You can say he’s a dreamer. But that’s not all he is. A fashion poet and a walking encyclopedia, Tiago is an art lover, a culture absorber and a life enthusiast. He could be doing anything with his life and we’re sure he would be great at it. Thankfully for us, and for all the true fashion lovers of the world, he chose to become a designer.
You and Aloísio (Rodrigues) started this project (BANDA) “for fun”. Do you think that this spontaneity allowed you to be free and do exactly what you wanted without the responsibility of building a big brand?
Of course. BANDA started off as a fully independent project made exclusively for Sangue Novo (a platform for upcoming fashion designers). We thought “we talk and draw so much together, why don’t we create something?”. Aloísio worked at a factory, I was finishing my Master and had some free time, so we thought we could do this. “Sangue Novo” is a highly experimental platform where you don’t even need a brand to apply. You can enter as a designer and for this project it didn’t make sense for our names to appear. We got into this with a different sense of freedom because of it.
Do you think there is some kind of pressure over more established designers to experiment less, work in a less conceptual way and more with a commercial mindset?
It depends on the designers. First of all, we need to define conceptual. Some people think it means bizarre. It’s not. A collection can be absolutely commercial and still have a very strong concept. These words are not opposites. To be more or less experimental has also to do with age and experience. When you get out of college there are lots of ideas in your mind that you want to explore. As you establish a brand, you find yourself with bills to pay and, naturally, you end up shaping your creations into what sells.
Regarding the question, I don’t think there is a lot of pressure over Portuguese fashion designers because most of them don’t have a huge brand, so they can afford to be a bit more creative and take more risks than international designers. People that are inside an international professional circuit. Brands like SayMyName, for example, that sell a lot in Asia… they are working in a blatant and detail oriented market, so you need a great communication and marketing work. It’s a highly demanding market, so she (Catarina Sequeira) can’t afford to deviate a lot from what she has developed so far. This market’s consumer knows the brand already and wants to buy because he knows it and likes what he knows about it.
And what about the Portuguese consumer? Do you think he is able to buy an experimental kind of garment (not conceptual, experimental). Or do you think the Portuguese market is still more traditional? In what consumers are regarded.
It depends. I don’t think this is only a Portuguese issue. Recently, New York Times or BoF (Business of Fashion) was saying that what people see in the runway doesn’t translate in what they buy. You see more and more color on the runway, but the most purchased colors are black, grey, nudes, whites… People buy what makes them more comfortable. But here, fashion designers have an advantage when compared with brands: the novelty associated with a designer piece. People who purchase a designer piece, particularly a Portuguese one, know they are investing in an expensive garment because the confection of smaller quantities is more expensive, the (Portuguese) fabrics are expensive, the European manpower and labor is expensive… But when you go to ComCor, for example, where I have my collection, you can see a piece from a designer like Ricardo Andrez, Duarte, Valentim Quaresma… you know you are buying a piece that is almost unique! And design is an experience. It has the ability to make you feel different and comfortable while maintaining its timeless character. It has more to do with style than with fashion.
And you may end up with a piece that you still love even when you are wearing it less…
Exactly! And you are more predisposed to take risks! For example, I have a parka from WhiteTent, a brand that no longer exists. From a 2011 collection. Its copper, oversized, with lovely details. It has nothing to do with what I wear on my daily life. It’s not the piece you buy to feel comfortable. But when I put it on, it feels like home, like a second skin, maybe. I’ve had it for 4 or 5 years and still wear it. We sometimes buy stuff with patterns or something that you think is pushing your comfort zone at Zara, for example, and look back after a while and don’t relate to it anymore. But that piece, that is SO over my comfort zone, still has the ability of, years after, making me want to wear it and feel comfortable. It’s the kind of experience that only a designer or a high quality piece can give you.
Thinking about what you just said, would you say fashion has more to do with art or with functionality?
