The best word to describe Tânia would be “aware”. She is conscious about the career she chose and aware of how the fashion industry works. Realistic about her future and determined to be wise and innovative when the opportunity to create a brand arises.
You’ve studied fashion in Magestil, did a speciality course in Etic and went on to do a bachelor in Fashion Design. Tell us about this path you’ve chosen.
When I first started studying in professional school I already knew I wanted to work in fashion, but didn’t know much about it. Back then I already had the option of attending the production course, more related to shoes and accessories or design. I didn’t want to study accessories so I opted for design, but I liked so many things in fashion that I thought it would be a good idea to attend other courses and, in the production course I did in Etic, I ended up trying a lot of different things, because the course covered a bit of all areas, from fashion photography, to styling, magazine editing. It was good to understand that, although I enjoyed learning it all, that wasn’t the career for me and what I really wanted was to be in the creation stage. That’s why I decided to get a Bachelor in Fashion Design.
Do you think this experience in ETIC helped later on as a designer?
Yes, yes! I even think the courses I attended in Etic should be integrated in the Fashion Design Bachelor!
You’ve attended some contests and gain some awards and it is the second time you present your collection in Sangue Novo. In what way do you think it’s different to present your work in a contest from doing it in ModaLisboa?
The feeling is more or less the same, since Sangue Novo ends up also being a contest. But the security is different, because in Sangue Novo’s audience we already have people that follow our work. And we have ModaLisboa’s name behind us, which brings us yet another layer of security. In a contest, everything is new and we’re alone. That’s the biggest difference.
One of the interesting things about your work is the balance between sporty and traditional. Do you think you are designing for the Portuguese man?
Honestly, I don’t, but nowadays it is difficult to section a type of customer. Everything is so globalized that it is hard to define who we want to design for. Although I feel there has been an evolution in menswear in Portugal, there is a long way ahead of us. The Portuguese man is still afraid to take some risks.
Throughout your collections, there has been a consistency and evolution since the one inspired in the New York man and the Skater, to the following one where you mixed straight lines with a sporty look, until this latest one, where there is a greater sporty feeling. Do you feel this evolution?
I do, yes… Also because I think that, if I’m investing in creating a collection, I have to think about my portfolio and the doors it can open. I’ve always wanted to build my portfolio by working a bit of different areas. I’ve started with a classic phase, then I mixed classic with sportswear and now I felt I was missing something more street wear.
So you see your collections as a way of showing what you’re capable of doing?
Of what I can and want to do. For example, in the interview for the place I’m currently working at, I showed my suits collection. I couldn't get in if I’d shown a sportswear collection. But maybe, in a few years, the sportswear collection will come handy. I’m building a portfolio without already defining a style and making a statement saying “this is me and I only do this”.
So, you’re not interested in launching your brand for the time being, correct?
Not right now. Financially, it requires a big investment. And I also think launching a brand is something that needs to be thought out properly. When I’ll have something I want it to have a thought concept. I don’t want to own just another brand. I would want it to have something strong behind, and that requires careful thinking and a different age and experience.
I know you admire Kris van Assche’s work. He worked for other brands… Yves Saint Laurent and now Dior… would you like to follow a similar path to his?
I find his path very interesting. Unfortunaly he had to close his line and work only for Dior… I mean, he was the sweetheart, everyone liked his work, but financially it didn’t work… I know the feeling of having to work for a whole year for a brand, only to support my own brand. If he, in Paris, with the brand he had behind, with the exposure he had, wasn’t able to make it. Men, as consumers, has a long way to go. Men spend money on clothes. They think it through and doesn’t mind spending money when they really like something, but when they spend so much money in an item of clothing, maybe they’ll opt for buying something more classic, to be worn with other items, not an extravagant piece that they can only use in special occasions.
If I remember correctly, Kris van Assche doesn’t even design very extravagant pieces. Some are quite simple. Maybe price is the thing that will make a difference in buying or not.
Yes, it depends. I mean, everything is wearable! He does a great job in balancing commercial with conceptual. We, designers, have a bit of an ungrateful job because we are months working on something and then big brands come… Zara and so on… and they use our ideas. In fashion is hard not to have copies. It’s a complicated process. That’s why this whole fashion revolution is happening. Designers want to start selling their collection right after the show. Things really need to change. If they don’t, it’s unfair to us… we spend six months working on a collection to present and, three weeks after the show, Zara is selling. It’s frustrating. When our clothes hit the market everyone is already tired of seeing it and we don’t sell.
Sure, and the fact that someone as big as Burberry is leading this revolution will help other brands realize this change is possible and needed.
Yes… For a while people have been talking about change. Maybe it won’t take place exactly as it is happening, because right now, everything is still a bit crazy and people don’t already have answers for how they will do things, but experimentation is needed! Years ago people used to see the collections in Paris and it would take time everywhere else to have access to them, but nowadays we go to Instagram and everything is right there for us to access.
In Portugal, is there someone who inspires you?
Yes. I really liked my course coordinator’s work (Maria Gambina). She doesn’t present collections anymore… but knowing she was the coordinator was one of the reasons I went to that specific school.
