Look at the clothes you’re wearing and consider how they ended up in your wardrobe. Maybe you bought them in a designer store, a multinational chain, or perhaps a second-hand market or vintage shop? And where did they come from? China, India, Bangladesh, or...Barcelona?
Spain may have been in the throes of economic crisis for over six years, but despite the recession, Barcelona is still a hotbed of creative talent and the city is making its mark in the world of fashion. With the 080 Fashion Week taking place this month (February 2nd-5th), we talk to some of the main movers on the local fashion scene, from Spain’s first fashion blogger to successful local designers; both fresh, young faces and well-established masters.
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Fashion magazine Vein is a new arrival on the Spanish fashion scene.
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Estel Vilaseca founded Spain's first online fashion magazine. www.itfashion.com
Estel Vilaseca started drawing as a child. Fascinated by the glamour and opulence of fashion, and encouraged by her Vogue-reading mother, she always wanted to have her own fashion magazine. She loves looking at street style, understanding how fashion connects with given moments, and how the mixing and matching of garments can result in an outfit that expresses the wearer’s identity and interests—be it art, photography, psychology or film. In 1999, after completing her studies in Media Communication at Pompeu Fabra University, Estel founded itfashion.com, Spain’s first online fashion magazine. In those pre-blogging times, there were no specific tools to create online platforms, so Estel started it from scratch.
As a long-term, experienced fashion observer, she now teaches Fashion Editorial at the Instituto Europeo de Diseño (IED). Over the years she has seen many new brands emerge in Barcelona, some lasting the distance, whilst others burst onto the scene, then disappear after a couple of years, or merge with larger, even global, brands. She is also the deputy-director of ‘Vein’, a new print fashion magazine—a magnificent venture that, in its first edition, gave us a 30-page photo spread and interview with model Bimba Bose, who posed on the cover following her recent mastectomy. For Vilaseca, this new enterprise is an example of what a woman’s fashion magazine can be. “Fashion should be used in a positive way, to help women feel good; yet so often the opposite occurs, making them feel inadequate, intimidated.”
She comments on the major changes taking place in the fashion world regarding consumer needs. According to Vilaseca, shoppers are seeking more personal clothing. US company ‘Tinker Tailor’, for example, now offers customised items with various sleeve options, colours, fabrics, lengths, etc. Vilaseca also predicts that people will soon wish to buy directly from catwalk collections, rather than having to wait six months for designs to reach the shops.
While independent young designers may be highly creative, they also need good business management in order to succeed. Spain’s clothing giant, Inditex, responds rapidly to customer input and provides jobs for bright designers. However, they “don’t support new labels, and have only sponsored the Vogue Prize for new designers in the last two years, unlike the UK’s Topshop, for example, which is committed to investing in new labels,” says Vilaseca.
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Francesc Grau Tomàs and Olga Ronquillo Menchén of Menchén Tomàs.
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The Menchén Tomàs label combines excellent quality with fine detailing.
Barcelona is famous for its strong, long-standing textile industry, which dates from the 19th century, when factories in Poble Nou, Terrassa, and Sabadell were dubbed ‘the Catalan Manchester’. In the latter half of the 20th century, production shifted away to cheaper sources, such as China or India. However, some production is returning, as are some designers. Francesc Grau Tomàs, designer and founder of the label Menchén Tomàs (together with partner Olga Ronquillo Menchén), has observed that many of his students from IED, where he directs the Masters in Fashion Design, and the Escuela Superior de Diseño (ESDI) are returning from abroad after gaining valuable work experience. Grau, whose boundless energy astonishes those who work with him, is optimistic about his students’ future, seeing that they find jobs fast, and he feels that we are witnessing a regeneration in the industry here.
Grau’s career path took him from an initial agronomic engineering qualification to studying fashion, following his tailoring father, Jordi Camps. Camps was famous for devising the computerised Corte Camps method of pattern-cutting, one of the first industrialised systems in Spain, originally implemented in the manufacturing of army uniforms. Grau won a Smirnoff Fashion Award in 1991, which led to a position in Milan for the Tod’s Group. He later returned to Barcelona to design for Antonio Miró, before setting up the Menchén Tomàs womenswear brand in 1995.
The duo employ around 11 local designers, pattern-cutters and dressmakers, plus their wonderfully engaging shop assistants. The clientele for their affordable and highly desirable couture at both Barcelona branches of Menchén Tomàs varies according to the district—in the Born they see more tourist trade, while in Gràcia the regular customer base is more local. Grau affirms that the ‘100% Made in Barcelona’ label is a big selling point, together with fine detailing and excellent quality. “Spanish fashion is a large, tough market where brands sink or swim. However, quality is improving and creativity can thrive.”
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Elisabet Vallecillo and Jordi Espino of Colmillo de Morsa.
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One creative young label is Colmillo de Morsa, founded by Elisabet Vallecillo and Jordi Espino in 2009, after they graduated from ESDI. Javier Blanco has since replaced Espino, and the designers have taken their collections from pop-up stores and stands, all the way to the Cibeles catwalk show in Madrid. They now run two shops in Barcelona and have also found success further afield, from San Francisco to the Arab Emirates. In addition to their biannual womenswear collections (menswear is on the way), the boutiques stock accessories by 20 other designers. Their business approach takes a long-term view within a tough market. Their focus is on building up the label gradually, whilst maintaining the ambition and excitement necessary to succeed. The result: modern Mediterranean classics combining quality, artisanal fabrics and lively colour combinations.
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Helbig's workshop is a hive of creative activity full of magical fabrics.
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Helbig's passion for design started at her mother's kitchen table, where she was taught to sew.