It depends on the designer. As I was telling you earlier, you can have a collection that is both conceptual and commercial. For example, I always follow São Paulo Fashion week. It’s probably my favorite fashion week. It has a lot of highly functional street wear brands that are very interesting at a conceptual level. You can see an interest for artisanal work, that Brazilians are now calling “tropical couture”. It’s a very interesting concept. They are taking the thousands of traditional embroidery and jewelry techniques from all over Brazil and combining it with all the color and tropicalism very typical in Brazil. But then this is mixed with an intense urban sense that is very well explored and explained. You have designers that mix creative and irreverent pieces with functionality, or designers that disregard functionality, especially haute couture designers.
What about you?
I like both. I like pieces that are apparently very simple but that have complex cuts. I work very hard in my concepts… I like to be able to defend my concepts very well. I think a lot about the message I want to tell and the theme of the collection. The prints are always very thought and people are expecting to see prints in my collections. You can see the tram pattern and think it is very simple, but it’s not simple because I didn’t want to put effort in the print, it’s because I wanted it that way. Because I had an idea to tell and that was the best way of telling it. And my concepts are always well explained in the descriptive memory, that follows my collections’ presentations.
Maybe the consumers need to try and be more educated…
And the fashion media in Portugal! Our fashion media is a mirage. Most people that write about fashion don’t know the first thing about it. The questions are always the same…they always ask what our (designers) dreams are, what we feel like when we’re showing our work at ModaLisboa, how is it like to have so many people seeing your work… I mean, as a designer, I don’t need “so many people” to see my work. I need my target to see my work, I want the industry to see it, the press to see it and my colleagues to see it. What does it mean to have “so many people” seeing one’s work? What is “so many people”? From those “many people” there are about one hundred that have interest…
Let me tell you a story that illustrates this: I went to a coffee at my mom’s birth town, after showing my collection and going to a TV show to talk about it. People at the coffee, that have barely ever talked to me and see me once a year maybe, would come up to me telling me they saw me on TV… The same with a neighbor of mine, that stopped the car in front of mine as I was exiting the garage, to come over and greet me saying she had seen the show and that her daughter would wear everything. I mean, these are funny stories, of course, but this is not what I’m working for. These situations have value, of course, but I want my work to be taken seriously. ModaLisboa is an industrial presentation. It’s for the industry. The Portuguese media focuses a lot on street style… I think I even posted something about it on facebook… I “thanked” a Portuguese TV channel that, in a 3 minute piece about ModaLisboa, was kind enough to let the designers appear for 2-3 seconds. Everything else was about streetstyle.
I see what you’re saying… in Milan, London, Paris, the city stops for the Fashion Week and people realize that it is about culture. Fashion Week is a cultural event…
And not only cultural. It is very important financially as well! Most of those huge brands belong to financial groups listed in the stock market. This doesn’t happen in Portugal. We don’t have any brand with any kind of presence in the stock market. The textile sector in Portugal has a huge impact on PIB (Portuguese for GNP – gross national product), but fashion doesn’t. And I don’t see it having in the next years…
We see or textile sector growing and becoming highly requested internationally. Do you think our (fashion) design can reach the same high in the future?
Maybe… A lot is still missing.
The easiness of access to factories. There are very few factories that are willing to sell fabrics to designers. I’m not even talking about sponsoring. Many times we get to a factory and want to buy 60 meters of fabric, that is still a small amount for them, and their minimum, depending on the factory and the fabric, goes from 100 to 800 meters. Until you reach a point in your career where you are able to buy those quantities, you pay a tax to the factory. So, overall, you have to pay the price per meter, plus the cupon rate that reaches 50%. And then you have to pay IVA (the Portuguese value added tax) and you have travelling expenses as well! It is cheaper to import fabric from Italy. Here, you go to the North (were the fabric factories are located), so you pay the fuel, the driveway tolls, the stay, the fabrics, the tax. It is a lot of money and it becomes much easier to buy fabrics from Italy. Very good fabrics as well! Some factories are easily approachable, like the factory I buy most of my fabrics from, and they don’t mind to sell lower quantities. But then you have some factories that may help you with the fabric for your runway show, but then when you want to produce an item to tell and you go to them to buy the fabric, they will only sell you 100 or 200 meters minimum. It’s impossible to work like this. You are constantly finding obstacles like this in the Portuguese industry. Factories prefer not to produce and not to sell rather than selling lower quantities. I understand that sometimes it doesn’t pay off to produce small quantities, but it just doesn’t pay off in the short term. Maybe in the long term, when the designer brand grows and keeps buying more and more fabric, it would pay off and we would be working and growing together, designer and factory.
