Arguably the instigator of our obsession with chewed-up denim, Marques’Almeida has trodden new ground for Autumn/Winter 2016. Yet the focus remains the same: the girl. Portuguese design duo, Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida, met while studying at Porto’s CITEX but it was London that shaped their definitive look: “We couldn’t really do it anywhere else… [London] was just the most exciting place to develop our designs”. Providing a solid foundation for their brand, the creative energy of the capital also kicked off a career-spanning fixation on the M’A girl. Marques explains, “You meet people all the time from creative backgrounds and from the fashion industry that are starting out and working as you are. They end up inspiring you and it just generates this really creative environment”.
Studying under revered tutor Louise Wilson on Central Saint Martins’ MA programme, the pressure to succeed first reared its head for the pair. Marques reflects on Wilson’s alumni and her legacy of producing top industry talent: “We weren’t the last class that Louise taught but we were the second to last and when you go back and you think about Mary [Katrantzou] and Christopher Kane, everyone – it’s incredible”.
However unavoidable, this sense of pressure powered their determination and they combined their talents to present their graduate collection. Almeida considered it “more like an exciting challenge than something scary” with Marques adding, “The more pressure you have, the more you have to close the door and listen to your own gut instinct”.
“The more pressure you have, the more you have to close the door and listen to your own gut instinct”.
Fast forward and their quickly-emerging label picked up momentum, earning sponsorship from Fashion East, NEWGEN and, most recently, LVMH. For Marques, “These people and these institutions that help you grow just allow you to do what you want to do”. Contemplating the importance of these initiatives to young, independent designers, Almeida credits this early industry support for helping them expand the Marques’Almeida brand: “There’s a lot of stuff that we don’t learn at school and to actually have people that can support [the business side,] it gives you the confidence to move forward and allows you the time to actually then think on the creative side".
For Autumn/Winter 2016, doing what they wanted to do meant eschewing the models – in the conventional sense. Sending friends down the runway instead of agency models, they position themselves among a growing number of names challenging the rules set by “this glamorised, fantasised idea of fashion”. Putting it simply, Marques explains: “We were so lucky to be surrounded by all these amazing girls, amazing people, it just took a bit of courage to say, ‘No. Even if these are not the technical rules and we should be using models, it makes no sense for us. We’re going to try’… It makes so much sense to our brand.”
Spring/Summer 2017 sees them take this move one step further, relinquishing control by asking each girl to self-style their runway looks. Turning the styling process on its head is just the next stage in what Almeida describes as a cyclical design process, with “real girls, girls in the office, friends” all playing a key role in how their new collections develop: “We see how people wear the collection, see how people combine the collection… The really awkward thing with our interns is that one day they might bring this really nice pair of trousers or this really nice workwear jacket and we’ll go ‘Oh, d’you mind if I actually take pictures of you in that?’ – we get inspired by what they wear as well.”
“We see how people wear the collection, see how people combine the collection… The really awkward thing with our interns is that one day they might bring this really nice pair of trousers or this really nice workwear jacket and we’ll go ‘Oh, d’you mind if I actually take pictures of you in that?’ – we get inspired by what they wear as well.”
This fluid approach has allowed them to steadily hone in on their niche as their denim-heavy aesthetic gives way to a holistic take on raw, nineties redux. After a shift that came as a “natural instinct”, the overall identity is still Marques’Almeida to the core, something Marques puts down to a consistent force that has stayed with them since day one: “One thing that runs through every season is this sense of being quietly defiant… it’s not bonkers and it’s not loud, it’s not super-fashion-y but there’s a defiant-ness and a sense of rebellion [that] never really changes. Because that’s grounded so strongly we can then go anywhere we want.”
Underpinned by an inherent need for balance, this confidence in their identity has resulted in a rare mix of creative innovation and commercial appeal, only intensified by the influence of social media, something they have undeniably used to their advantage. They have succeeded in creating a constant dialogue with the Marques’Almeida girl which Marques recognises as maximising the “possibility to connect directly with the consumer [and] approximate [the brand] with their clients”. Of course, there are two sides to this and while Almeida suggests the “excess of exposure [can mean] there’s almost no time to digest things”, the social sphere has only fuelled their need for invention. Marques suggests what’s next: “We want to keep focusing [on] balancing the line between challenge and desirability. So it should feel challenging and it should feel relevant because that’s what moves us as creatives as well, but it should always feel desirable and accessible”.
Judging by their 60k+ Instagram following, slew of celebrity fans and ever-growing profile, this is something they’ll be in no rush to shake off.
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