind, where a dramatic Fado skirt is paired with an oversized sloppy hoodie.
How has this relationship with your clients and M’A Girls developed over the years?
MARTA I think everything evolved a little bit by chance, but we also had some luck. In the end, what gives us satisfaction from our work is this relationship and proximity that we have with the Marques’Almeida community. The real reason we started the brand was to create something in the high-end universe that was accessible and closer to our generation, because none of us really wanted to go to Selfridges to buy clothing.Also, London is the perfect city to connect with people who share the same ideas and desire to collaborate. That’s how we began to create our circle, the people with whom we work and nourish great relationships. That same close contact we have with “our” people naturally extends itself to our customers, who we engage with through Instagram, whether to receive feedback, exchange ideas or to hear about where they’re going with the M’A pants they’ve just bought.
Season after season, you have proven that denim is a material without limitations and a perfect ally for that transversality that is present in Marques’Almeida. Apart from the evolution of your visual language, what has remained constant since the beginning of the brand?
MARTA We used to say our focus isn’t on the product, but on its attitude. It’s a somewhat odd thing to say, because we are in fact selling a product, but that isn’t what motivates us. We try to communicate attitude through the product, that’s the most important thing.
PAULO An obsession for Grunge and the 90s grew in us. Grunge was an entire movement reacting to the 80s. The focus was on the mundane and what people wore every day. Beyond the attitude, I would say that feeling is constant in our collections: a tom-boyish way of dressing with a Melanie Ward vibe where a Galliano gown coexists in the same look with a Levi’s jacket. Denim revealed itself to be the main element to tell that story of carelessness and ease that seemed to be lacking in high-end fashion.One of the magazines we kept as a great reference of this language is i-D magazine’s 1993 December edition: the cover photo shows a young (and still unknown) Kate Moss perfectly reflecting a regular girl mood by wearing an oversized jumper. In that same edition we can also find an interview with Helmut Lang, where he says that, “fashion is about attitude, not hemlines” and for us that encompasses everything: it’s not about whether we work with silk, feathers, or crystals, but what we communicate with each piece.
This season was marked by some changes, such as the transition from the runways of London to those in Paris. What position do you want to take with this new backdrop?
MARTA Essentially, we want to be less precious about rules, institutions and systems. There’s no need to maintain our usual formulas when the industry is changing completely: the way people consume and experience fashion is very different now, so we want to let go of preconceived ideas about how and where we show our work. Paris proved to be an escape from our comfort zone, but also a new pillar for our community beyond London. But the plan isn’t to settle, we want to continue to be on the move: this season we showcased in Paris and Portugal and who knows if we won’t move to Berlin or Los Angeles next. We want to keep going and build more pillars.
Speaking of your show at Portugal Fashion, what does this return to Portugal mean to you?
MARTA It was the perfect timing, because we finally started to look back to our roots in a more appreciative and thoughtful manner. This is something that seems to take a while for Portuguese people who work abroad to do: when we finished our course at CITEX, the first reaction was to leave everything behind and to look for something better. Eight years have gone by and this has made us acknowledge and understand everything differently. To be able to show our work in this context was perfect, and it will happen again!
Another change that stands out was the introduction of the ‘see now-buy now’ formula, that wound up making your fashion shows instantly shoppable. Do you already feel results from this new strategy?
MARTA Based on the information we had from our clients and from our M’A Girls, it didn’t make sense to keep showing collections that would only be available to buy six months later. In the meantime, ‘see now-buy now’ became a dirty saying in the industry and everyone thought it would be a failed method, but as I said earlier: we can’t restrict ourselves to systems. The cost of a fashion show is enormous, for a brand of our size it is necessary to direct that investment towards the client in a more direct and active way. So far, we can say that we have seen significant improvements and our clients are reacting very well.
PAULO Life has a different pace due to Instagram and social media, fed by stimuli and an audience’s attention span. It’s no longer a sensible choice to create an entire event that doesn’t reach its consumer in every way. It would be the same as going to a concert, but not being able to listen to the music until afterwards.
MARTA The next step is to include our clients even more in our shows, next to buyers and the press, so that they can be even more present in this new approach for our product.
Three years have passed since the LVMH Prize, what do you make of this great investment that contributed to the growth of Marques’Almeida?
MARTA I have no idea how this all started, but I think it was Sara Mower who spoke to us at the time of the contest and told us to participate. Since we were up for anything, we sent an application for the first edition. We didn’t make it past the Top 30, but we were more than happy with the experience and the people we got to meet.
