In the world of men’s couture, you could say that clothing designer Josep Abril is ‘anti-fashionista’. His studio sits in a loft that, in other times, was a factory space. An obsolete smokestack stands outside as both a remnant of the location’s industrial past and as a romantic landmark, the portal to Abril’s centre creatiu.
His wife Alessia greets me at the door and leads me into a modest workspace jammed with racks of Josep’s designs in various stages of creation. Paper patterns, casual wear, dress wear, there’s even a kimono that Josep will refer to as he again prepares to work with La Fura dels Baus, in collaboration with Lluis Castells, on an interpretation of Madama Butterfly, which will show in Sydney next year. Josep is also busy at work on costumes for The Flying Dutchman, to be performed in Lyon, and let’s not forget ‘Uniformed by’, his division that makes uniforms for elegant hotels and restaurants. Meanwhile, his Spring/Summer 2014 menswear collection hit the catwalk in Barcelona last July and he’s looking ahead to Fall/Winter 14. It’s a lot of output for a designer with just three people on staff, including himself, and a couple of interns who are fortunate to have a chance to work with this prolific Catalan designer.
Fashion is generally not slow art. There is a pressure to continually innovate, to have something unique on display twice a year. “Or every six weeks,” Josep corrects me. The trend is towards even faster output. I ask him how it’s possible to remain successful in such a competitive market. His answer is a demonstration of Catalan seny (common sense): “I try to make things that are more anachronistic, more lasting,” referring to the tendency in fashion to change for the sake of change. Though the pressure to innovate may be greater in women’s fashion, Josep manages to draw attention in the more sober world of menswear. He begins with the original inspiration and his designs evolve over time, by transforming elements from one collection to the next, giving his work a signature look and a sense of continuity. “I don’t call it fashion,” he states emphatically. “I call it clothing.”
Josep Abril has made a niche for himself in the menswear market, selling both here and abroad. He has designed for the Catalan firm, Armand Basi. His work has been sold in New York’s Bloomingdale’s and he has a strong following in the Swiss and German markets. In Barcelona, his designs attract the attention of visitors looking for something authentically local. We look over the racks of clothing in the space he calls his StoreRoom, open to the public each Thursday from 4-8pm, making it possible to buy original pieces directly from Josep’s showroom. I notice a certain subtlety of colour that I associate with the restrained Catalan style. He agrees that compared to Madrileños, the Basques or, say, Italians, the Catalan desire for discretion is evident even in the way they dress. As I look over the clothing, I realise that stronger colours are used as an accent, with skill and to make a point. Is it possible that Catalans are more sensitive to slight variations in tone? In response, Josep holds up three jacket sleeves. To me, they all look more or less the same, navy or black; his answer implies that a local would have less trouble spotting the difference. I can’t argue—I’m wearing a metallic turquoise leather jacket and lavender jeans. That the Catalan eye can distinguish minor variations of black, blue or grey may demystify some of the puzzling aspects of the local character. The latest collection includes a Persian green double-breasted shirt and a floor-length jacket. More strikingly, there is a man’s skirt. “Are you expecting to sell many of those?” I ask. “No, that I made for the collection,” he says. But who knows, maybe a hip Scotsman will buy one.
Catalan and Italian textile houses provide the cotton, linen and wool Josep chooses. There is a warmth in the textures, a playfulness in the asymmetry of his designs. It really is a kind of ‘slow fashion’, gracefully constructed, attentively planned, homegrown.
Abril Studio, Consell de Cent 159. www.josepabril.com