How do you think this can be solved? In a way that factories won’t loose money, so we can talk realistically.
The problem in our industry is a national problem. We are very short sided and are unable to put things in perspective, to think long term. The way I see it, there is a need for a cultural and behavioral change. Businessmen need to understand that they have to renew their clients, adapt to new technologies, clients and also the new media! Because media have completely changed the market! So much, that movements against this media transformation are becoming to arise, such as the slow fashion movement. Portugal has a very week patronage culture. You can look at the “Sequeira” issue (MNAA (National Ancient Art Museum) made a crowd fund to collect money to buy a Portuguese painting that had been purchased by a private collector). It was so hard to convince Portuguese companies to help! It was so much easier to convince citizens like us to donate! We needed a foreign foundation to lead by example (Aga Khan foundation donated 200.000 euros). Our companies are not used to patronage… It would be great to have textile companies sponsoring young fashion designers!
You were saying that (social) media changed the fashion industry and I noticed you are very active on Facebook…
On my own Facebook, yes, but I’m terrible at social media marketing for the brand! I created BANDA’s Instagram in ModaLisboa and haven’t update it since. There are designers, like Duarte, that are communication animals! Live and online. She’s a true businesswoman, besides being a designer, and a good one! I’m not like that. I don’t like the fact that I HAVE to communicate. I don’t like the idea of being forced to communicate. I like to do it but only when I’m sure about what I want to say and only when I’m not forced to do it. I’m getting better at it, but there are people who do it with much more ease. I have a hard time communicating products, I would much rather communicate ideas.
Despite not enjoying this social media marketing obligation, do you still acknowledge that it is important and that it changed the fashion scenario?
Absolutely! To the point that you even have to make collections just for social media purpose! And you have to make pre-falls and now pre-summers! Designers are on edge and they will explode soon. You can see by the John Galliano situation! Designers are working at a crazy pace. Look at Lagerfeld, for example! How many collections he makes! Of course he has a great team behind him, and we can’t ignore that, but still… Raf Simons, for example, put his foot down, exited Dior and decided to work only on his brand.
So would you say social media has been accelerating the fashion industry’s rhythm?
Absolutely! Even in peripheral markets such as the Portuguese one. For example, showrooms live more and more through social media. Nowadays you need to do a lot of work and show it all to the world.
Regarding your brand and the four collections you’ve presented in Lisbon. After the third collection I felt, correct me if I’m wrong, a clear difference between the work you had done on the previous two collections with Aloísio, and then these latest two collections.
I think the second collection (“Lixas-me os Discos”) already had something different, with the prints… and you can see some mistakes, some things that go differently that what is expected and that is related to the structure of the project in itself: a fabric that arrives late, a modeler that doesn’t interpret what we want… this things happen and, specially when you’re working in a partnership, you need to be able to compromise. When I’m working alone I take charge and in the first collection I worked by myself (Cavalo Dado), the team I had working with me previously wasn’t available and I had to gather new people. So I did and I remain with these same people (modelers, seamstresses…). So, for the last two collections, the formal language remained the same. The same people were producing the garments and that shows. I thought my creation was getting a bit lost in the first two collections and, from the third collection on, I decided I wanted to take things more seriously and I had to do things in a more rigorous and focused manner.
In “Lixas-me os Discos” you took inspiration from cinema and directors Kurosawa and Ozu. I’m repeating a question I asked Carolina Machado: do you think fashion designers must be aware of any and everything (that he can) that goes on in the cultural scenario?