When the applications for the second edition opened, we decided to compete again: it didn’t really matter we were repeating it. The worst that could happen was to go through the same experience. Only this time we made it to the Top 8 and that’s when it became a lot more stressful.
PAULO We were competing against Vetements and Jacquemus and our Portuguese mentality of underdogs was easily triggered. Besides, we stood in front of a panel of LVMH’s creative directors whom we had always admired: Raf Simons, Marc Jacobs, Nicolas Ghesquière and Phoebe Philo.
MARTA We tried to present Marques’Almeida without major scripts, presenting what we are and an essence of our work: a casual conversation (in ten timed minutes) where we talked about 90’s fashion magazines with Raf Simons and discussed shared imagery references with Marc Jacobs.
Winning was both fantastic and surreal. It allowed us to build stronger business foundations and to invest in team growth, which until then was made up by seven or eight people who worked non-stop with few resources. We were in utter overworking mode and it was impossible to continue like that for much longer.
LVMH’s seal of approval allowed us to put staff in the right positions, invest in lacking departments (such as logistics and finances), as well as organise systems so that life and our business would work in a smoother way and not just run on blood, sweat and tears.
We were taught to keep our eyes and horizons open to all possibilities and to never doubt our strength to overcome obstacles.
If we had to name two people to whom we owe our career, it would be Joana Bourbon at CITEX and Louise Wilson at Central Saint Martins. They changed everything.
If Central Saint Martins was a learning moment that made you rethink and question everything you knew as designers, what was CITEX’s role in your journey?
PAULO CITEX had a great impact on our journeys in two major ways: it was a great school in technical terms, which offered us a way of developing products that not many other schools could develop at an international level. Also, we had a course director, Joana Bourbon, who encouraged us to take chances and always strive for more.
MARTA We were taught to keep our eyes and horizons open to all possibilities and to never doubt our strength to overcome obstacles. Joana Bourbon was in fact a great boost to a way of being and working that we ended up adopting for life. It was more than technical training for me. What remained from CITEX was an era of hard work, which Central Saint Martins later brought me to question completely. I felt that whatever I wanted to do in this industry, it would cost me a part of myself. When you have the opportunity to do what you love, you must work for it, but there will be people beside you to help you go where you want.
PAULO An amazing thing that both courses have in common is that the application is made through an interview and portfolio. The candidates are judged by their work and creative value, rather than by an academic grade that is often a limiting grey area. I clearly remember the interview we had with Louise Wilson when we applied for Central Saint Martins. She went through our portfolios frenetically and kept saying “this sucks… this sucks too…”, but she suddenly stopped on a page and saw something there and couldn’t explain what it was, but it was the thing that got us into the course at CSM: a single portfolio page.
You’re part of a generation of students that had the privilege of studying under Louise Wilson’s mentorship. Tell me about this relationship and your growth in CSM.
PAULO The course is pure agony, there’s no other way to describe it. It was a time of war on all levels, from the struggle to find who we are as designers, to the battle to prove to this person that we deserve to be there.
MARTA The dinners we organised with former students seemed like encounters between war veterans, because everybody had a story to tell about the moment they thought they wouldn’t finish the course. Often it was Louise who prevented that from happening. The idea that she’s no longer in our lives is sometimes distressing, as is not knowing who will ever reach her level.
PAULO Louise was a human being with a rather unorthodox teaching method, but when you abstract yourself from all the cruelty, you understand she was only doing the necessary so that you could reach your goals.
MARTA You know you owe her that respect and effort in return, because she was doing her part. Our relationship with her was always about giving back everything she gave us, while dealing with our own inner turmoils. If we had to name two people to whom we owe our career, it would be Joana Bourbon at CITEX and Louise Wilson at Central Saint Martins. They changed everything.
Maria’s arrival intensified our purpose and made us strive for the brand’s inclusivity and diversity.
Your work takes place between Portugal and London. How is the team divided between both locations?
MARTA In Portugal we manage the factory’s production and quality control. We have a product manager, a production planner and a garment technologist working from the office in Porto.Whereas, in London we gather all the development work: a product development team, a junior designer, two pattern makers, a studio manager and some interns. There’s also a financial department, with a financial director, an accountant and the logistics team who communicates with the warehouse in Portugal for the worldwide distribution. Finally, a sales team, a content producer, a marketing and retail manager and in-house PR.
You have a new, special and very small team member, Maria. How did her arrival changed the working environment and the way you see Marques’Almeida’s future and mission?