Another local designer who is now a regular at Cibeles is Teresa Helbig. Walking into her workshop and showroom is to enter another world; a hive of creative activity full of magical fabrics, huge theatrical mirrors and wooden parquet floors. When I visited, Teresa herself was working away at the sewing machine. Sitting alongside her was her mother, who taught a young Teresa to sew at home on the kitchen table. The fashion house was established in 1997 “by accident,” says Teresa. She had been making clothes for friends and on commission, and she was so successful that she risked her money to produce a collection. That risk increased when she accidentally ordered double fabric quantities, meaning that her nightwear had to serve as daywear too. Nevertheless, the venture paid off.
These days, her stunningly cut, deceptively simple, yet often heavily embroidered clothing is in high demand. I witnessed a young bride arriving from Mexico with her family, for a fitting of her utterly contemporary yet romantic, timeless wedding dress. The enthusiasm is palpable here and her whole team eagerly showed me the extraordinary detailing on the exquisite garments. Teresa says she often starts each new collection by imagining a story between a girl and boy and the clothes they would wear for their adventures. Helbig’s passion, her instinct, and her free spirit drive her forward, as she strives to create a label to last.
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Photo by Fritz von der Schulenburg
Luis Sans is the owner of Santa Eulalia, a long-established local luxury label.
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Photo by Fritz von de Schulenburg
That heightened, high-end world finds its apotheosis in ‘Santa Eulalia’, Barcelona’s long established luxury fashion store. Just walk through the doors and you’ll experience the ‘wow factor’ that owner, Luis Sans, seeks. The original 1843 shop was located in Pla de la Boqueria, Las Ramblas, before moving to Passeig de Gràcia in 1941, where they pioneered in-house haute couture shows and built up a clientele of both Barcelona and Spain’s high society. When prêt-a-porter women’s clothing took off in the late Sixties, Santa Eulalia flourished, although this meant closing their own tailored womenswear section, and working with major houses instead. However, the menswear tailoring continues and the workshop can be seen in action through a window within the shop.
It’s a sizable operation with around 70 people employed from warehouse to doormen. The assistants are experts at guiding their clients through possible fabrics, cuts and styles, working hand-in-glove with superlative tailors. Generations of families form their solid client base, while tourist shoppers from China or Russia mean staff have also been recruited from overseas. The shop relocated again for a couple of years in 2009, when top American interior designer, William Sofield—who successfully transformed stores such as Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci or Bottega Veneto—was brought in to redesign and update Santa Eulalia. The result is spectacular. Original Art Deco fittings, old posters framed in the exclusive café, sumptuous furnishings, and a revival of antique signs and logos, combine to create an environment conducive to a stress-free shopping experience for world class fashion. Santa Eulalia has always been a family-run business and Sans took over aged 22, while studying Business Administration at ESADE. He and his wife are the buyers, and Sans’ attention to detail, care and perfection in every aspect of the business is evident. He strolls over to chat with customers in the café, where the barista confides to me that “this is the best place to work in Barcelona”.
So what exactly are you wearing and where is it from? With so many talented designers in the city, maybe it’s time to venture beyond the multinationals and go local. In times when global giants like Inditex—owner of Zara, Oysho, Bershka and Massimo Dutti, among others—and H&M, with its higher end sister shop & Other Stories, dominate the high street, it’s refreshing to find there’s room for everyone on Barcelona’s fashion stage.
FASHION AT THE DISSENY HUB
The city’s permanent fashion collection, previously housed at the Textile Museum, has finally reopened to the public. Having originally been located in Carrer Montcada, this collection was moved provisionally to the Palau de Pedralbes, while the new Museu del Disseny was being built. The collection is presented in the ‘Dressing the body. Silhouettes and Fashion (1550-2015)’ exhibition on the third floor of the new museum, and studies the relationship between the body and shifting social, moral and aesthetic values throughout history. Beautifully curated by Sílvia Ventosa and Teresa Bastardes, the exhibition features pieces from key Spanish designers, amongst others, including Balenciaga, Paco Rabanne, Antonio Miro and Santa Eulalia.
The Catalan Trade, Crafts and Fashion Consortium will collaborate with the Museu del Disseny to include winners of 080 Barcelona Fashion Prizes in the collection each season.
Click here for more information on the Disseny Hub and Museu de Disseny.
THE WORLD'S MOST EXPENSIVE SHOPPING STREETS
It can be hard to get your designs out there when commercial real estate is so costly. In 2014, Barcelona’s Portal de l’Àngel ranked as the most expensive shopping street in Spain, at an average rental price of €3,240 per m2, per annum (ahead of Madrid’s Calle de Preciados, at €3,180, and Passeig de Gràcia, at €2,700), and the 14th most expensive shopping street in the world. Passeig de Gràcia ranks second in Barcelona, at €2,700. Across the globe, the top shopping spots are...
- Fifth Avenue, New York City (€29,822)
- Causeway Bay, Hong Kong (€23,307)
- Champs Elysees, Paris (€13,255)
- New Bond Street, London (€10,361)
- Pitt Street Mall, Sydney (€8,658)
- Via Montenapoleone, Milan (€8,500)
- Ginza, Tokyo (€8,120)
- Myeongdong, Seoul (€7,942)
- Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich (€7,456)
- Stoleshnikov, Moscow (€4,749)
Robert Travers, of Cushman & Wakefield, who compiled the list of ‘Main streets across the world’, says that Spain’s shop floor prices rose by 2.3% in 2014 on the previous year, citing competition for limited available retail floorspace as the reason, together with an increase in demand for ‘luxury fashion’.
Source: Cushman & Wakefield