A PERSON has to be aware of everything. But a designer has that obligation. I once went to a school field trip to Dielmar and Tó Simões (the designer of the brand) was talking about his routines and how he started travelling from a very young age. He was complaining that the designers that worked with him would use the weekends to rest. He would yell at them telling them they had to go out and look at the world around them. For me, that comes naturally. I’m very curious. I love reading the news and keep up with what is happening, so I can talk about everything. If I don’t know something, I’ll learn about it so I can talk to people about different subjects. Maybe this has a lot to do with the fact that I grew up in a restaurant, and I would talk with all sorts of people, from architects, to businessmen, doctors, lawyers, with very different political views, backgrounds, ethnicities… These people were all older than me so I always felt like I had to learn about everything so I wouldn’t look bad and was able to have an interesting conversation with them. And then I’m very demanding with myself. I’m constantly reading news. About everything! I’m also constantly keeping up with what my fellow designers are doing and take interest in learning not only about their work but also about who they are as a person. A designer is a catalyzer! The lack of time in fashion that I was talking about is not only related to not having time to create, but also to learn and listen to what is happening around you. My friends don’t understand this but I don’t use headphones. I only listen to music at home. I can’t look at something without hearing the sonority that goes along that situation. If I’m in the bus, I’m listening to people talking about sports, their illnesses, or whatever. To listen is crucial to understand what surrounds you. To be curious has to be inherent to being a designer. Luckily, among my friends, you can find the most interesting people! From Catalán, to Carolina Machado, Duarte… And then it is interesting to see how our conversations have changed. I met my designer friends in school, and then we would talk about fashion. Pure fashion. Then, as we were advancing in college, we started talking about the contests that existed for young designers. And in our last dinner we found ourselves talking about where we buy our fabrics, what percentage showrooms are doing, how much does a factory charge to stamp fabric… Our relationships have been maturing!
About what you were saying about enjoying to listen to conversations around you and being curious about what surrounds you… I read you keep a sketchbook with you. Do you think it is also important for a designer to know who to draw their ideas?
A designer doesn’t need to know how to draw. There are always technical drawings and those you need to know how to make.
You took inspiration in the work of architects Lina Bo Bardi and Paulo Mendes da Rocha in your last collection. How do you see the relation between Architecture and Fashion?
Architecture deals essentially with spaces. I worked with Lidija Kolovrat and the descriptive memoir of one of her collections, if I’m not mistaken, started like this: clothing is the very first space we live in. This doesn’t mean fashion has to be comfortable. Architecture is also not always comfortable. In what my collection is concerned, there is a direct relation between fashion and architecture. The prints are very inspired in Paulo Mendes da Rocha and Lina Bobardi’s work. Paulo Mendes da Rocha is very authoritative. He’s not about just creating space, but also about altering people’s relation with space and he works a lot with scale. He brings a huge scale to a horizontal city and an historical area (referencing to the Museu dos Coches at Rua da Junqueira in Lisbon, which is a very flat historical area by the riverside) . He forces you to have a relation with space. And then Lina Bo Bardi works in a very continuous way, connecting the inside and the outside, the built and natural.
Do you think designers still have a type of client they design for?
They should. But it is hard to define a target nowadays. It’s not about age, body or income. You need to define the lifestyle of the person you’re designing for. And this is hard, because people are plural! What happens is that sometimes people that end up buying and wearing my garments are not the ones I expected to. And that is a great grace of being a designer with a small brand. I sell directly to my client and get to have this surprises and to see my pieces transformed by people who wear it, trough styling.
Last question: if you could change ONE thing about the fashion scenario in Portugal, what would you change?
Documenting. We don’t document enough. For example, for one of our Master projects, we (the students) were putting together a fashion museum in partnership with MUDE and while gathering information about the brand Abbondanza and Mário Matos Ribeiro had, we realized there wasn't enough info. If it weren’t for blogs, that so many people discard, we wouldn’t have found half of what we found. To document is to create memory. We are constantly admiring people like Ana Salazar or any other great designers but we don’t deeply know their work because there is no documentation of it! And this is so important! To understand what came before you. New generations need to know the past to understand the present market. To document fashion design’s creation in Portugal is extremely important.