PAULO Maria’s arrival has indeed completely influenced our reality. She further solidified the idea that everything must be done in a more organised way, but above all she helped us realise that we have a role and strong voice as agents in the industry.
MARTA As womenswear designers we have the responsibility of contributing to the image, growth and evolution of the system. We have always had that in mind, hence we began creating fashion shows with M’A Girls instead of models. Maria’s arrival intensified our purpose and made us strive for the brand’s inclusivity and diversity; we work with young girls, as well as the M’A Girls, who thank us for the opportunity of being part of our show, particularly when the agencies they work for encourage them to lose weight, for example. We may not operate on a big scale, but if we make a difference for one or two girls, that’s enough and it motivates us to go on.
PAULO The idea of what a model’s profile is needs to be reformulated in a way so that it matches all possibilities. If that girl exists on earth, it needs to reach her.
MARTA Because that same girl will be at home and will recognise herself in a fashion editorial or a runway show. The lack of connection needs to end, whether it be because of size, looks, race, the way you walk or move. Diversity is important in every way.
MADE IN PORTUGAL
As your brand has grown, how has your relationship with the Portuguese industry and production evolved?
PAULO I would say two things evolved at the same time: in the past years, the mentality of Portugal’s textile industry has changed for the better, due to the bigger opening for experimentation and less focus on huge quantities during production. An adaptation to new challenges was necessary, one that participated in more niche work, openness to new things and smaller production runs.
MARTA We used this moment of change to ally ourselves to new partnerships, whilst continuing to work alongside those who have supported us from the beginning, when we were producing 10 units. Growing next to these suppliers means a lot to us. It was good to realise that Portugal wanted to start experimenting and taking more chances.What feedback do you receive about the ‘Made in Portugal’ label?
MARTA We have never had a negative response, we have only received great feedback. The quality is perfect for our needs, which allows us to have a price range accessible to a generation that doesn’t have £2000 to spend on a dress.
PAULO It’s not about the ‘Made in Italy’ or ‘Made in Portugal’ label, but a product you can consume. Portugal gave us that, which is very important.
It’s very clear that there is the drive to create platforms to support growing brands.
Portugal will certainly be increasingly present in Marques’Almeida, as well as in our lives. Our production is fully focused on the country which means the growth of the brand will happen there.
We have a lot to learn from Portugal, but we have a lot to offer too. We’ll see what happens.
FUTURE PLANS VS LAST RESORTS
After ten years in London, what changes do you see in the Portuguese fashion industry, from your outside perspective?
MARTA It’s very clear that there is the drive to create platforms to support growing brands. That is something that didn’t exist when we started. Besides that, you can feel that this same support now has a commercial strength, which complements a creative backing that I believe will contribute a lot to the growth of sustainable businesses. The country is full of projects with potential that need help to get started.
Looking to your own reality, how is Brexit affecting London’s fashion industry?
MARTA It’s a moment of overall concern: the whole industry is at stake and the changes will affect a great deal of people who will come to work or study in the United Kingdom. It’s alarming that the arrival of talent to the country will stop, because London is a city that knows how to receive, welcome and build people.
PAULO There’s a feeling of great disappointment, which is growing bigger with this change. London’s great talented melting pot, that has been so beneficial to the country, is now at stake and the country itself will be damaged. More than half of the designers who make up London’s fashion week are not English and the idea that we will stop having access to the mobility inside of Europe is completely destructive.
Do you have any plans to overcome the difficulties and challenges that are to come?
MARTA We’re not worried about operational matters, because we work from Portugal. On a creative and talent standpoint we’re more dependent on what may happen and there isn’t much we can do about it.
PAULO We keep in mind that we’re Portuguese people who have been living in London for a long time; we were always well received and the moment that stops, we’ll have to think of solutions.What are the next steps for Marques’Almeida? How will Portugal feature in that future?
MARTA The second question is easy: we created a company in Portugal this year and we’ve been spending more time in the country, so, Portugal will certainly be increasingly present in Marques’Almeida, as well as in our lives. Our production is fully focused on the country which means the growth of the brand will happen there. Beyond that, the partnership with Portugal Fashion was one of the best things that could’ve happened this year. We were given support in Paris and Porto. It was very important to re-establish the connection with Portugal.
PAULO We have a lot to learn from Portugal, but we have a lot to offer too. We’ll see what happens.
MARTA Regarding our next step, it’s hard to say, because we never plan that far in advance. The year that has gone by was one of growth, change and many challenges, so the plan continues to be to react to whatever comes up on our path. ♥