Even though Portugal has had a long-standing history as a manufacturer of textiles, clothing and footwear, very few Portuguese fashion designers have grown to become familiar names in the international sartorial arena. This hasn’t certainly been for lack of trying: in 1985, Ana Salazar (perhaps the best-known Portuguese fashion designer to date) expanded her influence beyond Portugal’s borders by opening a boutique in Paris and in 1996 Fátima Lopes also chose the French capital as the location for her first international store. However, neither of these business ventures lasted long enough for the two designers (and for Portuguese fashion) to become recognised worldwide. One possible explanation for this lack of accomplishment is the fact that, even though a generation separated them, the two designers belonged to a somewhat insular school of thought that interpreted fashion’s outputs as literal constructs of national identity.
Despite their different backgrounds and upbringings, Salazar and Lopes shared a sartorial language that had as its lexicon a succession of highly structured silhouettes inspired by a post-modern ironic retro-nostalgia of 1940s fascist imagery. If this discourse was familiar to the Portuguese, it nevertheless remained inscrutably foreign outside the country. However, over the last few years, Portugal’s fashion ingenuity has shown signs that it is capable of engaging very proficiently in a stimulating global conversation. And as many of the Spring/Summer 2014 collections presented during the latest edition of Lisbon Fashion Week attested, the sartorial talent currently coming out of the westernmost country in Europe should not be underestimated.
If the old school that framed Salazar and Lopes in the 1980s and 1990s was still visible in the latest collections by designers such as Luis Buchinho (and, to an extent, Dino Alves), the current Portuguese fashion establishment has shown the emergence of three new very interesting factions. On the one hand (and in tandem with the increase of the country’s relatively affluent middle classes) Portugal has learnt to embrace the commercial modernity celebrated by designers such as Nuno Gama, Miguel Vieira and Ricardo Preto whose labels reflect an awareness of the trends explored by luxury brands such as Tom Ford, Saint Laurent or Marc Jacobs.
A second group comprises experimentalist designers (including Lidija Kolovrat and Valentim Quaresma) who conceive their creations by following a cyclical process of reinterpreting their own tried and tested shapes within a hermetic conceptual realm that suffers from refusing to establish a dialogue with universal styles. But it’s a third group made up of designers born in the 1970s and 1980s whose work reveals a cosmopolitan attitude to creativity that has been drawing the attention of fashion journalists and buyers from across the world.
Amongst contemporary Portuguese fashion designers, there is a cohort of talented creatives that have acquired their skills not only in Portuguese fashion schools but also in prestigious international institutions such as Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion, and have gone on to exhibit and sell their work in numerous countries including Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Spain, UK, and USA. Designers and labels such as Alexandra Moura, Marques ‘ Almeida, Os Burgueses, Ricardo Andrez, Ricardo Dourado and White Tent have confidently assimilated the international glossary of deconstruction and playfulness of textures, shapes and patterns that fuses high fashion with the realm of sportswear and streetwear.
Decades after their predecessors started paving the way to make Portuguese fashion known abroad, this segment of the current generation has managed to produce highly accomplished creations that have garnered considerable interest from international buyers. With their Spring/Summer 2014 collections, they have confirmed that Portugal is quietly becoming a cradle of sartorial creativity to watch out for.