Something that is curious… there are a lot of young designers in Portugal designing menswear. Do you think this is because there is potential in menswear or that this can be a dream young designers may have of trying to change menswear in Portugal?
I think that, because menswear was so uneventful for so long, now there is the opportunity to do something different, because men are more open to new ideas. It is natural that designers want to invest in this segment. Maybe womenswear is over explored. And, in menswear, garment finishes are very interesting. There is a lot to be done. A garment can be very basic and also very interesting in the way it is finished. At least this is what captivates me in designing menswear.
But, if I’m well informed, courses in Portugal don’t target menswear, right?
Yes! They aren’t, at all! I did my Master in menswear but, during the Bachelor, I’ve only studied and created womenswear, except for my final collection. We could choose what we wanted to do and I chose menswear. Every course prepares you to design womenswear. But then I did a Master and I could learn what I was missing: knowing materials, classic fabrics, tailoring, finishes… it’s all completely different! I think menswear is really missing in Bachelors… a course that goes over the main aspects, at least, like how to construct a blazer. Basic things. Because constructing a blazer for a man or for a woman is completely different thing.
About this last collection, what was the main theme that inspired you?
I got inspiration in a british artist, Alex Chinneck, that makes instalations and plays with optical illustion and public interaction. I was particularly inspired in a wax house he created that is built in Summer and starts melting with time. He also has other interesting concepts, like upside down buildings, or buildings with the door on the upper floor. He has a very interesting work and I tried to follow it. There is a very architectonic aura about his work and that is why I also designed workwear.
Where are you currently working?
In a brands agent. In the design and material sourcing department. I design pieces to propose to clients, so they can buy them and then I source for materials so I can find options made in Portugal.
Do you think designers in Portugal should maintain close contact to their suppliers?
Yes, I feel that is what I was missing when I finished my bachelor. We left the course without having the slightest idea about existing suppliers and the types of fabric they produce. The thing about gathering materials and being in close contact with fabrics is great, because I get to find new things and challenge fabrics to produce different materials, because sometimes clients want something specific that perhaps doesn’t yet exist here, but that it is possible to produce in Portugal.
And would you agree that the textile market in Portugal is expanding?
Absolutely. More and more. I just came from Premier Vision and there was a big highlight in Portuguese products. There was a huge stand that said “from Portugal”, where you could find suppliers from all fields of manufacturing. We are producing amazing things. I was there and saw Italian knits, that are usually the best. The thing is, our price-quality relation is really good, even when compared to Italian fabrics, that are usually quite expensive. We are also diversifying more and more. Everyday more clients at my work ask for Portuguese proposals.
I’ve noticed you really like what you are doing. Would you consider pursuing a career in this area? Or do you want to work as an independent designer?
For now, I want only to focus on this job. I have to take a break (on my brand), because this job is great to make contacts and I want to invest in this opportunity I’ve been given.
Do you think it’s important for recent graduates to work for someone else?
I think so, yes. Since I’ve started working, my view on production has completely changed.
I’m asking because some people may also think it is important for young designers to take risks while their ideas as fresh, new and not conditioned by the industry…
It’s not that it doesn’t make sense to launch an independent designer label, but when we do it, we pay for our mistakes. When you have a company behind you it’s easier to learn without harming ourselves. If you have your own brand and something goes wrong, the investment you made is gone… In a company there is always someone behind us that guides us and we’ll avoid making some mistakes we would normally make as a result of lack of experience.
I see. Also because it is hard to find investors in Portugal to create collections, and designers have to invest their own money…
Yes! And that is a pity, because we have wonderful suppliers and factories that produce for luxury brands, yet we are very poor on national brands. If there would be a mutual support between the industry and designers, we could achieve something new and sell Portuguese design. I can count from my fingers the Portuguese brands that work. In a country where confection is such a big and good industry this doesn’t make sense… I mean, we don’t even have to pay importation taxes to make a collection. Something is clearly not working well… I think we need someone that wants to develop a project that puts designers and factories working together. The problem is… for a factory, to make samples is loosing money and working with a designer means they will be making samples for six months, until they reach the final product. Of course this collaboration doesn’t already happen because factories don’t want to loose money and invest time. They don’t want to take that risk.
When you’re producing your collections, do you work with seamstresses or factories?
Usually, with seamstresses, but I also ask factories I work with and know for help. They try to help me because they also know me already.
Are you selling your collection anywhere right now?
No, only on Facebook. With new designers the common practice is to work through assigned sales and I’d rather participate in contests to finance my collections. It’s what I’ve done with my previous collections. The prize of the suits collection I’ve present in Italy, for example, was invested in financing the following collection.
This way you can sustain yourself financially and don’t depend on anybody… Will you keep on entering international contest?
Yes, with the collections I’ve already made I want to participate in contests, but I need to look carefully at the schedules because I’m also working. I’m taking vacation time off to go to Holland to a contest… But having been at this rhythm for a while, I’m starting to get a bit tired now.