Four weeks before Lisbon’s Web Summit in November – billed as the largest tech conference in the world – and six months before the Condé Nast International Luxury Conference in the Portuguese capital next April, this country has proved its imaginative mix of digital power and creative energy in Lisbon Fashion Week.
This was evident not only in the clothes themselves, but how they reach the customer.
Alfredo Orobio and an ever-growing crowd-sourced team at his brand, Away To Mars, were not just showing their sixth collection – which included a compelling metallic green trouser suit, a digitally printed shirt and a turquoise tunic with the effect of a darkening dye – they were also showcasing a difference in distribution.
“It’s a collaborative brand and you can create your own profile on our website,” said designer Marilia Biasi. “People post their designs and the most popular ones become part of our collection – it is not designed by us but by original designs from 20 different people.”
At AwayToMars.com, an ever-growing community of designers and makers selects the most interesting concepts that are presented for crowdfunding. The chosen pieces are ultimately produced with the backers pre-ordering the designer pieces at wholesale prices.
On the runway, around a blue pool, the group sent out a jumpsuit that had started its design life as a dress, one of many examples of the curatorship that makes the disparate designs speak together as a collection.
Variety seems to be the spice of fashion life in Lisbon. In three packed days, I started to learn about the craft and style of Portuguese fashion.
Alexandra Moura, who shows at Porto Fashion Week, a separate event, introduced me to the two sides of her vision: delicate handwork on a cream coat uniquely decorated with subtle embroideries, and a collection of streamlined clothes with sleek bows that she had shown during London Fashion Week. But at both ends of the spectrum lies a fascination with history and distant cultures.
“We have a very strong positioning in factories for shirts and knitwear, and we try to find the best suppliers,” said the designer, explaining that while the delicate tapestry effect was exceptional, the main work was produced in the northern part of the country, towards Spain.
My purpose in Lisbon – apart from learning the fashion dynamic of the country – was to attend the re-launch of Vogue Portugal. Editor-in-Chief Sofia Lucas not only threw a super-cool party in an abandoned warehouse in the old industrial side of the city, she also took me on a tour of her favourite shops and designers.
All this was, of course, to prepare me for the CNI Luxury Conference in 2018. ‘The Language of Luxury’, which takes place in Lisbon from the 18th to 19th of April 2018, will also explore Portugal’s modern links to its earlier colonisation of Angola, Brazil and Mozambique, among others.
A century ago, Portugal’s royal family, the Most Serene House of Braganza, was resplendent in the Pátio da Galé, where CNI will hold the Luxury Conference, while Angolans, whose ancestors were once subservient to Portugal, are now the principal customers strolling down the tree-shaded Avenida da Liberdade and shopping in luxury stores including Burberry, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Ermenegildo Zegna.
While global brands are king in Lisbon’s central area, I found local designers and original shops tucked away among the historic tile-covered buildings.
Lidija Kolovrat, who was born in Bosnia Herzegovina, showed during Lisbon Fashion Week, but I saw more of her colourful and specially woven fabrics up-close and personal in her boutique. Throughout my visit, a gentle stream of women came in to buy clothes and hand-decorated shoes, while upstairs under the roof of the barn-like building, the designer showed me the studio where she develops her textiles.
I had already seen in London a display of the interesting pieces made in Porto, which holds its own set of fashion shows. ‘Portugal Fashion’ was an open-house display at the Portuguese Embassy in London, and offered an interesting cross-section of styles, including Lemon Jelly high-tech footwear and the intricate fine jewellery of Eugenia Campos. The painterly designs created by Teresa Martins were another example of imagination enhanced by craftsmanship.
To prove just how global designers have become, Pedro Pedro of Portugal Fashion showed in Milan, presenting a colourful collection of sporty clothes that might pitch a sky blue, green, and yellow sweater against a flamingo-pink skirt. His exceptional sense of colour included not just eye-popping shades, but also the subtlety of a moss-green reflective top and grass-green skirt. His stone-washed denim with interesting shapes proved that cut as well as colour were his forte.
Busy with planning the CNI Luxury Conference, I did not have time to see all the ModaLisboa shows. But I was impressed by the 10 young designers included in the Sangue Novo or “new blood” section, won by David Ferreira with his blend of streetwear and tribal – a Rick Owens style with an organic spirit.
Then there was Dino Alves, with his background in theatre and training in Portuguese cinema. He used to dramatic effect geometric patterns and fabric placements to create strips, stripes and sharp-shouldered outfits.
David Ferreira, a Portuguese designer who trained in London at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, has come back to Lisbon after working with Iris van Herpen, Giles Deacon and Meghan Kirchhoff. In the greenery of Eduardo VII Park, he presented a fairytale collection of dresses. Stand-outs were a regal dress with portrait neckline and shapely gown, while the models’ faces were hidden by masks.
The high quality of handwork was also on show in ModaLisboa display tents, where Rita Sevilla showed her weaving skills by dressing an antique tennis racquet, among other creative and technically complex works; while more fine weaving came from Constance Entrudo, a Central Saint Martins graduate, who has worked for Peter Pilotto and Portuguese design duo Marques’Almeida.
My whirlwind overview of Lisbon fashion included a ModaLisboa discussion in Fast Talks, where speakers and their audience sat under the leafy shade of the Estufa Fria greenhouse in Eduardo Vll Park. As nature and fashion nurture came together under the branches and leaves, it seemed symbolic of the singularity that is the essence of Portuguese style.