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Photo by Nacho Caravia Nogueras
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Photo by Nacho Caravia Nogueras
In November 2005, Josep Huguet, the Catalan Minister for Trade, Tourism, and Consumer Affairs, announced the Generalitat’s decision to cut off financing for Barcelona Fashion Week by January of the following year, thus ending a 30-year legacy. At the same time, he promised alternatives for those emerging designers who had been overlooked for such a long time in the Catalan fashion world.
This decision was propelled by the desire to place Barcelona on equal terms with other important fashion cities such as Paris, Milan, and London and a realisation that only by making a significant investment in up-and-coming designers would make it happen. Months later, ‘Showroom Barcelona: Space of Catalan Fashion’ was born. A simple idea: highlight a select group of 14 designers, the best of the best of what Barcelona has to offer and promote them internationally with a Paris show. Financed by El Consorci de Promoció Comercial de Catalunya (COPCA), part of the Generalitat de Catalunya, it hopes to put Barcelona on the fashion map.
The third edition is set to take place from October 3rd-9th . Three of the designers who will be taking part spoke to Metropolitan about what the event means to them. A Galician, a Catalan and a Venezuelan with three things in common: Barcelona as their home, their age (early 30s), and their determination to succeed.
The Galician is José Castro, who employs a team of 15 designers at his busy studio in Poblenou. Following his graduation from the London Royal College of Art in 2000, Castro quickly started his own firm, but after two collections began working for Miró Jeans. In 2004, he started working for Desigual and is now their Creative Director. He said he focuses 10-20 percent of his time on his own haute couture collection: El Cuervo. That’s where Showroom Barcelona comes in.
Like many designers, Castro chose to work for others in order to learn the ins and outs of production and marketing so he could better sell his own collections. He shrugged off criticism about working for others. “It’s harder working for others; you can’t make mistakes because every step of the way you must prove yourself.”
He said he was thrilled that things have changed from years past, when time, money, and opportunities were only given to those designers who didn’t need the exposure, and he feels that Showroom Barcelona is a great step in the right direction. He appreciates its focus on team dynamics. “Even a problem isn’t seen as a problem but as an opportunity to grow and learn. We learn from each other, we’re a team and help each other. Evolution for one person is a step for the rest. It’s a very different dynamic than what Passarel·la Gaudí was like… ‘a me against them’ attitude. Spain hasn’t had a team spirit culture until now.”
Showroom Barcelona is living up to its objectives, he said. Castro acknowledged that few designers get the opportunity to present their collections internationally, and said he was grateful for the chance to be in Paris, not for the money but for the contacts. His results speak for themselves: his first collection was seen by the international press, launching him instantly into the limelight, and this second collection is moving in the same direction.
A few blocks away Silvia G. Presas, a Catalan, has her studio, The Avant, of which she is the sole designer. Although Presas has different goals than Castro, her professional trajectory has been quite similar. She too attended the Escuela de Artes y Técnicas de la Moda (EATM) and later, like Castro, the Royal College of Art in London. Two years after graduating in 2004, she began The Avant, where she dedicates all her time. Her professional transformation mirrors her own personal growth as a designer: from being exclusively creative to integrating her business and management experience into her newest collections.
“If Barcelona wants to compete in that ethereal circle of fashionable cities—Milan, Paris, London and New York—the only option is being a creative city,” she said. “This means exploiting its resources, choosing powerful designers, pushing boundaries, while maintaining the city’s humbleness and knowing its limits.”
She feels it’s crucial that Showroom Barcelona carefully chooses who the ‘faces’ associated with the city are, to keep the work fresh and innovative. “Showroom is the best initiative for The Avant’s marketing strategy. I’m very happy to be in Paris since it gives me the opportunity to show my collections to elite shops and department stores around the world. Publicity for one member of the team rubs off on the others and helps everyone’s visibility.”
Showroom Barcelona has given her new contracts with various shops in Japan and Europe, and even new contracts with shops in Barcelona that hadn’t heard of The Avant before. Being on “an international fashion radar” has opened doors for her. Presas added that one of the best rewards in Showroom Barcelona is the professional feedback designers get from each other and the international market, which helps young designers grow. “Design a great collection, plus good quality production, add excellent delivery and a better collection next time and it all equals more sales.”
Finally, Venezuelan Mariana Méndez was kind enough to sit down with Metropolitan at a café near Vila Olímpica, after a long day of work. Méndez is the only person in Showroom Barcelona who designs bags and not clothing, although she’s always sought to integrate the two worlds. Méndez studied at the Domus Academy in Milan in 1996, and has lived in Barcelona for seven years.
Only 33, she’s worked in the fashion industry the longest, about 10 years, compared to Castro’s seven and Presas’s five. She began her collections in a highly artesanal way, later switching to leather, and then integrating accessories with furniture design; she’s even created a chair that transforms into a bag, and a vest that transforms into a backpack. Currently, she collaborates with Yamamoto and Mandarina Duck, two heavy-hitters in the industry, which she said allows her to be more experimental than on her own.
“A designer is in a continual process of transformation because if a designer stops transforming, she or he stops creating,” she said. “What’s great about Showroom Barcelona is that it’s not investing money in a paternalistic way without time limits, it’s supporting young designers to take risks and grow.”
What she hopes to gain from Showroom Barcelona is reinforcement in the fashion sector, as well as some foreign publicity. She’s received just that and in all likelihood an important international collaboration as well. And, she said, it has made her business more successful on the national front.
Three different goals: international recognition for Castro, visibility for Presas, reinforcement for Méndez, and they have all been achieved through Showroom Barcelona. Those who have been chosen this year will soon be returning from the City of Light with new orders, new fame and new confidence.
Showroom Barcelona: www.showroombarcelona.cat
Castro Studio: www.castroestudio.com
The Avant: www.theavant.com
Mariana Méndez: www.marianamendez.com
Barcelona fashion shows:
Barcelona Bridal Week – Noviaespaña
The city is home to some of the world’s foremost bridal designers and this marriage extravaganza attracts a lot of big names, this year including Karl Lagerfeld. Outfits seen on the catwalk run the spectrum from meringes to minidresses and back again. www.moda-barcelona.com
Bread and Butter (BBB)
Originating in Germany, the Barcelona edition has now overtaken its Berlin equivalent. Started in 2001, the first event had just 50 exhibitors. Barcelona’s latest event had 20 times as many and almost 100,000 visitors—not bad for an event calling itself a trade show for selected (sic) brands. www.breadandbutter.com
Barcelona has tried hard to create a regular fashion event to compete with Milan et al, with little success so far. 080 is the latest attempt, with the pilot edition running last July. However, the jury’s still out on whether it will take off in an industry constantly seeking the next big thing. www.080barcelonafashion.com